Advice Wanted: Should I intervene in another Au Pair-Host Family situation?

by cv harquail on May 7, 2009

What, if anything, do you do if you become aware of a situation where another host family is taking advantage of their Au Pair?

Here are the specifics, as shared by our Host Mom:

A friend that my Au Pair met at the Au Pair "school" in NY just recently moved to our state as a rematch. She rematched because her first family was very "cold" and distant and did not take the "part of the family" aspect of APing seriously — in fact, the parents literally never spoke to her at all. She’s only been with the new family for a few days, but she thinks she’s going to be much happier with this family, who has been very warm and welcoming and are excited to have her there. dangerous surf.jpg

However, she mentioned to my AP that she’s a bit nervous because she is going to be expected to care for the children alone over Memorial Day weekend while the parents are away. Her nervousness comes from the fact that she will have only been with this family for three weeks and won’t necessarily know the kids and their routines well enough by then — I’m not sure if she’s even aware that the family is legally not allowed to have her care for the children overnight (let alone the fact that she’ll also be working more than 45 hours that week and more than 10 hours each day). The family’s former Au Pair (who is still there — they have about a week overlap) told my Au Pair that she once had to care for the children for TEN DAYS while the parents were out of town!

Obviously, this is illegal, and the family is taking advantage of their Au Pairs. Either they don’t know or don’t care that they aren’t allowed to have the u Pairs work overnight or over 45 hours a week/10 hours a day.

I don’t know how they could NOT know, since our agency (and probably all of them) gives us several copies of the State Department regulations throughout the application and matching process.

Then there’s the LCC — who either doesn’t know or is purposely looking the other way. I was thinking of mentioning it to our LCC, who could then decide whether to talk to their LCC or do something else (or do nothing).

But is it my place to do or say something about it? . Everything inside of me is screaming that I need to do something about this, but I am worried that the AP won’t appreciate my intervention. What if the family gets "in trouble" over this and then this poor Au Pair ends up in rematch again (and probably gets sent home)?

So, WWYD?

Where to begin???? The situation is unsafe for the kids and unfair for the au pair. What are the host parents thinking? This is one of those situations where, imho, you do want to intervene. I had something not quite as drastic (but also a situation where the au pair was being taken advantage of), I talked with the LCC who intervened effectively. And, I also talked with my own au pair and the au pair in trouble so that they felt supported in their concerns. But it’s awkward. (I didn’t know the host family personally and they never knew that I had told the counselor…. but we all worried that they would take out their anger or embarrassment on their au pair. Thank goodness, they didn’t.)

So, moms & dads, wwyd?

Would you intervene?

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{ 11 comments }

Calif Mom May 8, 2009 at 9:40 am

A lot depends on the quality of the LCCs involved. I’ve had situations like this, too, where AP friend of our AP is asked to care for kids for a few days due to parents both needing travel for work during the week — but for a Memorial Day Weekend rendezvous?! What kind of selfish parents are these, and what else are they going to ask the AP to do that isn’t in the scope of the program?

The fact that it sounds like they are pushing the envelope for a tryst pushes me toward trying to find a way to intervene that isn’t too pushy.

Franzi May 8, 2009 at 9:42 am

you know, desparate APs take desparate measures. i think this AP wanted to rematch, it was intrigued to live closer to a friend she made in NY…and it’s only for a few days – what can go wrong?!

everything can go wrong! but many APs don’t think this far. i took care of my first family’s kids for a long weekend after i had been with them for 4 months but only because it was a family emergency out of state and the parents needed to leave. however, i did not get any extra pay, heck, i didn’t even get a thank you. and that led to problems later on.

if a family decides to act against the rules, it’s their choice. they have to be aware that someone will notice, and the agency could throw them out of the program. they probably won’t, so the family will just continue to do what it had been doing.

if you ask the lcc to intervene the problem is that things will likely backfire either to that AP, or your family and your AP. cluster’s are small, the family will know who spilled the beans!

yet it is also up to the AP to state that she is not willing to work these additional hours and that they should get an additional babysitter. even if she is ok for that weekend she should state that this is a one-time only thing. if she doesn’t i’m inclined to say that it is the APs fault also. legal regulations go both ways and if something happens when she’s working those days, not only would the family sue her and have her been thrown out of the program, everything would be blamed as her fault because she was the adult, she knew the rules, and still didn’t act accordingly…

Lucky1 May 8, 2009 at 10:23 am

I agree with Franzi that the AP should say something about the hours and if they plan on hiring a babysitter or if someone else would be staying wtih her to help out with the children. If the AP is not comfortable with this idea, then perhaps SHE as well as the concerned AP mom should go to the LCC so it is not just on the AP mom’s shoulder to bear this responsibility alone.

In the end though, I think it would be appropriate to intervene in this scenario. I would do so diplomatically and just know that in the end, I had the children’s best interest at heart.

Anna May 8, 2009 at 10:27 am

I would not go straight to the LCC or the family. The information you have at the moment is just hearsay. There are many ways to give the family and au pair the benefit of the doubt, you might not know the whole situation (for example maybe grandparents are spending nights?)

I would however make sure that the au pair is informed of the program rules, and if her family indeed is breaking the rules, she should be aware of that. From then, the burden is on her to deal with the family and LCC. Yes, I know the pity and the desire to help… but she is an adult, or supposed to be a mature adult able to resolve such situations. When you think you see such an injustice is a natural impulse to get involved, but I think the best way to get involved is to empower the au pair to stand up for herself. Other ways might backfire on the au pair, or on your family, or on your au pair’s friendships and trust between you two.

Marguerite May 8, 2009 at 1:47 pm

I agree with Anna. You can encourage the aupair who is having a problem to go directly to her LCC. If that does is unsuccessful, the aupair probably has a number for the main office of her agency and she can contact someone there. You can also tell your aupair to encourage her aupair to speak to her LCC.

There are effective and diplomatic ways for the LCC to handle this.

We have all read the terrible LCC stories in the past few weeks but many LCCs are responsible , ethical adults who are intelligent and skilled at dealing with these situations.

As terrible as this story sounds, there might be some aspect of it that has not come to light . As Anna says, perhaps the host parents have arranged for backup care. Maybe not. Maybe they will if told that it is necessary.

Rachel May 8, 2009 at 4:03 pm

I also agree with Anna. I would explain the regulations to the au pair and encourge her to speak with her host family and/or LCC. She may or may not do so, depending on how much she wants to stay in NYC with her new host family. Sadly, au pairs put up with a lot of crap if they are close to friends and in a good area to live.

Franzi May 8, 2009 at 4:13 pm

the problem that is see is, when you talk the AP into “seeing” a problem where there was none to begin with. maybe she is fine with doing the extra work, maybe there are other arrangements in place.

if she is a shy girl that cannot last an argument, she will crumble under the pressure of “who told you?” which means it, again, will backfire on you and your AP – and has the potential to be real trouble fro the whole cluster.

Anonymous May 8, 2009 at 6:53 pm

I’ll give another side of this. Our AP does weekends for us once in awhile – three times in her first year with us. And yes, these are just weekends away for us, not business or an emergency. BUT…it is at the APs choice. When she first joined our family we informed her that we try to do weekends away a few times a year, but that we do not expect her to cover them. We have a back-up person that has been with us for years that has always covered the weekend.

We gave our au pair the option, and made it very clear it was fully optional, to do the weekends instead of us hiring someone else – she jumped at the chance…especially when she heard how much it pays. So, although she does do weekends for us, in just a weekend she makes more money then she does for two weeks of regular work. She also knows it is always an option, and in fact, one weekend she had other plans, and we hired someone else – so she knows she is free to say “no thanks”.

I know of at least two other families in our cluster who utilize a similar system – yes, the AP does overnights, but she gets paid for doing so. Both of these other APs have also extended for a second year, so clearly they aren’t feeling all that taken advantage of. Is it illegal? I suppose so, but it works for all of us, and we’re not hurting anyone. Maybe you’ll all flame me for that, but I’ll take my chances with being honest.

I do have concerns with the original post that the AP has only been with the family for three weeks – that’s way too soon, I think. But I also think it matters how old the kids are and where the parents are going. Are we talking older kids and the parents will be at a hotel in the same town? Or very young children and the parents are flying off to the tropics? Very different in my book. Are they paying her? Did they ask first if she wanted to do this or wanted them to find someone else?

I guess that’s why I would be very hesitant about reporting this to the LCC without hearing the parents’ side of the story. Perhaps they are paying her, and perhaps they offered to hire someone else but she said she wanted to do it instead. Did she offer this to them and now she is getting nervous as the date approaches?

My advice to the AP would be to talk to the family and tell them she’s not comfortable. No AP should be required to go outside the terms of the program if she’s not comfortable with it – but if all parties agreed to it and now the AP is getting cold feet, then I don’t think it’s right to rat them out to the LCC.

My thoughts…not in any way intended to offend…just wanted to give some another side of the discussion.

Marguerite May 8, 2009 at 7:46 pm

I would not be at all hesitant about discussing this matter with the LCC. That is why there is an LCC who has an ongoing relationship with the aupair and the family.

There are aupairs who are very forward about asking for time off as well as other perks and there are a great number of aupairs who are terrified to rock the boat. It is very difficult for these young women to say yes when they desperately want to say no. Parents worry that aupairs will be unkind to their children and aupairs worry that the parents will act out against them.

For some young women, the offer of extra money creates great psychological pressure. Other people just aren’t motivated by money.

One agency contract explicityly states that if an aupair agrees to work extra hours for extra money , she has violated the contract.

As I understand it, having an aupair care for the children alone for a whole weekend is just wrong – it violates the contract. And it just isn’t a good idea. These rules exist for a good reason. Every agency has the same rules on these matters because the source is the State Department.

The bottom line here is, as Anna stated, that none of us know the whole story. Maybe the aupair agreed to do this and now is nervous.
Maybe the family has extra help covering the extra hours. Maybe the aupair agreed to do this and now something better has come along and she wants out of the deal which she should never have made in the first place. Maybe the family would bring someone else in a heartbeat if the issue is addressed. Maybe the aupair is scared of standing up to the host family.

The LLC is not going to be able to act upon the heresay passed along by another family. It just isn’t fair to the family. But the aupair can insist that her LLC address her concerns. The LLC may be looking the other way out of cowardice but she may also be waiting for an opportunity to take a stand on behalf of an aupair who won’t back off when the going gets tough.

If the aupair flatly refuses to discuss this with her LLC or has a variety of reasons why the LLC isn’t helpful , one has to wonder a little bit why that is the case. Some families react very defensively when asked to conform to the rules. This is a serious enough matter that if the LLC doesn’t help the aupair , she isn’t doing her job. But, if the family gets nasty or defensive with the LLC, the counselor can go to the agency and ask for backup.

Bottom line: none of us know the whole story. But the LLC should be informed about this wrinkle

Jill May 12, 2009 at 5:11 pm

As an LCC my first responsibility is to follow the legal guidelines. But if this AP is uncomfortable with approaching her HF, she should contact her LCC sooner rather than later. The LCC can help her decide how to approach the situation. I would make her aware that it is not legal for her to work more than the 10 hours a day. I would ask her how she wants to discuss this with the HF. I had a similar situation once. One of my AP’s in my group contacted me about her HF wanting her to stay for the weekend while they went away. She knew it was not part of the program and asked me to contact her HF. I spoke to them and they said they had done it in the past with previous AP’s and none of them objected. I had to tell them (they claimed ignorance about the rules) that this AP did not have to do this. They were not happy, but found other childcare.
I don’t recommend that you intervene except for telling the AP to contact her LCC. If she wants you to help her contact then that is fine.
I hope that helps.

Anonymous 2 May 13, 2009 at 11:15 am

Totally agree that Anonymous 1 above handled the situation in a fair manner. I’m not an absolutist when it comes to interpreting the state department rules, and as long as the au pair is asked, not told, and is fairly compensated, and has a real option to not do the extra work, then this is an agreement between consenting adults. Illegal? Probably, strictly speaking. Immoral or Wrong? Absolutely not. You’ll still get into Heaven!

But the original au pair in this issue was not that comfortable with her situation, for whatever reasons, and had told another au pair, presumably seeking guidance. Helping au pairs we know to get help when they need it seems to be a reasonable and moral action to take. I think that telling the original au pair what the law is, what the norms are, and how she might approach the situation is an act of kindness. I’m not sure that calling the LCC is a great idea as a first step. I wouldn’t rule out talking to the LCC directly later, however, depending on the facts of the situation after more info is gathered. Getting a little involved is the right thing to do. Maybe that means coaching your au pair on what to say to her friend so that she can get help for herself. And then being available if more help is needed. At some point, it’s not your responsibility, but at this point, it seems a kindness that doesn’t put a lot of risk on the host. (unless it’s a very gossipy cluster, which I’m sure glad we’re not in!)

Does anyone know what has happened since the original post? Is this still pending?

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