Can Foster Parents Host Au Pairs?

by cv harquail on December 31, 2016

Over the transom comes a very rare email — one with a question we’ve never addressed before!  Good way to start things up again, methinks.

15188825907_416a675fb9_mA Foster Mom writes:

I was recently told by an agency that they are unable to work with our family because we are foster parents.

We feel discriminated against. Is there a valid regulation here or a discrimination?

In the eyes of the law, foster children are equal to biological children, so why would this be? 

My scan of the US State Department regulations for the AU Pair Program doesn’t suggest that Foster Parents are specifically excluded from the Au Pair Program. Neighbors of mine had an Au Pair who cared for both their (birth) daughter and their (foster) daughter, before the (foster) daughter was officially and permanently adopted into the family. In this case, their (foster) daughter had already been with them for a multi-year period, so it wasn’t as it there was one foster child for six months, with a break before another foster child arrived. It was more a question of the child’s legal status.

But, I can understand why an Au Pair Agency might shy away from Foster Families as Host Families.

The prevailing assumption about Foster children is that their placement in a Foster Family is temporary, with unpredictable beginnings and endings. (E.g., a foster child can be returned to a natural parent when that parent is able to care for the child, such as when that parents health returns, or their drug problem is under control, or they have proven they can provide a stable home … but who is able to predict that? It’s so case-specific.)

The pattern of child/ren’s placement in a Foster Family is also unpredictable. If Foster Parents consistently take in, care for, and let go of Foster Children, how can they predict the responsibilities an Au Pair will face over the course of his/her Au Pair year?

From the perspective of the prospective Au Pair, this is not a situation that’s set up for an Au Pair to do well.

An Au Pair needs to know the number, the age, the challenges, and the personalities of the specific child/ren the Au Pair will be caring for. This is partly becuase the Au Pair needs to match their skills and interests to the needs of the family, but also because the Au Pair needs to make an emotional connection and commitment to the Host Kids.

If it’s difficult for Foster Parents to find the right emotional connection with a child whom they — temporarily and for an unpredictable amount of time– take into their family, then it would be especially difficult for an Au Pair.

What other thoughts have you on the question of whether Foster Families should host Au Pairs?

What am I missing about the Foster Parent experience?

What kinds of Foster Family situations would seem appropriate for an Au Pair?

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Manny mom January 1, 2017 at 3:07 am

We become foster parents with one of our au pairs . It was with APIA. It was for a specific child and we asked our au pair before as it would add more work for her. Luckily she was open and we later adopted her. She helped this child gain many skills and catch up to her aged peers academically

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Frankfurt AP Boy January 1, 2017 at 3:38 am

I can see a few issues with this..

Maybe I have got the idea of foster parenting wrong but it seems fundamentally different to being an actual parent. Social services goes to great lengths to properly vet fosters parent so they know that these people are suitable to care for children that are sometimes quite emotionally troubled. Many families are judged not to be suitable foster carers. To delegate this care to a young person often without any experience children and limited life experience in generally seems fundamentally wrong. We are not talking about a few hours a week here but rather up to 40-something hours a week.

Also in Germany I know that foster parents receive a fair amount of money for looking after the child. Assuming the US is the same, isn’t getting an au pair kind of.. Sub-contracting? The foster parents are the ones that should be caring for the kids – they are the ones that have been deemed skilled enough for the role not an au pair.

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TexasHM January 1, 2017 at 1:36 pm

Ironically I have thought about this a lot though I didn’t realize agencies had a policy on fosters, I would be curious to know if this also is an agency specific policy (I would be willing to bet it is so if you are very determined to get an au pair your best bet may be to reach out to additional agencies to discuss).

I completely agree with CVs points above and will add a little color based on experience that could present even though these weren’t foster situations.

First, our current AP her first month was regularly trying to talk us into having another baby. HA! Despite the fact that she masterfully handles my current three and she loves babies, I reminded her that she is not IQ designated so the minute I had said baby she would be removed from our home by the agency anyway. If you think of fostering in the truest sense (excluding CVs example above where her friends fostered a child to adoption and were already in process) then a foster family could be called up at any time – day or night – to take a child or children (more on this in a minute) so let’s say you have an awesome AP and she isn’t IQ and they call with an infant. Now you have to make a decision between providing a loving home for that infant and losing your AP (completely churning your APs life/experience and if you have any biological children – having them lose a beloved AP and the possible fallout/resentment) or you decline fostering the infant which might be very hard on you personally or you hire an IQ AP “just in case” you are asked to take an infant and while you may not care, from an agency perspective you are taking a high value resource (AP with additional qualification) potentially away from a family that already has an infant and desperately needs a great AP right now. I hope my point is coming across – I don’t think this is discriminatory I think it is messy and risky and that’s why this agency has a policy against.

Secondly, say you get a call to foster three siblings and you already have two biological children at home. Now not only are you asking your AP to be ok with caring for 2.5X the number of children she agreed to, but the agencies generally refuse a ratio of more than 4:1 for an AP so the agency may now either remove your AP or more likely, ask you to get a second AP (which you may not be interested in doubling your daycare costs especially if it is potentially a shorter term placement and then what? You dump second AP when they return to their biological parents?). Hardly fair to that second AP – or the first for that matter who again, has had her world flipped upside down. The more more likely scenario I think would be that the AP would be overwhelmed and ask for a rematch to a more consistent family structure and they would likely be agonized and feel terrible. APs need structure. I have watched many an AP love the host family but crumble over time and end up in rematch because they aren’t getting a schedule or the schedule changes too often or there is a major family change (job change, birth of baby, etc) IE too much flux. As an AP they basically lose all that is familiar and stable to them, they desperately need an anchor and some consistency to make it through the year and this I would think would be too much for an AP to tackle.

Third, I would think it would be very hard to find an AP that has the same level of passion and buy in to fostering that you have (and I think that is crucially important). As Frankfurt AP Boy brought up, if a foster child has a special need or needs counseling etc a normal AP (rightfully so) might resent suddenly being expected to keep up or learn the skills necessary to handle such a situation on the fly. My above points all assume that the foster kids are perfectly fine. In my exposure that is typically not the normal – especially if the child is over 2. I will spare the extended point on this one but only saying yet again, unless the AP is special needs qualified she could be removed from your home by the agency again. So you might find yourself either declining foster placements regularly or trying to find a special needs qualified, infant qualified AP that feels led 200% to foster (and to think I feel finding, attracting and matching with the right AP is borderline impossible with three kids/actively religious host family living in Texas!!) and again, you are taking a candidate out of the pool for the year that another family could desperately use all year.

I do disagree with Frankfurt APs comment about subcontracting and the compensation though but that’s largely because he made the mistaken assumption that the US is the same. The foster families I know do not make money fostering. Yes, they are given a stipend by the government for support but it doesn’t usually even allow them to break even especially when a child is placed with nothing (no clothes, toys, formula, etc). There are lots of charities and donations that help foster parents cover the bases that the stipend doesn’t. And the foster parents don’t generally have any additional certifications beyond proving that they have a stable home, room and the ability to provide. The government provides the recommendations for any counseling, therapies, etc so the foster parents would be learning right along with the AP how to handle any situations that arose – again why I think you’d have to find someone that was 300% onboard and while APs tend to agree with everything during interviewing because they are excited and have no context – I am pretty sure upon arrival their tune may change. Not because they lied or are being malicious, because they get context and realize this is way bigger than they anticipated or prepared for.

Lastly, one thing DH and I have discussed for years that wasn’t mentioned above that would be huge in our AP dynamic are the emotional bonds. My DH is concerned about fostering because he doesn’t know if he could let them go. We have talked ad nauseum about remembering that the child was loved and cared for while we had them and that’s all we can do and ultimately you want biological families to succeed but that’s easy to say when you aren’t handing over the two year old that has only known you since the day she was born as she screams in the arms of a woman that to her is a complete stranger. My point being – fostering is not for the faint of heart and we have stayed close with all our previous APs and they cry and squeeze the kids to pieces when they visit and Skype regularly and an AP only makes it in our family if family is their #1 priority and they give us 200% because that’s what they give back. To ask them to love a child the way we do and then have them also have to cope with the “loss” of that child and potentially do that more than once in a year is a lot to process emotionally and a tall order for an 18-26 year old that has never been a parent with limited life experience.

We decided that we would likely finish with APs before we considered fostering. We didn’t think it would be fair to them, even if we found someone amenable we couldn’t risk dealing with fostering and ending up in rematch (rematch is nightmarish and that’s without factoring in any changes in the children in the home) plus that would just bring additional volatility to the other children in your home and they need stability. If you don’t have other children in your home then you are being declined because per the Department of State an AP cannot be placed in a home without children even if that’s for a short time. For single parents I believe they even have to check custody details and both families and lay eyes on the kids as a part of the screening process.

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hOstCDmom January 9, 2017 at 11:16 am

Ratio of 4:1? Is this new? We have 6 kids and have had 9 APs, with three different agencies. And only 1 AP at a time. It was NEVER posited as an issue. (Of course it is harder to find an AP willing to work with 6 kids, for sure, but there was no policy related issues.)

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Susannah January 1, 2017 at 6:12 pm

I think that because foster care situations very so dramatically it’s impossible to say blanket approval or disapproval of an all pair without knowing more about the family situation. I can definitely imagine a situation where there are foster kids in long-term placement that could benefit a lot from the stability of having a single in-home caregiver instead of before or after care and a situation where A stay at home mom feels like she could benefit from having an all pair in order to give her long-term foster kids more one on one attention. In these situations it can work out that the chances of placements changing our overall pretty low and not all that much greater than any one of the number of things that can affect an all pair year. That being said I agree that for foster families with children in unstable placements or situations or families that plan on taking on multiple new placements during the all pair year and a pair may not be the best choice. However, I think that for families, and children, who’s day today situation is more stable the emotional bonds and stability of an all pair with the necessary experience could be great.

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WarmStateMomma January 2, 2017 at 10:38 am

The agencies are in this to make as many successful matches as possible. They can absorb a certain number of failed matches and have likely learned over the years about which circumstances are more likely to end in failure.

For context, a colleague went down the foster-parenting path because he and his wife wanted to adopt a foster child. They ended up unable to finish the required classes because they just couldn’t stomach the people in the class who were mainly interested in discussing payments and finding the sweet spot in terms of difficulty/revenue for the kids they’d foster. I also know someone who did adopt out of foster care and she said her kids had a good foster home before she adopted them.

It varies wildly and I could see APs being taken advantage of by the same people who aren’t fostering for the right reasons. Even with a good family and kids who don’t have special needs, fostering means that the kids are separated from their natural families for some reason and that’s always going to be painful and complicated. It’s a lot to put on a young adult with no experience.

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Taking a Computer Lunch January 2, 2017 at 9:45 pm

It appears to me, from the letter from the Foster Mom that she currently has foster children and is seeking a child-care alternative. If you have been caring for children for more than a few months and are likely to continue to care for them in the coming year, then my guess is that you do have cause for discrimination. However, suing for the right to have an au pair may or may not be your best option. There are several agencies authorized by the State Department, seek one that will work with you.

I am currently living with my 12th (and sadly probably my last – as The Camel is now the same age as some of my au pairs have been) au pair. I have found that Extraordinnaire Au Pairs are more likely to have the variety of experiences (some a bit too brief) with children who have special needs – including those who have been abandoned by parents unable – or unwilling – to care for them. My advice for you is the same as it is for every host parent – be honest, be up front, be picky, and wait for the au pair that is right for your family. It can take weeks, so start about 4 months before you actually need someone!

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NJ Mom January 3, 2017 at 3:45 pm

There’s a wide range of what a foster family looks like. There may or may not be biological children in the home, the placements could be long term or short term, and the foster children may be there temporarily or heading towards adoption. To have a blanket “no foster parents” seems a bit unusual. Especially since we are foster parents and haven’t come across an issue with the agency. Definitely check out the other agencies in your area.

I would say that it does take a certain extra something for an AP to care for foster children because the circumstances can be challenging so you need to keep looking until you find someone who not only is willing, but also wants to. Be up front about rules in your home, schedule, etc. AP has to be background checked, fingerprinted, have a US ID, etc. When we have foster children, there’s a host of extra rules everyone in the house has to adhere to including the AP. Things like keeping all medication locked up, or all overnight guests have to have a background check ahead of time. Some of these may be a dealbreaker for APs, so it’s best to be upfront.

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former foster mom January 3, 2017 at 11:46 pm

There is a difference between foster parents who accept emergency placements and those who do long term. If you accept emergency placements it is exactly what it sounds like, with unpredictable schedules day and night. That would not be a good environment for an aupair or even a nanny. Most fostering situations are fairly stable. Even if the end goal is to return a child to a parent that process takes months or even years.

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Callie January 5, 2017 at 10:14 am

This is an agency thing, and possibly more an ignorance on the part of whomever the HM spoke to with the agency thing. Either check with someone higher up in the agency or change agencies. There is no rule against it. Our agency allows it. The biggest issue will be making sure the Children’s Services is aware of any new au pair and does their background check.

Foster parents work just like any other parents. It is a big misconception to believe that foster parents must be stay at home parents. How would it help foster children to limit the pool of available placements to those that don’t work?

As a foster parent, you let Children’s Services know how many children, the age[s], and the fragility levels you are willing to take on in your family. So, although you may not be able to introduce an incoming au pair to your foster child, if they haven’t been placed yet, you can give your au pair an idea of what to expect.

We have no infant, but only are looking at IQ au pairs because we have the possibility, given what we will accept as foster parents, of getting an infant foster child. We discuss this with all potential au pairs.

Just like, if we got a call for a new foster child placement, my husband and I would need to figure out if either of us could take off some time from work to get the child settled, we would also consider whether our au pair was settled enough before saying ‘yes’ to a new placement. We will consider everything in our family dynamic, including our au pair, before we accept or decline a new foster placement.

The idea that the host family and au pair don’t work as a team through this is sad. Fostering is an important and wonderful thing for a family to give to a child. If the parents work, that foster child would go to daycare, just like the biological children. With an au pair, the foster child is able to feel safe and comfortable with their new home and siblings. No matter how temporary or permanent, the au pair arrangement helps the family give some added security to the new child when both foster parents go back to work after settling the child in.

HFs and APs should be a team, especially when both are willing to accept the challenge and adventure of meeting and loving a child who desperately needs it.

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Something Clever January 20, 2017 at 12:54 am

My current Au pair initiated a rematch from an elderly couple who were fostering their own grandkids. The grandfather worked, and they were pretty wealthy relative to their area. I used to live in that state, and I know that the state gave $800-900 per month for each foster child, even when it was a blood relation, even if the foster parents adopted the kids. So I know it is acceptable for some agencies, in this case, Au Pair Care.

In my Au pair’s case, she specifically rematched for a couple of reasons. The kids were fine. But one of the biological parents was mentally ill and came by the grandparents house and acted in a way that scared the AP. The other reason was that one of the grandparents was very stingy with the AP, to the point of making the AP fill up her car with her own money but using that car for his own purposes, even though he had two other cars. And given the grandfather’s profession, they were NOT poor. And also they refused to provide any food when they left for several days, even though they weren’t mutually agreed upon vacation days for her. I kind of did the math and concluded that they were basically trying to pay for all the agency fees, stipend, etc out of the foster care stipend, so that none came from their own pockets. So If family who fosters have any resentment of paying to raise their relatives, they shouldn’t take this out on the AP.

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