Things to ponder before welcoming an au pair into a home

The Baltimore Sun

As the economy gets grimmer, more families are likely looking into hiring a live-in au pair visiting from another country to cover child care in exchange for room and board and a stipend. I asked Christine Connally, a Maryland-based community counselor for Au Pair in America, to give interested parents some things to think about. Here are her questions and answers:

* How many hours a week do I need child care? "An au pair can work up to 45 hours per week and a maximum of 10 hours per day. While this stipulation is set by federal regulations governing the au pair program, it is a ground rule that's also just common sense, as you want your au pair focused and alert during her work hours."

* How many children can an au pair care for and how much will it cost? "Most au pair programs in the U.S. have one flat fee per family, not per child. Au pairs can care for families of all sizes. The minimum weekly stipend an au pair receives is set by federal regulations and tied to federal hourly wage limits with a consideration for room and board. The current stipend for an au pair working 45 hours per week is $176.85 and will increase in July 2009 to $195.75 when the regulated third increase in federal minimum wage goes into effect. Speak with your area's community counselor if you have questions."

* How much living space should be available for an au pair ? "An au pair requires a private bedroom in your home that meets local fire code safety standards. It is important the space include a comfortable bed, adequate storage for clothing and personal items, a window and adequate artificial lighting. Remember, the room will be your au pair's private living space for at least a year - if she is comfortable and happy, she is better able to focus on the important job of caring for your children.

* What's the proper way to address comings and goings; the use of common areas of my home; and other house ground rules? "Before your au pair begins living in your home, consider your family household habits and traditions that are assumed but rarely articulated. You probably have rules about where food can be eaten, taking shoes off, use of a car, private and communal areas of the home, acceptable hours for coming and going, noise levels and visitors. You need to convey your rules to your au pair before she arrives. Your community counselor will provide an orientation before the au pair arrives and meet with you and your au pair shortly after her arrival."

* Can I expect our au pair to go on vacation with our family or attend special family holiday celebrations? "This is entirely up to the host family. You have chosen an au pair, in part, because you want someone living in your home that you can trust to love and care for your children. Choosing to include her in your family vacation or special family holiday celebrations is a great way for her to become an extended member of your family. This also gives you an opportunity to see her interacting with your children. However, be clear about your expectations. When you invite her on vacation or a family outing, let her know when she'll be expected to care for the children."

* If I hire an au pair and it isn't working out, what do I do? "Most au pair agencies provide some provision to assist families whose au pair isn't working out. At Au Pair in America, we provide full support services, and if it is clear that issues between the family and au pair cannot be resolved, we work with the family to find to a suitable replacement within 24 hours. Keep in contact with your community counselor even if you are not having problems with your au pair. Usually it is a series of communication problems building up over time that can lead to separation from an au pair. These can be avoided by vesting yourself in a training period with the au pair - teaching her about how you want your children cared for; how to safely use the equipment in your home; speaking frequently with her in private; offering praise and constructive criticism; taking time to observe and hear how she is feeling. Adapting to a new culture, language and family is never easy!"

To find out more, go to Connally's blog at or call her at 301-860-1314.

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