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Au Pairs--A Great Childcare Option


by Christopher Giaimo

My wife and I have 3 boys- a 6 year old and 8 year old twins. We both work full time in the hotel industry and put in long hours and full days. When our twins were 2 and with another baby on the way, we realized that the daily hassles of daycare were just getting to be too much. In addition to the earlier mornings needed to dress and feed the boys before bringing them to the center, too much work was being missed due to one or the other twin being sick and not being able to go to daycare, or being called out of work early due to ear infections, upset tummies, or mild fevers. In addition, the time constraints imposed by centers and home daycare made it difficult to arrange daily work schedules. Putting a 3rd child into daycare was also going to be expensive. There had to be a better and more cost effective way. We needed a trustworthy caregiver that could offer the flexibility our busy family required without costing too much.

We were introduced to the Au Pair program through a co-worker. Although the au pair program has been around for more than 15 years, we were unaware that hosting an au pair is a childcare option available to any US citizen. The U.S. Department of State regulates all au pair programs in the United States, offering parents the peace of mind that their children are in trusted, qualified care. Au pairs live and study in the United States for one year on a J-1 cultural exchange visa, in exchange for providing 45 hours of childcare per week.

Au pairs are between the ages of 18 and 26 years old and speak proficient English. During their stay in the U.S., au pairs provide live-in childcare and help their host families more easily balance their busy lifestyle. A host family can set their au pair's working hours according to their hectic schedule, often having the au pair drive the children to and from school or to appointments, as well as supervise the older children during after-school hours and vacation breaks. And a great help to the family, au pairs also assist with light household responsibilities, such as preparing meals, doing the children's laundry, and helping the children keep their rooms and play areas neat.

The au pair agency we worked with provided us with biographies and other information on potential au pairs from around the world. After narrowing down our choices, we "matched" with Katrin from Germany. Katrin arrived in September 2003 and was with us for two years, using an option to extend her J-1 visa for a second year. During her time with us, she helped get the kids up in the morning, made them breakfast and lunch, took them to the zoo and parks, read to them, taught them German, changed a zillion diapers, put them down for naps, helped wipe runny noses and did their laundry. Katrin created a very caring environment for our children, while also helping my family better balance our daily lives and schedules. Katrin became an important part of our family and the boys came to love her very much. When Katrin left in 2005, another au pair, Isabelle joined our family for a year. Isabelle was also from Germany and she was like an older sister to the boys, playing with them at the park, having picnics in the family room, and helping them take care of their pet hamster. Both Katrin and Isabelle not only provided the flexible and affordable childcare we need, but they also taught my children that there is a larger world out there.

For a family with 3 young children, hosting an international au pair at the cost of $340 a week was the most affordable childcare option available to us. And, more importantly, hosting an au pair was also the most rewarding childcare option for our family.

By the way, Katrin has returned from Germany on a student visa and is now a nursing student at North Hennepin Community College.

Christopher Giaimo is a local childcare coordinator for Cultural Care Au Pair based in Minnesota. Being a host father, he knows firsthand how great the Au Pair program can be for families and would love to help connect host families with au pairs from around the world, allowing families to find flexible and affordable childcare.

Chris welcomes your questions about the au pair program and can be reached at chris.giaimo@lcc.culturalcare.com. For more information, please visit www.culturalcare.com or cgiaimo.aupairnews.com

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