A Series of Bad Matches: Is it you, or your au pair Agency?

by cv harquail on December 14, 2010

No one is responsible for a great host parent-au pair relationship.

Or, rather, no one person or entity is responsible for great host parent-au pair relationship. That responsibility is shared between three parties:

1. The Au Pair her- or himself
2. The Host Parent(s), and
3. The Au Pair Agency.

Because we host parents know that the most important part of the au pair hosting journey is picking someone with a good fit at the very start, we put a lot of energy into the interviewing and matching process.

We hope that the au pairs we interview have a clear sense of the overall job, and that they are paying attention to the information we send them about our specific situations so that they can make a good choice among opportunities.

And, we count on the au pair agency to screen the candidates and only offer to us host parents those candidates that meet our criteria.

Although we’ve had mostly good au pair experiences, with the two who did not work out I wondered if they ever should have been au pairs at all. The first one who left early had a very clear sense that she was in the US for her own enjoyment, and being an au pair was just a vehicle. When her social life ramped up, she wanted out.

Our second bad au pair was completely unfit for the job, emotionally and in terms of her maturity. She didn’t understand that being an au pair was work, and that she was supposed to learn how to care for our kids in our way, not by sitting on the couch and staring at them. Especially in that latter case, I felt that the au pair agency didn’t do its job n clarifying the real expectations of an au pair. (And this issue, about whether agencies explain the au pair job honestly, in an ongoing problem for many host parents and many agencies.)

Noelle sent us this mail, with some ‘big picture’ questions about finding an au pair … She asks:

— How can you know whether its a problem with the system, or a problem with you having chosen to have an au pair in the first place?
— To fix things and have a better experience, do you examine your own behavior, or make sure the Agency is really doing what it says it will?

I am a 4 time host mom – all four experiences have been inside the last 15 months, and all appear to be flameouts. I wanted this program to work. With my husband’s travel schedule, and my working full time locally, I needed this to work. As much as I want this to work, I have yet to have a single good experience with this.

Our problems throughout these au pair experiences pretty much run the gamut.

AP#1 left abruptly, without notice, after her boyfriend went back to Europe from a Xmas visit where we hosted him. We were without childcare for ~5 weeks until the next one arrived.

AP#2 was with us for nearly 7 months, until I had to go into rematch due to continual disrespect for house and car rules. I needed support from a mature adult (23yo) and got teenager attitude problem instead.

4 weeks later, AP#3 arrived, and the English she spoke could fit on a cocktail napkin (I think she was coached through her interviews, and used a translator for the emails). That, coupled with her expiring drivers license, forced us into rematch again (she couldn’t pass the state exam).

Now we are on AP#4 – she has a license, speaks perfect English, but is afraid to drive the car. This is totally unacceptable – my kids need to be picked up, dropped off, and she was well aware of the driving expectation prior to match. This is on top of watching alot of tv with my son (great…), waking up 5 minutes before her scheduled start time and never being ready for work on time, and allowing my 3 year old to wander the house alone while she’s doing other things.

I am less than impressed with my agency, due to their poor screening of candidates, and my LCC’s ineffectiveness at getting problems resolved with the APs. I read about other people having problems – they seem to come from everywhere. They could be unhappy with the agency, the LCC, maybe they start choosing APs from different countries. Or maybe they just have a bad run of it before meeting the AP of their dreams?

I don’t know what to do, and this is why I’m writing:201012140750.jpg

How can Host Parents determine if their issue is with an aspect of the program (wrong agency, wrong lcc, etc), or if the AP program is just a bad fit altogether?

When is it time to cut your losses and go back to daycare?

thanks — Noelle

Images:  you see me – 1, I see you – 1 polaroid SX-70,@Cairo,Egypt.from *Zephyrance – don’t wake me up.

{ 61 comments }

Euromom December 14, 2010 at 9:39 am

Hey there Noelle,

I just had a quick read through your post and one thing that popped up at me was how much expectancy you place on your agency to screen your potential AP’s. I am only bringing this point up because I do not use an agency (I myself do a much more comprehensive screening process than any agency) but I know that is not an option in the US.

I wonder how much screening / investigation you did yourself as I note you say “4 weeks later, AP#3 arrived, and the English she spoke could fit on a cocktail napkin (I think she was coached through her interviews, and used a translator for the emails” – how many times did you actually speak with her (skype in particular is great as you can see if someone is being coached along). Surely if her English was this bad it would have been apparent during your conversations conducted in your screening process.

I understand your disappointment with the agency but my advice would be for the next AP – put the hours in post matching, do your homework, send your Handbook to any potential candidates and when it comes to driving tell him that they will have to do a test within two weeks of their arrival so their driving skills must be accurate and factual.

For your current AP – do up a handbook – have her read it – tell her that you would like to discuss it with her at the end of the week and go from there.

I hope all goes well for you.

Should be working December 14, 2010 at 10:12 am

Noelle, you’ve got me nervous, since we are starting to look at applicants for July/August.

It does sound like at least two of these bad matches needed better screening, and probably by you, the HF. You might think that the agency should do this, but I don’t expect that they filter for 1) boyfriends back home; 2)not a LOT of experience driving 3) English competence. There are many factors that might matter to some families and not others, so I presume it is my job to figure the important things out as much as I can rather than relying on the agency (we don’t care much about English competence, for instance, since we speak the language of the APs we host). English competence is the HF’s job to assess on their own, and isn’t hard to do. Disrespect to house and car seems to be hardest to filter for among your 4 flameouts. Also a good liar could cover up the boyfriend and possibly also the driving ability. Check out the AMAZING and comprehensive list of questions to assess driving that recently showed up here from a host mom (hOstCD?)). Did your nervous driver lie about her driving, for instance, or did she just not have an accurate view of her own driving skills? A non-liar’s driving *willingness* can be assessed fairly well by interview, in my view, even better than her actual driving skills, so that rematch might have been avoided with better screening on your part.

I would be curious about what your interview and screening process was. The articles under ‘choosing an au pair’ on this site are very helpful for developing a fine filter for selecting an AP. From what you write here, I don’t believe the agency is the problem in your case. The overall risks of the AP program ARE a problem, no one knows the statistics on rematches, and it is not a simple thing to find someone who takes good care of kids, makes a good roommate, is a good driver, and fits in well with the family, nor to know HOW to know that a candidate is all those things. But from what you describe it might be the case that you need to do more rigorous interviewing and selection. If you are not up to a thorough vetting and selection process–and it is time- and energy-consuming–I would consider daycare instead of the AP program.

On a related topic, sort of:
As I start to choose our next AP, I find myself weighing strongly–for the initial selection of applicants whose files I request–the impression conveyed by the pics and videos posted on the agency website. Some seem just plain NICE and FUN in those pics and videos, and some don’t. Of the two APs we hosted (both in transition), both their pics actually did in retrospect convey their personality accurately (and I should have paid attention to that in one case to avoid a rematch!). But I am wondering if I should not be so focused on those little pics/videos in making my requests for files. Any anecdotal evidence here as to whether those pics/videos are very good, or not-at-all-good, criteria to start with (obviously not with respect to the final selection), or whether you’ve ended up with great APs who have had not-so-good pics and videos? Can I trust my ‘read’ of those pics and videos or do they just say more about the AP’s videomaking abilities than her AP abilities?

Hula Gal December 14, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Definitely put stock in the photos and the “read” you get from them, but they are only one part of the story.

Anna December 14, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Yes, you should trust your first “read” of pictures and videos. This is where your sixth sense comes in, on which I now heavily rely when deciding on a candidate (a candidate that fits everything else on paper). I wait for that feeling of confidence and genuine like. It is often created on the first impressions by pictures and essay, and only confirmed by conversations etc. In fact pictures and essay are the first thing I look at, and they have veto power – no like, no go.

If I don’t realy love candidate’s pictures, I don’t even call them. I don’t feel bad discriminating on such basis; I have to live with the person and see their face every day for the whole year, and if that face doesn’t look nice, friendly, intelligent and pleasant to me – it is not something I should force myself into at that stage.

We had two au pairs that didn’t work out because of something wrong with them – their pictures were so-so. One girl I knew staged her pictures (or took them especially for the application), because the children and her were wearing the same clothes in many of them. You can also see if they are posing (all these photos of them playing a boardgame on the floor and smiling at the camera… )
THe most telling picture I saw though was not from the application. This was a photo of one of our au pairs who were not good for the job – a photo of her with the kids from her first hostfamily (she came to us as a rematch). She was standing, posing at the camera, next to, but completely separate and distant from two most adorable angelic-looking toddlers you could find… You could sense from the photo that she had zero interest in those kids.

BoysMom December 15, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Its really interesting that you’ve asked this specific question about photos because I really feel like I put too much emphasis on this with our current au pair. I always think you can tell so much from looking at a face but was totally 180 degrees wrong this time. The application photos and photos with her family conveyed a sweet, small, simple girl. What we got was a major party girl. Be careful and figure out what you want to know about the AP’s personality and ASK, don’t assume.

Tahoe Mom 2 Twins December 15, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Yes, read into the photos and videos. The AP’s choose which photos are put in their profile, and they often speak volumes into their personal lives. In my case, my Au Pair who was asked to start a generous and careful “exit” recently, but then was snatched back to her home country by her step-father, had a profile photo that made her look like a bit of a psychiatric patient. And guess what? After a 9 month investment in our AP, turns out she does have psychological issues that probably should have been picked up by the agency (they claim to do a psychological evaluation through the medical check-up, but when I questioned them about its extensivity prior to going into the program, I received fairly vague “canned” answers) thus excluding her from the program. My infant almost drowned in her care at the beginning of her year with us, and had we known about the psychological issues (eating disorders, learning disabilities, phobias, and more), we a) would have chosen another Au Pair in the first place, or b) would have rematched immediately after that awful incident. Step-father is now trying to sue US for breach of contract and emotional distress. Do everything you can to find out about the Au Pair and ask for relevant references (names and phone numbers of people who the AP has babysat for, worked for, driven their kids around, and then CALL them). Keep in mind that AP’s are young people looking for a new opportunity, but not necessarily the chance to look after a child; childcare is usually the “drawback” for them. Their motivation is going to be very different than that of a professional child care provider, and very often the quality of the care goes alongside that. I also agree that you need to Skype with them, or at the very least have several phone conversations with your prosective AP before committing to them. I have now gone to using a local young woman as our nanny, and my husband and I, plus our twins have never been more relaxed and confident in the excellent care they are receiving; funny, the nanny is the same age as our Au Pair was, but the maturity level is light years different. Good luck!

NoVA Host Mom December 18, 2010 at 2:22 am

As someone currently on the hunt for the next AP, I can tell you honestly that I have turned down AP candidates based on the fact that their profile picture looks like it belongs on MySpace. One recent one seemed to be trying to show her cup size (sideways chest shot). Um, no thank you. And I make no apologies for it. It’s not like we have a huge amount to work with, so you need to go with your gut on the pictures. If something seems “off” it probably is, and you can skip reading the letter or application.

Ex Au Pair December 14, 2010 at 12:48 pm

My case was the same thing, but I was an Au Pair with 3 awful HF.

1st Host Family: They could not deal with the religion differences (I’m a brazilian with an Arab last name. They were jewish with a lot of mean pre judgment. Do the math).

2nd Host Family: HM was TOTALLY crazy. She didn’t like the agency she chose, so instead of waiting my program to finish and then change, she made up a lot of crazy stories that almost made me be expelled from the program. For example… she said I wiped the baby’s face with lysol wipes. Huh? Yeah, the baby had allergic reactions to the wiped, but because she was the one wiping the high chair with that. Not me. I had to prove I was right, they right away took her story as the real one.

3rd Host Family: the 3 best ever host kids in the word. The 2 worst host parents. Specially the DH… the most selfish, rude and heartless person I ever had the displeasure to meet in my whole life. He is the kind of person who has problems and throws his frustrations to the other. The Au Pair in this case. The girl who filled my place there stayed just one more month to and had to hear him say to her “never dare to come back to his house”. He didn’t care for his kids crying.

Hula Gal December 14, 2010 at 1:45 pm

We had two bad matches out of the gate as new host parents. The third match we lucked out and found an au pair who was going in to her second year looking for a new family and the host mom was willing to provide a glowing reference. And I have good instincts and had a good feeling about the host mom and felt I could trust her opinion. She was a solid au pair. The fourth au pair we found through Great Au Pair and were lucky to be able to interview her in person. She has brought different challenges but her childcare is very good. We are just working on issues related to expectations about being a member of the family. But overall I would say that our #3 and #4 have been far superior than the first two. And the difference is that we really took charge of the screening and interviewing process and approached it with the attitude that we wanted something great or nothing at all and they would have to prove that they fit the bill. The first two we felt like they had the upper hand. The second two we realized that we in fact have the upper hand and will only allow for the best candidates. We are also realistic and don’t expect a perfect arrangement but also know our dealbreakers and stand by them. Keep trying! When the match is good having an au pair can be great!

Hula Gal December 14, 2010 at 1:49 pm

I should clarify that I pre-matched through Great Au Pair. We still use an agency so that we are above board.

PhillyMom December 14, 2010 at 2:27 pm

We have had two au apirs and just chose our next au pair for 2011. Our first au pair was great and that is why we did not screen the second au apir so well. I kind of expected every au pair to be as good as #1!. Well, in retrospective I should have seen many things and I do see them now. Just like Should be working was saying, you can see it in their pictures….The one we have now, did not spend any time on her collage, her letter was simple and immature, but her picture was very pretty. And that is exactly what we got now: a very pretty, photogenic, but immature girl. It’s not bad enough to go into rematch, but what a disappointment compared to #1! She is just not intuitive at all! She shows no initiative, can/does not want to cook or bake. However, if told to she does everything as told – so we’re lucky in that way. Anyway, my advise is to interview really well. For the next au pair we skyped 2 times, really went carefully through the application and used a list of questions for the interview. We actually interviewed 3 candidates. I have been monitoring au pair open online forums to look for a mature person ( I speak the language of the au pair we will be getting), so needless to say, I think I learned from my experience and am now very diligent in picking the right person. Now I just hope that that will be enough. The au pair agency does not always make the best judgement in terms of evaluation of language skills. The au pair with the best “grade” in English by the agency was the worst speaker on the phone. I told the agency about that and they told me that the English evaluation depends on the evaluator who in many cases is an ex-au pair (so it depends on the English level of the evaluator I would assume….). Anyway, I think it’s very important to screen au pairs diligently, but even then that is no guarantee for success.

Anna December 14, 2010 at 3:14 pm

I often wonder how the au pairs whose applications I reject right away (not because of misfit with us, but because of a misfit with being an au pair) find families. Because most candidates do.
Now I know that they go to families like yours.

I will echo everyone here and say that you cannot rely on the agency to supply qualified candidates. Not necessarily because the agency doesn’t do due diligence – they mostly do. Because there are so many variables, and a candidate who is really motivated to live in America for a year, can easily go through the agency screening and application process.

The onus is on the host family to really do a thorough job interviewing. And even then, there are no guarantees, but chances of it working out are much better.

I have learned my lesson. We had a great au pair the first year, and our second year, I didn’t interview well and settled on the candidate who looked OK on paper, but I wasn’t excited about. It didn’t work out. Now I am very careful and very selective. Even to call or contact a candidate, takes for me to completely love their application. I can go through dozens before calling somebody.

PA AP mom December 14, 2010 at 3:55 pm

I agree with Anna. Others tell the APs what to say on their applications to have the best chance of finding a family. They can easily “pass” the agency’s screening process.

Our first AP knew just what to say on her application and she had a lot of pictures of her with children.

Turns out she “hated” children and told us so a month before she left to return home.

The second time I knew what questions to ask and we had a great AP. Our third AP came to us from a transition in Dallas and she is great as well.

The best piece of advice I can offer is: Talk to your AP on more than one occasion and ask A LOT of questions.

LocalMotion December 14, 2010 at 4:03 pm

We had 3 very negative experiences with 3 out of 4 au pairs over a period of 5 months. Our 4th, current (and she’ll be our final) au pair is wonderful, but she is a friend of our relatives outside the US, and they essentially “pre-screened her” since our their families have been friends for 25 years. We then we brought her here under the same au pair agency’s program so we wouldn’t lose the thousands of dollars that were non-refundable in the agency’s contract. Remind me never to sign another au pair agency contract.

With our failed au pairs, we did extensive interviews on phone/email/Skype with each au pair and their parents / employers etc. I had a detailed Family Handbook (in both languages) which didn’t seem to make much of a difference either. Lastly, we had had a extra-nice au pair set-up: own in-law apartment; own car; own gym membership; 30 hr per week schedule etc. etc. – and these perks also seemed to make little positive difference.

To answer the title of the post, I’d say it’s definitely the large au pair agencies which have set-up a profitable, lose-lose system sanctioned by the US State Dept no less. Despite our lengthy informational interviews with other local families who happily use (all german) au pairs, and extensive interviews with the au pairs themselves and their families, we had terrible outcomes. Perhaps we should have only focused on German au pairs since those families were pretty satisfied – especially with their driving skills? Live and learn indeed. Instead, we had an au pair who jumped her Visa; an au pair (and her family!) who totally mis-represented her driving abilities since she could not drive at all; and au pair who had lied about her accident record *and* promptly had a major car accident. Thankfully our children were not in the car.

I would NEVER recommend an au pair program to a friend. The very likely downsides far, far outweigh the potential cultural exchange positives. I find myself reading the website occasionally because our current au pair brings home so many negative stories from her local LCC meetings and I want to try to give her some positive advice.

Jennifer December 14, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Ditto LocalMotion.

It truly is a foreign exchange program where you have an adult living off of you in exchange for hopefully mediocre childcare. No, we are out of the program too and will never do it again. 3 AP’s in 1 year. 2 were rematch’s and came highly recommended.

1st – didn’t like kids, immature, would give us the silent treatment, hoarded food, and a total slob
2nd – took a family vacation after 6 weeks and flew 2 men into the city we went to and they stayed in the hotel room we paid for. Drove back to home and had them in our house. Lied about the whole thing
3rd – Supposedly wonderful rematch (I actually talked to the prior family) – noone told us about the nose ring, belly ring and inappropriate clothing (black brazilian cut underwear under skin tight clothing). Never cleaned up after herself, left a mess in the microwave EVERY week right after the cleaning ladies came, put dirty dishes back in the cupboards and decided to PLAY WITH FIRE when my kids were out of school. Oh… just a couple of experiments and a bonfire on my back patio out of pinestraw. Seriously, that was just quite a deal breaker!

We had our limit and I just grew so resentful as she was driving MY car around town every weekend and spending the money I just gave her and I’m home cleaning out the microwave, taking the dirty dishes back out of the cupboard etc. Yes, I can ask her about it but just like my 13 year it’s never her – never her fault, etc. Although I KNOW she was the one to do it as she was the only one home.

Good luck if you go for it again.

HMinWI December 14, 2010 at 10:59 pm

These two posts would make me never want to host an AP if I were considering it! I’m so glad I never heard this before I started! (The family that recommended the program to us actually had their first AP go AWOL after 6 weeks, but their second was so good that they gushed about the program.) We’re hosting AP#5 right now, and we’ve had overwhelmingly positive experiences. I would wish for every family to have the childcare that we have had in this time! Sure, there have been challenges…even one AP my dh and I didn’t really like that much…but, my kids have been well loved, have learned that they can trust adults other than their parents when needed, and have had consistent and reliable care in their own home. I’d do it over again in a heartbeat. My only wish is that I had started 3 years earlier!

Former NOVA Host Mum December 15, 2010 at 12:26 pm

My husband and I also dropped out of the Au Pair program and will never go back.

1st Au Pair : great Au Pair but party ANIMAL! did something illegal (involved abandoning children), and ended up getting fired from our program, disappeared illegally and has recently reappeared back in the USA after marrying an American.(that was her one aim from the start)

#2: great Au Pair (older, engaged, more mature Au Pair) stayed for 1 year, still in contact with her.

#3: nightmare, basically did not want to get her hands dirty, thought our house hold was too ‘laid back’ (???), went home after 6 weeks.

#4; was a rematch from another family after HF got a divorce, was with us 12 weeks until end of yr, she was the worst, basically dim, had no concept of safety, left 2 amd 4 yr old in wading pool etc…..

I love my daycare……have to do some juggling with hubby as we both work fulltime but take advantage of daycare ‘date nights’ and have NO drama in the house and costs a lot less whilst knowing kids are getting great care. Kids are also a little older (4/6) so that makes Au Pair program less necessary.

Gianna December 14, 2010 at 4:48 pm

I am a big believer in the aupair concept and I find that the agencies are very customer conscious due to the economy. I also am a big believer in having a Plan B so that if something goes wrong, the gap time is minimized. There is no question that I know much more now than I did when I first became involved in this subculture. That acquired knowledge is offset by what I see as an increased across the board sense of entitlement among young people. We are more saavy and so are the kids. Aupairs do coach each other and tell each other what to say and how to present themselves. Now, with social media and technology it is much easier. In answer to the original poster’s question , though, I think responsibility can be directed to the agency if they
assign you an aupair. If you choose the person yourself, it may or may not be your inexperience that sets you up. It could just be bad luck. I prefer the search the whole data base type of agency but I have just learned that some of those agencies will pick some candidates for you to choose from if you wish. When we say the agency is to blame, it could be an individual in the agency. That is why I am nervous about agencies with ” placement counselors “. How well do these people ( often not much older than the aupairs ) know the needs of their families ? How could they when the turnover is so rapid ? We hear alot of sad stories on this blog which is understandable because people are most motivated to share / write when they are upset. I know there are good stories our there and I often wish we heard more of them – not just the spin ( Look at our great aupairs with the kids they love ) stories from the agencies. Those stories are so artifical you can get a sugar high from reading them.

JJ Host Mom December 14, 2010 at 5:43 pm

We’ve had three au pairs.

The first wasn’t good, but we tried hard to make it work for 8 loooong months. Never again.

The second was wonderful. We still love her and she’ll always be part of our family. She wasn’t perfect, but neither are we. She was truly what the au pair program was supposed to be.

We’re currently in rematch with our third au pair. He lasted a month before I fired him for smelling suspiciously strongly of cigarette smoke, on multiple occasions and despite stern warnings from me, and for talking on the phone all day while he was supposed to be watching the kids. At least this time around I didn’t make excuses for him for months and months.

With the first au pair, we were a new host family and didn’t know what to look for. Then I found this site and it helped enormously, so I was strict in screening AP#2. Probably coupled with a lot of luck, she was great. With AP#3 I admit I got a little lazy. There were definitely things I could have done differently, and bad feelings I should have followed up on. We’ve just matched with AP#4 and I was much stricter with the screening process, and I’m hopeful she’ll be great.

So, coming back to your question, you haven’t said anything about your screening process, but it could be that there’s room for improvement there. I think there’s also a pretty high rematch rate. AP #3 told me that a month into our match, 20 out of the 80 au pairs he was in training with had already gone into rematch or gone home. My agency discourages rematches before the second month, so I’d extrapolate that the global rematch rate has got to be somewhere between 33-50%. It’s definitely not a perfect system. Host families are ultimately responsible for being selective in the screening process. I’m not quite sure why the agencies aren’t more selective, but they’re not. We’ve bypassed (and heck, even hired) people who are clearly not qualified to be au pairs.

Again though, when it’s a good match, it’s wonderful.

This website has great advice for hiring. My process, cobbled together from advice I’ve gotten here, is to first send out a scary email talking about how hard this job is and ask if they’re interested. If they reply then we talk/Skype, and if that goes well I send them my scary handbook. If they read it respond something like “Thank you for sending the handbook! It answered all my questions and was really helpful” then we keep talking. If, after 3-4 conversations, I still like them, and they’re enthusiastic about matching with my family (and can clearly explain why they like us, and the reason has something to do with the family, and not with the social life potential in the area), then I check references. If the references pan out, we match.

HMinWI December 14, 2010 at 11:06 pm

I put very little stock in the agency’s screening. It is my responsibility to screen my candidates and find the one that will be able to tolerate my family – warts and all – and take good care of my kids. Have you looked at other agencies? We had good luck using greataupair for two of our matches. That allowed me to screen the candidates on my own before even seeing their application on my agency’s website. I’m not sure I ever would have done well with an agency that tried to screen the candidates for me. Over the years, my dh and I have put less importance on the essay and childcare experience portion of the application because, to us, everyone sounds the same. So, we have focused more on driving skills and family life at home. We have found that the more similarities we find between our family and the AP’s, the better the match. It has simply made for an easier transition.

I can’t tell you when to cut your losses. I just wish for you to find an AP that will be that third adult that you need.

Busy Mom December 14, 2010 at 11:14 pm

I rely on the agencies only to provide me with a pool of candidates who are interested in being au pairs. I don’t rely much (if at all) on the agency screening. I take the entire application with a grain of salt and don’t assume anything – I ask questions about topics that are covered in their profile.

We’ve been taking a similar approach to JJ Host Mom with a fairly detailed family letter that makes our au pair job sound more arduous than it really is and hits all the hot buttons – like how we handle vacation, cooking, schedule, etc. (Was it Calif Mom who described her letter as a “dare to match with our family” letter? – ours is similar). So far, we’ve had relatively good experiences with 3 au pairs and have had no major issues.

Taking a Computer Lunch December 14, 2010 at 11:38 pm

As someone who participates in a huge agency, I want to say I have never gone into rematch (seriously considered it once – but it was not about the quality of childcare – it was about self-motivation to speak English and to drive).

I start with the job experience – because I’ve learned over the years, as The Camel enters adolescence in diapers, that actual experience with special needs children (as opposed to a theoretical willingness) translates into direct childcare experience. AP #6 just revealed to me that The Camel is my easy child (I know that! But when an AP realizes it, she has usually fallen in love with The Camel, who is pretty amusing on her good days). You may not want to pay for special needs experience, your agency may not offer it as an option, but do look carefully at work experience. It’s one thing to babysit for children for a couple of hours, it’s another thing to be responsible for them (my APs have been nurses, teachers, psychologists, and caregivers in group homes). I’m not saying that every AP who has only babysitting experience will be mediocre, but she will need some guidance.

My telephone interview, when a candidate is excellent, lasts 90 minutes. I have had conversations that have lasted less than 12 minutes. It is extremely difficult to carry on a telephone conversation in another language – you have no body language to encourage you, no gestures to indicate you’re on the right track. Even if my ancient computer could handle Skype, I don’t think I’d use it. Very few of my questions are yes/no questions, and even if I’ve exchanged lengthy emails on a topic, I still want to hear candidates verbally describe it. I want to hear that they understand the language, can hear cognates – my APs with the best “ears” for language have been the most curious about idiomatic use.

On average, I run through 100-120 potential candidates (although I didn’t coin the “I dare you to match with me” title for the introductory email, that’s exactly what it is – I dare you to come and take care of The Camel), and ultimately interview 5-6. If my first choice doesn’t match, I consider whether I want to dive back into the pool, or candidate #2 would work equally as well. The whole process usually takes 6-8 weeks (and usually the first candidate interviewed gets anxious – I always tell them – if you find a better situation feel free to match). I also encourage communication with prior APs (but I suppose if you’ve just had lousy experiences you might not want to do that).

Be a good HP, but don’t be a pushover. By being a good HP I don’t mean spoiling a young woman rotten and “giving” her everything. I mean be fair, be honest, follow the rules, ask her how her day went and give her time to talk to you when you’re not surrounded by children. It is possible to be generous in ways that don’t affect your pocketbook. Encourage her to participate in all the elements of the program. Don’t put up with the violation of your rules. Push back. Encourage her to be the type of caregiver you want for your children. Realize that she’s an individual and bound to have weaknesses – decide whether those weaknesses are worth your flexibility.

In my 9 1/2 years of hosting I’ve learned that each AP is individual and that each reacts to my children in different ways. The most successful APs are those who work to reach out and find a mutually acceptable ground for interaction (if this AP doesn’t do what the last AP did, but she does do X, then encourage X).

Involve your kids if they are old enough. By the time my son was 6, he wanted a say, although he didn’t necessarily want to actually speak to the candidates on the phone. I must say, he’s had a good sense (and when I’m having a difficult spell with an AP and he learns of it, he almost always takes her side, which is good, because it means a bond has been formed).

Finally, push your LCC to assist you. She’s read thousands of applications and has experience reading through the lines of an AP’s desire to appear perfect so that she matches with you. Get her to help you find a good candidate – if she’s doing her job then she knows you better than the people in the home office.

BoysMom December 15, 2010 at 7:25 pm

What agency are you with that you have had professionals as APs and are able to interview so many at one time? We are with Cultural Care Au Pair because we have been led to believe that they are the biggest with the best resources and a solid matching system, but this discussion is making me seriously doubt the way it’s set up. We are given one, maybe two at a time to look at and are seriously presented as if “here you go! We found you the one you need!” and can’t look at any other profiles until we reject that one.

Steff December 15, 2010 at 10:07 pm

“Search & Select” tool may also work for you I guess. I don’t think ALL applicants are in that part of the site, but are more than just one or two ;)
(Sorry to chime in though…just thought it’d be okay if I say it :) )

Taking a Computer Lunch December 16, 2010 at 9:06 am

APIA. We went with them because of the Extraordinnaire program.

HRHM December 16, 2010 at 9:39 am

APC also has the abiilty to search the whole (at least I think it’s the whole) database. The limited search was one of the many reasons we ended up leaving CC – no matter what I said both in my app and in person on the phone, I kept getting really poor pre-matches placed in my account! The sense of frustration was just too much to bear and I am really much happier with APC in that respect.

Mumsy December 16, 2010 at 11:34 am

We left CC and went to APIA for that same reason. Poor pre-matches and no sense of what we were looking for. CC matching person would hook onto one thing and ignore all the other items. We gave them another chance the following year and had the same issue. We really liked our CC LCC and would have liked to have stayed with them but even their new matching process does not work anywhere near as well as those of APIA and APC.

Anna December 16, 2010 at 11:51 am

I am now with AuPairUSA (or Interexchange as they are also known), and have been with APC last year for one year. APC “search the whole database” system may work for you if you have a desirable situation, because great au pairs are seen by everybody and they can pick and choose, and if you have (like me this year) three little kids and one of them an infant, they won’t choose you. They also disappear from the database (are matched) quickly. I didn’t want to settle.
I returned to AuPairUSA (Interexchange) – they send you candidates to your specification, and the more feedback you give them, the better (for you) candidates they send you. You can view many at a time, but any au pair can only be viewed by one family at a time. That way really good ones are only seen by families who need their experience – they need to match everybody, so they won’t send a girl who can handle 3 kids to a family with just one for example. I matched with them well and quickly this time around. The key is that for each application you reject, write to the matching counselor why, and with details. Also I think the caliber of candidates this time around was much better at AuPairUSA; and the variety of countries was much better (not just Brazil and Germany – many many more, I haven’t seen two candidates from the same country at my latest matching round, and I’ve seen none from Brazil, while at APC at least half were Brazilian. Nothing against them, in fact I always had Brazilian au pairs until now – but as an example.)

Mumsy December 17, 2010 at 8:47 am

With CC, I spent many fruitless hours sending emails explaining why their suggested matches did not work. I also spent many fruitless hours on the phone, explaining what we were looking for. They offered that we could look at applications together, which we did. In the end, I figured that they had a pool of candidates that would not work for us. We had used them for 3 years with success, so it may well have been their recruiters that were at fault in the subsequent 2 years rather than the matching process.

Anna December 17, 2010 at 11:09 am

It could be. As I said, even the applications I rejected this time, I was impressed with the caliber of candidates (at AuPairUSA).

want be an Au Pair December 15, 2010 at 3:18 am

I am in agency in Mexico i have been looking for the family since 6 months ago, is hard for me because i don´t know how the agency works, just tell us that we must have more experience hours for have more chances to find a host family, i have around 4000 hours and i just had have 5 matches in 6 months while other friend always have a match in their account.

i have been reading the comments of the host moms, and i see that some families don´t have good experiences with their au pairs, and i think that i never could do things like their au pairs have done.

I know that go to USA like an Au Pair could be a great experience for us, learning a new language, meeting people, and traveling, but i know and understand that we are going there for a job, and before to travels and social life, are the children, that is not only spend time with a child, that time must be a quality time, and is what i want to do, but how i can show that to a family if my agency is showing my profile only to some families?, and limited my possibilities.

well, now i finished my career and if my agency don’t help me for find a family soon,i must start to think in a plan B, and I forget to be an au pair.

JJ host mom December 15, 2010 at 2:34 pm

You should put your profile up on greataupair.com, rather than waiting for your agency to send it out.

want be an Au Pair December 15, 2010 at 8:05 pm

JJ host mom, thanks for your advice, i will visit that page :)

HRHM December 15, 2010 at 10:46 am

We have had a “series” of “bad” matches that are getting less bad as we go. :0 I think the experience of picking Au Pairs and then dealing with the consequences HAS to be teaching us (and hopefully you) something about how to do a better job of it.

1) first match – couldn’t get a vise – bust before she got here
2) second match – transition with a wierd story, didn’t talk with HF BIG MISTAKE – don’t be that HM! She arrived sat, told us Sun she had to go back home because her father was dieing, then flew to Florida on Tues to be with her BF (he was in the US for an internship)
3) third match – also a transition with a wierd story (no didn’t talk to this HF either, but did talk to the LCC who said she was wonderful and it was all the HFs fault – still not good enough TALK TO THE HF NO MATTER WHAT!) She was with us for 8 mos – had some wierdness (eating d/o, strange behavior, lies to her friends about her life with us – should have been a red flag!) In the end, caught her stealing from us and packing our stuff to take home as gifts for her family.
4) fourth match – New AP from overseas, app was a complete fabrication (didn’t figure that out until she was here and didn’t know how to hold a baby bottle or which was the gas pedal!) We spent the entire year trying to sort out her multiple issues (driving, being a princess, being a slob, needing to be told to do her chores every week) because she was so good with the girls and they loved her so much. Wouldn’t do that again.
5) fifth match – New AP from overseas, BUT she had been an AP in London and got to speak directly with the HM in English. Thought this would solve my problems – NOT! She is tidy around the house, can drive, speaks good english, the girls love her – but she’s a bitch! She thinks Americans are stupid, does nothing with us as a family, has a total sense of entitlement with our car, tells DH how to care for the girls, etc. We can’t wait for her to leave, I actually miss AP4.
We are now in the process with match 6 – we are going with a German this time. We keep hearing how great they are and this one came across our desk at the right time. She has also babysat for some Americans in GE so we got to talk to them and they had glowing things to say about her. Wish me luck. I keep thinking that I’ll find the perfect AP, but I’m really starting to wonder if such a thing exists. Is there someone out there who will love my girls like a sister, be consistent with them, not leave her dirty dishes and coke cans all over my house, do their wash without having to be reminded, know how to drive a car AND be a pleasant member of our family without trying to engage us in an amenities race. I’m going to keep trying to find her.

Should be working December 15, 2010 at 11:15 am

The stories of complete fabrication and being blindsided by fictions and lies are worrying. It seems fair enough that HFs have to screen for attitude factors, soft skills and so forth, since each of these vary in importance for different families, but the possibility that I might be completely snow-jobbed is hard to handle. How can HFs screen for out-and-out lying and intentional self-misrepresentation, apart from checking references for themselves? Makes me want to study interrogation techniques.

Anna December 15, 2010 at 11:50 am

I think even checking references for yourself won’t help; the recruiting agencies at their countries are supposed to call references, and those are probably prepared for a phone call and confirming the “experience”.

I think the two things that a candidate would be most inclined to lie about is driving and experience with children.

Driving should be fairly easy to solve by telling the candidate in much detail the driving requirements, and telling them that if they cannot drive the way they represented on their application (or up to your expectations) right away, you will rematch right away.

Experience with children can be also sometimes discovered by detailed questioning. In my last round of interviews I interviewed somebody who supposedly watched a 5 month old baby for two months (I had a 4 month old at the time). I questioned her in detail about the baby’s skills (sitting? crawling?), baby’s schedule (sleeping, eating), and her food intake (how much, how often, what). I tried very hard not to let my jaw drop when the girl told me that the baby drank from 400 gram (that’s 16 ounces, folks!) bottles every two hours, had four teeth and crawled at 5 months. Some of it is possible, but all together is totally suspect. So just keep a straight face on and get all of the “story”. You will know. I don’t think 16 oz baby bottles are even made in most countries; by the time one can drink two cups at once one is an adult.

Busy Mom December 15, 2010 at 7:11 pm

I don’t think there is any such thing as a perfect au pair, let alone a perfect parent :-) But, you really seem to have an a string of bad luck. I’d rate my current AP as Above Average because we don’t have any major issues (driving, food, etc.) and all the basics are in place (reliable, on time, good driver, competent cook, keeps my kids safe), but she hasn’t engaged with my kids quite as much as would have been ideal. Part is my kids – it’s more difficult to build a relationship with a 13 yo than a 4 yo – but part is that she doesn’t put much effort into it. She’s nice and pleasant to be around, but her mind is in another place (boyfriend) and she’s tired all the time. All in all, it’ll be a good year, but it could have been better for both our AP and my kids. Still, would I trade the driving for the relationship? Or the timeliness that enables DH and me to get to work on time for the relationship? Probably not.

Olga December 15, 2010 at 11:21 am

My advice for a successful match is to forget all the emails and SKYPE your interview. Have all your questions ready ahead of time. SKYPE is amazing!

hOstCDmom December 15, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Ask “When did you stop beating your wife” kinds of questions ;-)

Ask questions that make certain assumptions about things you care to know about, in a way that the AP answers the ostensible question, but it is actually responding to the underlying assumption that you want to confirm.

*Do you smoke regularly, or only when you are out in pubs having a drink? (=do you ever smoke?)
*Do you think your boyfriend will miss you and want to visit? (=do you have a boyfriend)
*Do you prefer wine or beer (=do you drink)
*When you had your car accident, how did you handle it in your home country (=have you ever had a car accident?)
*When you go clubbing do you prefer to go with a large group or only with your best friend (=do you go clubbing)

etc..

E. December 15, 2010 at 12:58 pm

LOL, i´m not mom but an ap, but i love your idea with the questions (if i were on a position of HM:D)! Although i must admit that even if i go clubbing like once a year (or even less), i´d automatically replied “with my best friend” lol. the same with the drink, i´d automatically say wine eventhough i don´t drink very often and have never been drunk lol

Host Mommy Dearest December 31, 2010 at 8:47 pm

These questions are a RIOT. I don’t mind if my AP drinks wine (or beer) or even if she likes to go clubbing – I just don’t want it to be her sole purpose for being an AP – or even high up on her list.

3gr8tkids December 15, 2010 at 1:23 pm

We are on our second au pair and both have been wonderful. (They have been Scandinavian) The first couple months are a big learning curve on both sides but it is worth it. If you are a potential host family don’t be scared but all the comments. Each and every situation is different. We consider our au pair part of our family and treat her as such. She is much more than an employee. In turn, both of our au pairs have treated us with respect. There have been a few bumps but they have been resolved by talking to each other. I encourage our au pairs to consult with our experienced LCC for advice and not just other au pairs. There has been no drama, no car accidents, and no safety problems. I talk a lot about trust and common sense and have only a few rules. My handbook is only two pages. We are lucky to live in an area with lots of au pairs so it is easy to make friends. In fact, one of her au pair friends is staying with us for Christmas. Her host family is leaving on a trip and she wasn’t invited. How would you like to be in another country, here only a few months, and left alone on one of the biggest holidays of the year?

AuPairMom WI December 15, 2010 at 2:37 pm

This exactly! We treat our Au Pair as a member of the family, not an employee and have had great response. There is mutual respect and understanding between us. Communication is open. The family around us that seem to have problems tend to treat their Au Pairs as straight employees. They are rigid with their rules, unbending with their ideas, etc.

HRHM December 16, 2010 at 3:57 am

We, too, have treated our APs as family, not employees. Let’s face it, no amount of good treatment will have any effect on personality disorders that are pre-existing! The AP that stole from us was given everything she even hinted at wanting. That didn’t stop her from lying to us or packing our house in her suitcases. Our current AP wants NOTHING to do with us outside of work, so every attempt to treat her like family (invite to dinner, to go see Santa, watch a movie with us) is seen as an imposition and is rebuffed. Did we miss stuff in screening? Yes. Did we deserved shitty APs because we didn’t treat them right while they were here? Abso-f******-lutely not.

Calif Mom December 17, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Right, HRHM. I feel your frustration.

It’s easy to be all sunshine and daffodils if you’ve been lucky so far in your hosting experience—and there is a certain amount of luck AS WELL AS interviewing skill and hard-won experience involved in being a happy host mom. If you’ve had two perfect au pairs, I’m happy for you, but I would also advise you to 1) appreciate this luck and 2) don’t assume that this will always be the case. Because there are plenty of good people who have been screwed by dishonest, selfish, princessy, or just plain not mentally healthy au pairs who, as candidates, seemed like they would be just wonderful.

Do you think that we would have picked them if we didn’t believe they would be wonderful for our families?

My husband and I skew toward the “treat them as family” end of the continuum, but that style doesn’t work for every au pair. It’s about fit.

And basic personality disorders–or even just personalities that rub you the wrong way–can be easily hidden, and can take awhile to emerge after a new au pair no longer has the fear of god in her that she will be sent back home right away.

So, I appeal to hosts who have had good luck to be a little more open minded about why a relationship might not work, and entertain the possibility that there are au pairs out there who might not be perfect angels. There are au pairs who won’t fit in or who will cause problems, even if the hosts would just treat them like family. It ain’t quite that simple.

Jennifer December 17, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Nice post Calif Mom.

I think it would be interesting to see this tied in with the age of the kids. If you don’t have kids that can talk or reason (younger children) you might be missing some info. My kids are older and when she would text and drive – they told me. Acually, they told on her all the time. When she hid in her room or let them watch TV all day and sat her butt on the couch texting – they told me.

We had one that wanted to take my boys (13 & 9) shopping all day for a bikini I knew about it right away. I didn’t rely on her to give me all the information and just like when I question my kids about something I know how to word the question to find out what’s going on.

For example, when I sat down with her I asked how HS was doing with his homework. Her reply was fine. Then I proceeded with specific questions he needed help with. She was baffled. DS already told me she ignored him during this time and complained if he asked her any questions.

It just seems that most people on here that are raving about their AP’s have much younger children. Yes, older children change the dynamics but I KNEW what was going on when I wasn’t home.

Taking a Computer Lunch December 17, 2010 at 11:14 pm

The Camel does the weeding for us. Our current AP has made it through month 3 with us, and closing in on month 4, and it has dawned on her that she has more flexibile HP than most of her friends. It came to the same question that always happens. Why? Why do you trust me? Why are you so generous?

And my answer is this – you are changing the diapers of a teenager who gets her period and doesn’t understand why. She gets sick constantly. We ask you to be flexible and in return we are flexible. That, and we’re left-leaning liberals who believe that everyone ought to be treated equally (but then again, The Camel has pre-screened all the princesses for us….).

I’m fond of saying, on a scale of unlucky I’m very lucky indeed.

AuPairMom WI December 15, 2010 at 2:31 pm

This is our first year as a host family. We have 2 boys (3 and 9 months). We use AuPair Care as our agency, but going into it we knew that a lot of the screening would rely on us. The agency does the initial leg work, but we were the ones calling/Skyping, and communicating with the Au Pair for interviews.

We interviewed 3 girls and asked all of them the exact same questions in the first phone call. From there we elminated one that didn’t answer the questions to our satisfaction. We then had a second phone interview with the remaining 2. This was a less rigid and informal conversation. This is where we talked with them about activities, their family life, what did they do with their kids they were responsible for, etc.

We finally selected our Au Pair and it has been an excellent 7 months. There are 5 other host families in our immediate vicinity and all of them have had good, if not great, year(s) with their Au Pairs (all through the same agency). Each one has said that they rely on the fact that screening is in their court.

Seasoned Host Mom December 15, 2010 at 2:43 pm

I agree with a majority of the posters above who have said that it is YOUR responsibility to screen–for everything. Maybe it’s my occupational training, but I never trust the application information and essays. In fact, for laughs, I went back and read my current au pair’s essay recently. In it, she talked about wanting to experience life with an American family, spend holidays with us, etc. Of course, that hasn’t happened. It’s all about the social life. That’s fine, but for once, I’d love to read an honest-to-goodness essay that says something like, “I have heard the nightclubs in America are amazing, and my goal this year is to hit every one in your metro area!” I kid, of course, but many of us know that this is not much of a stretch.

Nonetheless, we have had some REALLY good au pairs (I think that our last au pair was more hands on with my kids than I was before I went back to work!), and one or two so-so au pairs. I’d still take this program over day care ANY day. When my kids have had to stay in day care, they’d be tired, grumpy, without homework done, etc. when I picked them up at the end of the day (and I considered it good after school care). With even a marginal au pair, they are able to spend the afternoons at their own home, getting at least some homework done, and when I arrive home at the end of my workday, they are happy and relaxed. There’s no price on that, as far as I’m concerned, and the time I spend sorting through applicants and interviewing, though hard, is rewarded 100 times over. If you’re lucky enough to have a great au pair, there’s no other child care option that even comes close to the benefits and rewards the HF receives (and the AP too, I hope). So there’s more than just negatives to the program. And for those who remember, I almost rematched earlier this month, so believe me, things for our family haven’t always been rosy, but I still believe in the program. I also believe the AP, mu husband and I have the ultimate responsibility for seeing to it that the year is successful, not the agency or our (wonderful) LCC.

Deb Schwarz December 15, 2010 at 5:20 pm

I’ve had 14 au pairs over the last 10 years (two at a time for the first 4 years), and I have helped hundreds of host families match with au pairs. Even with this experience, I (gasp) made two mistakes in the past year for matching myself so you are not alone. On reflection, I think the main issue is that I lost touch with our family needs (which has changed over the years). I tell all my host families that I help – the most important thing is to be very clear on what you and your family need and want. Otherwise, you can make the wrong and hasty decision (which tends to happen when you are in transition). Now that my kids are older and more assertive (that’s a nice way of putting it), I need more of a drill sargant. Mistake #1 was very sweet but not that assertive (I found her another family where she is very happy). Mistake #2 (she just left last week), didn’t like children and just did enough to get by (not to mention was checked out and not assertive). I definitely could have asked more questions to get at her “personality” type, and in the case of #2 she was a 2nd year, so I definitely should have caught on that she only worked, on average, 15 hours a week, and according to the host mom wasn’t that engaged and seemed depressed (I got that info. after I ran into problems with the ap, not in the pre-arrival interview). We all make mistakes – but the key thing is to realize it quickly, and move on.

I think that I could have done more “due diligence” for myself during the interview process, and rearranged my priorities (e.g. being firm and organized are #1 and #2).

After two mistakes in a row, I’m knocking my head against the wall, and trust me, if I didn’t have 14 wonderful au pair experiences under my belt, I might bail – but I know how GREAT it can be – so I’m back in the saddle. #3 arrives on Jan. 3 – ever hopeful this one is a good fit. I’ve done more diligence interviewing this time around and am going to spend more time setting expectations before her arrival (filling out my Host Family Handbook as I write this).

Life is a learning experience – try not to beat up on yourself – and definitely give it another go. Sit down and reflect on your needs/wants (write it down in a prioritized “wish list”), interview with this list in front of you, and don’t forget to listen to your “gut”.

Let us know how it goes…

Deb in CA

Calif Mom December 17, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Deb,

I hope you can find an AP who is firm and organized but not a nag and knows how to be NICE and lead/motivate the kids, rather than achieving this by being a total b!#*$ on wheels. If you figure out how to screen for that, I’ll buy your interview questions from you! :-)

Steff December 15, 2010 at 9:52 pm

I think a looot has to do with the hostfamily themselves and what they ask and how exactly they ask it. It’s a bit disappointing though, agencies should probably do a better -efficient- job I believe, but still…the moment you have so many bad experiences in a row, something maybe it also wrong with your way of screening.
Here in my country the application to the agency wasn’t really too hard. Yes, I had to go through two -awful- interviews with a psychologist, but that was the hardest part for me. The part with the references was okay, though tiring. At least in my case. I spent a whole week going from house to house searching out for all the people I ever took care of their children asking for a little “favor”. That was a little embarrassing, since they all have jobs and their children and stuff, so knowing they are busy you are still going and asking them to fill for you the childcare forms wasn’t that easy, yet I did it, and at least in my case, it was all true. It’s sad people lies just to get to the US, but I do see it happening, and rather possible. How can I actually the agency prove all the kids in the applications are real or not, right? That’s the disappointing part I guess…I for one *expect* honesty from people since I give it, but oh well…
I guess I got side-tracked, but the bottom line, is that I DO believe that with a good screening process from the families part (the right questions, enough calls-emails etc) the right Au pair would happen.
ALSO:::I don’t think families should settle. They should look until the find just the right AP…

Oh, but I also wanted to say, some people said a lot of things about applicants pictures. I…I don’t know, I did the job I put up a lot of pictures of me and the kids I’ve taken care of, but…I’m not a camera person, you know? I hate posing for the camera, and I don’t know, IMO I simply don’t look like I *really* am when I appeared in pictures (If that even makes any sense for you, but still, that’s kind of the truth for me…that’s why I also added the video to my application that way HP get another look of who I am without basing their decision solo on the pictures.

Well, yet again I got side-tracked, but I really kinda just wanted to post my opinion. I believe, a good *thorough* = A Good enough AU Pair. I would say HP should talk a LOT with their future AP before making a final decision. Lots of emails, and calls, and Skype is also a good choice I believe. My webcam is kinda sucky so I don’t know how that is gonna work, but I do think those kind of interviews get HP a better “feel” of this new person who’s gonna be in their home for a few year.

All in all, I just think choosing an Aupair is not something you can do loosely is you want good results ;)
xoxo

Steff December 15, 2010 at 9:56 pm

PS : Sorry all the typos, was kinda writing fast, and didn’t re-read. Oops! ;)

Anonmom December 17, 2010 at 9:23 am

Wow- is all I can say after reading so many varied responses! The one thing that stands out the most, however, is that ther onus is on the family to ask the right questions and do their own research. After 7 years of au pairs, I literally looked at hundreds of applications each year through more than one agency. There are differences in the ways the agencies handle matching, and if one were not so savvy, I can see how they would match too quickly, relying on the agency. One agency literally offered to make the phone call for me, and within minutes of hanging up with the girl, the agency was on the phone with me asking me whether I wanted to match!!! I was shocked. That was the first conversation with the girl, and I had just gotten her information an hour earlier. I told the woman on the phone that I thought there was a requirement that I speak with the au pair a minimum of two conversations. I really email them all, ask lots of questions. The one mom who did not know about the body piercings, or tatoos- well, then that is up to you, the host mom to clarify all that and ask it up front. Yes, au pairs lie. If you need a good driver, then only pick from certain countries whose driving requirements exceed those of the US. If you don’t want someone dressing ‘inappropriately’, then generally, don’t consider one from Brazil. Yes, it is a stereotype, but one that is culturally different than what most Americans are used to. And, yes, you CAN discriminate based on looks and what country someone is from, and even religion- because this is someone who you are taking in to live (hopefully) as one of your own family members. The agencies do not properly advise the au pairs about how much work is expected of them, nor are many of them prepared for the amount of hours Americans work. That is why, all the handbooks in the world won’t help giving it to the au pair in the beginning. The host family needs to be specific- what EXACTLY do you REQUIRE your au pair to do during the day- not ‘care for children’ If you want them to get on the floor and play with them, you have to set that out sepcifically. This helps eliminate a lot of problems from the start. I tell all prospective au pairs, listen- if you think coming here is only for you to have a social life and party, then we are not the family for you. I, too, have pre-matched through GreatAupair.com and put in my family listing, that it is the hardest job you will love. It is extremely time consuming-but that has paid off. Thankfully, we only had one mediocre au pair, and she was not bad with the children.

Talliecat December 18, 2010 at 8:44 am

This is an interesting post. I too, had lost faith in the au pair program after going through two transitions in a month, but overall I think it is worth it. We have had some interesting experiences with our au pairs. Our first was a lovely girl from Finland who just wanted to please us. She loved my children, but was a bit fragile. She lasted about 2 1/2 months and was sent home as she was having massive head pain, lots of doctors visits, diagnosed as having a nervous breakdown- but recently ( about 15 months after this episode) was diagnosed with a severe case of fibromyalgia. Onto number 2 who I had to choose in a matter of days ( while number 1 was in the hospital). Took a chance and ended up getting a pretty good au pair. Number 3 arrived with minimal English skills ( had au pair 2 translating a lot of the interview-thought it was nerves), 2000 hours plus of babysitting, basically she was a child who thought she was on vacation in the US. She lasted probably a week as she didn’t know what to do with my three year old who was crying and called au pair 2. She went to a German speaking family and is still there. This one was definitely MY fault. Onto Number 4.. transition au pair from Brazil. Everyone ( her and the lcc) made it seem like the family she was with was nuts-My mistake was not calling the HF. I have never met such an entitled, spoiled brat in my life. All she cared about was hanging out with other Brazilians, her schedule and would tell me what other au pairs “get”. Luckily she did herself in by lying when another au pair got arrested. Number 5 arrived about 2 months ago and has been very good. Thank god. I definitely now try to be as thorough as possible when interviewing, look at photos, facebook and videos and just try to find a nice girl with good English who can be a good fit for our kids and family. The one thing I always remind myself when I get annoyed by trash in the car, the need to have everything written down, etc.- is what I was like when I was 19?

HRHM December 18, 2010 at 9:18 am

I think this one point cannot be stated enough – CHECK REFERENCES! With rematches, transitions and extensions, you have a golden opportunity to talk to someone who has lived with AP and probably had similar expectations to yours. Frequently, the agency, LCC or AP will tell you not to talk to the HF because they are mad that she wants to leave/not extend or they are vindictive and will lie. Seriously? Out of all of you who sent an AP into rematch, would you have lied to another HM to get revenge on your former AP? Not to say it could never happer, but the odds are you will hear a fairly accurate picture of why the AP didn’t work in that family. I’ve actually come to the point in my interviewing process, where I am only considering APs whose references I can check directly (transition, extension, prior AP in another English-speaking country or worked for Americans abroad) Not to say that it’s fool-proof, but after one application that was a complete lie, I’m adapting and overcoming.

Noelle December 23, 2010 at 11:19 am

Hi everyone. Thanks so much for your feedback. I’m sorry for the late response.

I can tell you that I have pretty rigorous screening criteria before I even get to the point of contacting an AP via the agency’s website. It includes amount and type of experience (full time experience has become a requirement, e.g. not 280 hours of babysitting comprised of 2x/month, 3 hours each, ad infinitum), activities during childcare (meal prep and feeding, bathing etc) , family makeup (siblings required – been burned by only child syndrome for the last time), pictures should show AP with kids being happy with her, not a series of AP with friends and boyfriend. It goes on and on. Then I make contact with a few, send the HF letter and if they survive that (yes, it’s a 45 hour week and you have to share the bathroom), then I send my neurotic HF guide book, brimming with tidbits I’ve learned from this forum (curfew, no dyeing your hair, you need to vacuum the car, etc). Then a few more conversations via phone and/or skype where I believe I’m vetting the AP pretty well.

At least, that’s what I thought….

My problems to date (I think) are a combination of overly inflated expectations (whee! it’s a family member!), ever-evolving screening criteria, and thus just continually being put in the position of being in rematch and having to make the best possible choice with a gun to my head because 2 weeks is inadequate to find “the one.”

Current AP is working out better, showing confidence with driving, and she great in most other aspects. Rematch avoided, for now anyway. My answer right now to the big picture questions CV mentioned – I am firmly on the fence as to this program now, and this may be my final AP. I truly don’t believe I’m asleep at the wheel when it comes to screening and interviewing and vetting. I know I have that responsibility. I’m just really feeling like, for the ~7k I pay this agency per year, some more upfront legwork from them would be appropriate. If the one I have now doesn’t work out, I’m 95% certain I’m going to take a break and re-evaluate. To be honest, part of me wishes I could pay one of the wise, successful HMs on this website to locate my future APs for me. :-) I wish I knew the secrets to being successful at this. It really does seem like a good idea, having an AP.

Anna December 23, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Noelle,

thank you for updating, and good luck to you!

In my second year I had two rematches, which (in retrospect) were clearly my mistakes in choosing, and I thought I learned my lesson.

My next two matches have been perfect, except that the last of those two perfect ones ended up in a rematch (a third in our hosting history). This is something I couldn’t have possibly predicted, and the girl is lovely, I still like her very much. Sometimes there are issues that come up that nobody can predict and that are nobody’s fault. So I had another lesson to learn, sometimes even the best match can end before the year is up, and even the most perfect and careful and lucky match can become a rematch.

But, it still had an effect on my hostmom confidence. Those things really make you doubt yourself. Even though I firmly believe that our last rematch – we were meant to be together for the five months that it lasted, and it was really good while it was good.

Now we are on our next “perfect” match, week two, so far so good. At least I can tell for sure that I really like the girl and she is a good girl. Now let’s hope that she doesn’t change, doesn’t get sick or depressed, and no unpredictable issues come up from either side.

I guess I don’t have any advice. Even though it hasn’t been 100% smooth for us, the best bet for me was my intuition. It has to be really tuned up and listened to during matching, and you have to “sleep on it”, not match the day you talk to the candidate. So far, my intuition has been right 100% of the time – when it was screaming “yes, that’s the one!”. I do count the last rematch girl, she was “the perfect one” for us during those five months when I was about to deliver, giving birth, and being home with my third baby on my maternity leave.

Calif Mom December 23, 2010 at 11:41 am

Noelle, thanks for updating.

I have *never* selected an excellent au pair from their country of origin. My best two have been rematches. So this is a topic that flummoxes me, too.

What I would say is that, 5 months into my current AP who required a stern “shape up or ship out” intervention meeting with the counselor awhile back, and who still drives me buggy and who I really just don’t like very much as a person, as a host mom you really can’t let up on the managing with some APs.

This isn’t what I enjoy or signed up for, frankly. So hold firm on the weekly meetings and seek “continuous improvement” otherwise it’s very easy to slide back into bad habits and growing irritation.

I agree that the thousands of dollars in fees ought to buy us at least some minimum standards, but the thing is, there’s such variability in what works for one host family vs another, and so many variables and no way to predict whether an au pair will step up (or not) when they are on their own in a new country, and such a difference in how people evaluate their own performance vs how others would rate them, that I’m not sure what more they could do than what they are already doing.

That said, I also have seen that there really is a HUGE difference between agencies when it comes to the information gathered and shared as well as the processes that support hosts and au pairs after matching.

But I hear you–it’s a lot of work on an ongoing basis and it would be nice to have a break, or better still, an extended period of time when things are working smoothly. I keep reminding myself that dealing with childcare centers is also a lot of work. So is dealing with after-school activities and summer camps. So is dealing with college students. So is dealing with nannies. They all have their downsides for working moms. If anyone figures out “perfect”, I’m all ears! I’m pretty sure it involves the lottery, or an unexpected inheritance (this *actually* happened to a friend of mine), or having book rights sold to David Cameron.

In the meanwhile, we muddle through and at least for me, I try to not think too much and focus on the positives. I mean, while there is way too much pulp fiction and celebrity worship and fashion trends going on at my house these days, at least my girls are getting exposed to a young woman who made a big transition and went on a Big Adventure. I do admire that gumption, at least, even if some of her quotidian choices and values make me cringe.

Should be working December 23, 2010 at 2:10 pm

I’m in the midst of interviewing an AP candidate who made such a great first impression, has been great in interview, and the impression continues to be great. But I’m feeling paranoid that I’m ‘missing’ something. I’ve explained our negatives to her, I’m going to send our *28* page handbook, I’ve asked about her weaknesses and talked to all her references. I am weighing doing what TaCL does and requiring her to interview with one or two other families to make sure she knows her choices (we’re her first interviewers). Anna, I like the idea that sometimes even a perfect match can end badly and it’s not a screening problem.

Emily January 7, 2011 at 4:59 am

We have never had luck with choosing the right aupair-

1st- great aupair but could not drive, rematched after 1 month
2nd- great aupair but did not like the security cameras in our house (I guess she had a phobia of cameras). Even though we showed her the main switch to turn the system off, she still demanded for us to remove all the cameras. We refused, she left after 5 months.
3rd- complete disaster, irresponsible, dishonest, and disrespectful. She lasted 1 month.

We then took a break from hosting an aupair for 5 months.

4th- seemed very nice until the last day, extremely quiet, slow learner, forgetful, no common sense . She could not bond with my 4yo daughter and had no clue on how to discipline. I tried to help her, but she simply could not stand up to my 4yo and take charge. My daughter always got her way when she is with the aupair. She tried to blame everything on me. She said I leave her too much work to do with my daughter, like writing alphabets and numbers, and thus created a bad relationship between them. My daughter is the sweetest kid, and we’ve never had problems with her before. Her teachers and our previous aupairs/sitters all loved her. I know she is not perfect, but she really is an easy kid. The aupair felt she should not have to know how to teach kids (like numbers and alphabets) or know child psychology (how to discipline) as an aupair. Another excuse that she had was she’s not the mother. She had such an easy schedule. Besides getting my 5yo son ready in the morning for school, she basically had to just take care of my daughter for 2.5 days. She is in preschool the other 2.5 days. The aupair was off duty by 3:30pm. Also, whatever I could do the night before to make it easier for her, I did it. I packed my kids lunches, cooked their breakfast (baked goods), got their clothes ready, did their laundry (she folded them the next day), … She also felt very entitled in terms of using our car. She was upset that I asked her to drive carefully in the rain, and I told her she should not drive in the snow or ice. She said I should say nothing to her because it makes her nervous. She had a car accident 3 months ago, she hit the island that holds the gas pumps at the gas station and put a 2 feet dent on the car. She was angry that I told her it was all her fault and that she was responsible for the damage. We hit a deer with our 2nd car, we told her she will have less usage of the car on the weekends while our 2nd one is in the shop, but she is welcome to use it in the afternoon and at night; she was very upset about it. She was also angry about the fact that I did not want her to take classes 4 nights per week, but only 2 (she had an early schedule and the classes ended very late). Of course she finished her education requirement in the first 4 months with us! I can go on and on about what she was unhappy about. It all came out during our mediation meeting yesterday. I have never had anyone who stared at me with such rage as she did during the meeting. One minute she was crying, the next she was giving me the death stare. I was angry and was in such shock. I told her to stop working immediately. She is now with the LCC. The company is refunding all our money for the remaining months. I am quite sure they think we are the ones at fault, but it’s really okay. I guess this is the end of our aupair hosting journey/nightmare!

Comments on this entry are closed.