Au Pair Asks: What happens when you discover that you can’t provide what your Host Kid with Special Needs needs?

by cv harquail on October 15, 2010

Dear AuPairMoms-

What happens when the au pair is placed with a host family that has a special needs child, and it isn’t working out? Both the agency and the host family knew beforehand that the au pair did not have any previous experience with special needs, but the Au Pair chose to take the job anyway. Now, she/he realizes that is too much for her/him. What to do?

Chev replied:

I’d suggest you talking to your LCC and host parents as soon as you can find a time, away from the kids when the Host parents don’t have anything else on.

It’s important that you make your decision about whether you think you can stay and adjust to the job that sounds like it’s harder than you thought it might be, or if you need to go into rematch. The family needs to know so they can have as much time as possible to find a replacement. And, if you decide to rematch then you’ll want the full 2 weeks to find a new family, if you’re planning on going home, then give them as much time as you can, until the next AP can get there if possible.

I think this is an issue for APs who are “special needs willing” to maximize their potential to match without a clue what goes into the care for children with differences. By law, families with special needs children must tell both the agency when registering, and the AP before matching.

Do you feel that your family did not explain your duties well enough?

Taking a Computer Lunch adds:

As a parent of a special needs child, I cannot tell you how stressful it is to match, much less rematch. I can take several weeks for the child to trust a new AP and then to have that bond broken, puts further stress on the child. It takes me 1-2 months to interview enough candidates to determine who will be the best match, squeezing time to telephone them while caring for my child.

I might not be the nicest person if I was told by my new AP that the work was too much, just because of the frustration of the energy it took to match in the first place.

You need to decide, as an AP, if you are able to acquire the skills needed to care for the child or not. If you are, then what supports to you need from the HP to help you learn what you need to do? Ask them for help. If you are not, then please be honest with them as soon as possible – but not when the child is present.

Personally, as a HM with a special needs child, I no longer look at candidates who do not have special needs experience. Frequently, they do not have enough experience to take care of my typical child, must less The Camel.

Readers, what advice do you have for this au pair?

See also:
Finding an Au Pair for a child with Special Needs: Willingness is not enough
Regulations & Additional Training for Au Pairs of Children with Special Needs


KM October 19, 2010 at 3:56 pm

I think different agencies interpret the law differently when placing au pairs with families who have special needs.

The regulation states: Au pairs may NOT be placed in families with a special needs child, as identified by the family. The au pair can work with a special needs child if s/he has identified prior experience, skill, or training in caring for special needs children. In this case, the host family must review and acknowledge the prior experience, skills, or training in writing.

I think the key phrase is “as identified by the family.” I guess if a host family had a child with ADD or ADHD and was on medication, the family may not view this as special needs whereas another family may. What about a child who is high functioning on the autism spectrum? Or what about a child with mild CP? It just seems an au pair would be vulnerable if there was not full disclosure either by the agency or the family.

Taking a Computer Lunch October 19, 2010 at 8:55 pm

Hmmm, that gives food for thought. To what extent do HF under-report their special needs children in order to maximize their ability to match? (And I don’t mean under-estimating the amount of work it takes to care for a child, but failing to report the existence of a problem at all…)

We’ve always been open and honest, that being said, most of The Camel’s health problems were identified between the ages of 3 and 5 (that is, while AP 1 was living with us for 3 1/2 years). AP 1 had been a pediatric intensive care nurse in her home country (which is why we tried to sponsor her as an employer), but I could see how the life-threatening medical conditions would have absolutely overwhelmed an AP with no medical training (like they did me, her mom).

Nevertheless, AP2 knew what she had with The Camel, but she was utterly convinced that my son was ADHD. That is, until she went home and worked in a residential community for children whose parents couldn’t take care of them and then truly had a child with ADHD. She later apologized for ever thinking my son did. I knew he was just a rambunctious boy. AP 5 was convince he had a bowel disease, while I knew that he would stop pooping in his pants when his peers started making fun of him (and lo and behold, they did and he has stopped). I’m not saying he’s perfect – he’s not, but he’s fully in the range of typical, whereas his sister isn’t even close.

So, how much is the family’s unwillingness to disclose and how much is the AP over-reacting to a situation in which she herself has insufficient training (because babysitting only takes you so far)….

Nadzy Au Pair December 29, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Something above caught my atention. I took care of a very hyperactive child with ADD and ADHA and was on heavy medication. They didn’t let me know before hand, though I myself was a hyperactive and trouble child… so we got along fine. But they didn’t tell me I was supposed to give her her medicine, nor that she actually took a medicine, so on the first few days she hid them in order not to take them and I didn’t know what to do…
I couldn’t figure why she had changed so much! Then I told them about her behavior and they decided to sit me down and tell me she was on medication… and also on therapy (also noone had told me and I was supposed to take her!)

Taking a Computer Lunch December 29, 2011 at 10:51 pm

If you are an AP in the United States, then your HF has broken the rules. Every family of a special needs child is required to release that information to their agency. It sounds like many things are broken with your HF than their failure to tell you that their child requires medication and therapy. If you want to stay with them, then you need them to sit down an explain everything to you – the medicine that she takes, the dosage, and the times (make them provide a chart that documents it). You need to know when and where to take her to therapy (and they should accompany you the first time – at the very least).

As a parent of a special needs child, I know how hard it is to juggle work/childcare/therapy, but with every AP switchout, I suck up the time loss at work, explain up front to my boss what is happening, and give my new AP a month of my coming up from work on time (I have school-aged kids, so there is serious overlap in our schedules) so that she may ask questions and gain confidence in caring for my children.

If you want to rematch, then call your LCC. Explain what has happened, that the family has a child with special needs and failed to communicate those needs to you – that you had not been told to give the child medicine nor to take her to therapy. Enlist her help in finding an appropriate family.

Nadzy Au Pair December 30, 2011 at 7:27 am

Thankyou so much for your kind reply. I’m an ex au pair now, I did go through my whole year with that host family and it wasn’t bad.(I talked about it in another post about when to give the handbook) I just wanted to share what happened to me. I won’t really say “I was asking for it” but… in a way I was… I went to be an au pair in The Netherlands without an agency.
The fatehr had an idea of what an au pair should do and be like and the mother didn’t want to deal with it at all, so they didn’t ever discuss the issues, rules, schedule, hours. Nothing. He promissed me one thing and when I got there, he got another job, had to stay the week away and nothing was the way it was with the former au pairs or the way he wrote me.

Specially, he wrote me i wouldnt need a car, or to drive as I said I wasn’t confident with it. But to the mother it was essential. So she felt she couldn’t kick me out because he wrote those things to me and I felt a failure because i wasnt all they wanted. It did turn out fine , actually. i LOVE them to this day and we chat constantly, but we struggled a lot before. They did treat me a lot like family though, including good and bad things and I fell in love with their kids and loved to help educate them.

Do I regret ? Not really, because if I had known ALL this before hand, i wouldn’t have gone there to their family and wouldnt have met their kids i love so much. But I would have handled things differently of course, i like rules and schedule and organization and I wouldnt have accepted it without stablishing any of that anymore :)

Nadzy Au Pair December 30, 2011 at 7:29 am

When I mean ALL THIS i didn’t mean the medication or anything. I meant the lack of schedule, organizational rules, hours to work and more(i did many extra hours for nothing)…

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