Alternative child care: au pairs

Au pairs give children more personal and cultural experience

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ALPHARETTA, Ga. —Summer is prime time for nannies and babysitters, with parents at work during the day and no school to rely on. While neighborhood babysitters are widely used, others are opting for a more personal feel.

Au pairs have been around for decades, giving parents a more worldly option. The family decides which au pair would best fit their family from a wide variety of cultures and countries, and then the woman, who is typically 18-26 years old, lives with the host family for one year providing child care. The au pair must complete a certain number of education classes in the year, but she receives a weekly stipend and room and board.

Andrea McMains, spokesperson from Au Pair in America, is a community counselor and a local contact for au pairs and their host families from Cumming, Alpharetta and Roswell. She is in charge of 25 families currently, but has been in charge of 50 during better economic times.

Having an au pair suits many families because they get to decide the schedule.

“Our children are just about as busy as the parents. There’s so many different activities that they have to get to,” said McMains. “The ability to have an au pair that can drive their children after school and make those different activities is priceless. The au pair can help them with homework, all before the host mom and dad get home themselves.”

The cost of an au pair is something many people tend to over think. According to McMains, an au pair is sometimes cheaper than a babysitter. She says the cost averages out to $366 a week, but if a family has more than one child in daycare, they’re probably already paying that, plus they aren’t getting the benefits of an au pair.

The cost and benefits were two reasons why Brandee Bryant chose to use an au pair for the past two years.

“We have three children so it definitely financially makes sense for us,” said Bryant.

Bryant is happy her three sons, Aiston, 7, Owen, 3, and Baxter, 2, are able to get a cultural experience.

“You bring someone into your home and you show your children the appreciation of other cultures,” said Bryant. “Having someone that can love your child 24 hours a day is important.”

Besides financial questions, parents probably will wonder how safe an au pair is. Before an au pair is a candidate, she is interviewed in her country by an Au Pair in America agent. She has to fulfill multiple qualifications, such as a criminal background check, psychological tests, a medical clearance and an interview with the embassy in her country. She must also qualify for child care.

Host families are able to choose which au pair they are interested in and many families want a language tutor, with popularity in French and Spanish speakers, according to McMains.

Some families just want a friendly, competent woman to take care of their children.

“It’s more about personality,” said Bryant. “I don’t care what language they spoke.”

Whatever reason the family is using an au pair, both sides benefit greatly from it.

“The director of our program describes this program as a heart-to-heart program,” said McMains. “It enables an American child to view the world in a more global way and to learn more about someone who lives in a different country and vice versa. It enables both of those people to fall in love with each other and to have a better view of each other.”

This was published in the July 3 issue of the Forsyth Herald.