Mythbusters: Au Pair Childcare

Selecting childcare can be a challenging task on which many parents spend hours researching available alternatives and seeking recommendations from family and friends. There are several options to choose from and many aspects to consider. Perhaps the most misunderstood form of childcare, the au pair program, is actually quite straightforward and provides the flexibility and affordability that many parents are looking for.

What is an au pair? The translation of “au pair” is “on par” or equal, based on the idea that an au pair becomes like a member of the family. Au pairs are young adults, ranging in age from 18 to 26, that arrive in the United States on a J-1 Cultural Exchange Visa. They typically come for one year, but can extend their stay for up to two years. Au pairs hope to acquire a better understanding of the cultural aspects of American life while living with an American family and caring for their children.

There are many misconceptions associated with the au pair program. The following information will help demystify the au pair program and assist parents in making an informed childcare decision.

Myth: Au pairs are for the rich and famous.

Fact: Au pairs are not just for the wealthy. The average weekly cost is just $360 for 45 hours of childcare coverage regardless of the number of children in a family. Au pair host families come from all walks of life, with dual working parents and single parents, and have a wide range of occupations with both traditional and non-traditional work schedules.

Myth: Au pairs work 9-5 and don’t want to work nights and weekends.

Fact: Au pairs are carefully screened and understand that flexibility and working up to 45 hours per week and 10 hours per day is a requirement of the program. Parents customize au pair childcare according to their schedule and, unlike a nanny or daycare center whose service is typically based on a set schedule, an au pair works when parents need them.

Myth: Au pairs only provide childcare.

Fact: Unlike daycare or a babysitter, an au pair can perform all household duties associated with children, so they can clean a playroom, prepare and clean up after meals, do children’s laundry, make the children’s beds and organize their toys and closets. In addition to childcare and help around the house, having an au pair also enriches a child’s playtime through exposure to another language and culture.

Myth: Anyone can be an au pair.

Fact: Actually the au pair program is highly regulated by the Department of State and requires that all candidates have significant childcare experience and complete a thorough application. During the screening process, the potential candidate is personally interviewed, tested on English competency, takes a personality profile survey, submits a criminal background check and provides personal and professional references. 

Myth: Once an au pair arrives, parents are all alone in making it work.

Fact: Au pair programs provide ongoing personalized support throughout the year. Local childcare consultants maintain monthly contact with host families and provide a social outlet for the au pairs in the area by hosting monthly meetings. 

Myth: Not having a native speaker will affect a child’s language development.

Fact: Studies have shown that exposing children to a second language enhances their language and cognitive development and does not impede their ability to learn English. With an au pair, parents can have a caregiver who speaks English and is also willing to teach their native language and share their culture with the family. Having an au pair can also reinforce a child’s language learning at school.


Image via Cultural Care Au Pair