How do you get a refund from an Au Pair Agency after a flameout Au Pair?

by cv harquail on November 18, 2010

A “flameout” au pair is one who obviously never intended to do the job of an au pair.

Few things are more infuriating to a host parent than going through ll the work (and cost) of screening, interviewing and matching with an au pair– not to mentioned preparing kids and home — to have that au pair be so impossibly wrong that you need to match immediately. And when you think that the flameout occurred because the au pair agency did not do its due diligence with the au pair candidate, you want some of that effort and money back.


I feel so duped.

Having been a host mom for 14 years, I’ve had some great experiences and also some nightmare experiences with au pairs.

Just last month, I finally decided to leave the au pair program altogether, after a complete failure with an agency.

Through the agency, we got two different au pairs who were completely not up to the job. It also appears that neither one was well-screened or well-oriented by the agency.

In June, a Bosnian girl arrived who told me on day 3 that she was bored and planned to take off to California. (Clearly, being an au pair was just a way to get here to the US). It took me all summer to find someone new to start in September, and that girl, too, quit, saying she didn’t like her hours — which I had clearly explained in the interview and in the forms.

I decided not to re-enroll with the agency. But their refund policy is ridiculous! It means I paid $550 a week for 10 weeks of really bad child care. And the hourly rate is even worse, since the girls didn’t work even close to full-time.

Has anyone had any success in getting a better refund, without having to sign a waiver saying you won’t ever talk about your experience? With what the agencies charge the families, and the girls, they’ve got to be making a huge profit… They told me they make no guarantees.

Help! Ideas? Suggestions?

Parents, what advice do you have for working with an agency to get a refund? Counselors, any inside tips?

See also:

Image: Firefall from jurvetson


Gianna November 18, 2010 at 9:20 pm

I am so sorry to hear of your experience. I have no tips. I, personally would sign the confidentiality agreement but I am not a professional writer. Hopefully, some of the LCCs who frequently post here can be helpful. I think they might be in an awkward position especially if they use their own names. Good luck to you !

Should be working November 19, 2010 at 4:24 am

This obviously a really rotten experience. If you have the offer of a refund AT ALL, however, I would love to know how you got that, since I did study the fine print on the refund issue and both the agencies I have used don’t give much back. The confidentiality waiver would not be an issue for me. (I don’t see where being a professional writer is at stake?) We got a few hundred back from one small agency, in a deal which also lost us about $700, and at a larger agency have only gotten credits toward future au pair fees.

Although I sympathize with the poster’s frustration with the agency refund policy, I am not clear from this post how the agency could have known whether these girls were ‘faking it’. If we HPs can’t tell from applications and interviews that the candidate is earnest, how can the agency tell? It’s easy to sound like a child-loving, earnest, pleasant person in an interview. Unless references or family info were entirely fabricated, and the agency did not check them, I don’t know how the agency could see that the applicant is not truly AP material.

In interviewing our most recent au pair by phone, I spent HOURS talking to her. Like three 1.5-hour conversations. My hope, which turned out to be true, was that I got a real sense for her and gave her many chances to show her true personality. But it could also have been luck.

I’d love tips on interviewing for earnestness-about-being-an-au-pair. Presumably people like me who send the candidate the 26-page handbook, ask her to read it twice and tell her to have questions and comments for our next conversation, do weed out some applicants for whom that would be too much bother. There is the “dare to match with me” approach that some on this blog use. Any other ideas?

Deb Schwarz November 19, 2010 at 7:48 am

CV – was this your own experience? [Hi Deb– not it was emailed to me… sorry for not being clear about that, above.]

All agencies have their own refund policies. Cultural Care (the agency that I am an LCC with) has one of the best in terms of length of coverage (most agencies don’t give you a dime if you’ve had the au pair for 6 months or more). The refund policy is a sliding scale, with a % refund depending on how many weeks you have had the au pair (with the highest refund if you’ve had the au pair for less than 10 weeks – so be sure to do something sooner than later). Having said that, there are instances where the agency will give a full refund – if things were really bad and you make a compelling case. Like with anything, appeal up the chain of command, don’t whine – but be factual and present a well documented case on why this had nothing to do with you or your screening, and was in fact, out of the ordinary, and deserves special attention.

anonmom November 19, 2010 at 12:47 pm

I realize you are with CC, but I have to chime in with 2 cents. Friend had terrible experience getting refund with them, and then told them that they had to wait a month before saying it would nor work out! That was a driver issue, and the girl lied about her driving, did not even know where to put keys into ignition.

Either way, you have to document everything and be very politely demanding in order to get anything back from the agencies.

Michelle Terlecki November 19, 2010 at 8:24 am

CV Duped Host Mom — -I am sorry you are so frustrated. If the refund is so horrible I would wait until there is an in country au pair that is either in transition or extending so you could talk with the current host family and au pair. As Deb said I am not sure which agency you are with or what the policies are for in country au pairs but with Cultural Care I have had families be very successful going this route.

I also agree with Gianna that some of these au pairs can put on a good act during the interview with the agency but what I can tell you is that I recently sat through a live screening and orientation in Sweden. The au pairs who apply with Cultural Care go through a thorough screening and it actually takes about 8 months from the time the au pair calls us to inquire about becoming an au pair until they actually become accepted as an au pair. Also, I learned that only 35% of the au pairs that apply with Cultural Care actually are accepted onto our program. I think that alone says alot but of course there will always be the au pair who is able to pull the wool over our eyes. Just like in corporate America. And if you were interviewing a nanny or babysitter. People write what they think we want to hear.

I hope you are able to finish out your year with a great au pair who will you leave you with a good experience. If you decide to try for a refund with your agency I agree with Deb, move up the chain of command and don’t yell, present your case and hopefully you will get what you deserve.

Amelie ex-aupair November 19, 2010 at 4:02 pm

I used to work with CC in my country, and I’ve never heard of any girl who didn’t get accepted – as long as they had 200 hours of experience with kids (easy to fake) and a driver’s licence.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 19, 2010 at 8:26 am

I’ve been fortunate not to have this happen to me, although close friends of my APs have used their AP visa to be a permanent (and illegal) stepping stone into the United States (including one Georgian woman who told her HF she was going home and went to New York to live with an aunt). We had one AP whose extension year was cut short by a sister’s attempt at suicide, and we were fortunate to get a full credit for the difference in her stay (we were about to knock out the walls in our house to make a handicapped accessible wing for The Camel and there were no available APs to fit that 3-month time limit we had. We pressed and our LCC pressed because of our long-term commitment to our agency.

The answer is, you can’t necessarily know how serious an AP is about her year and her commitment to your family, but you can use her past experience to see how serious she is about children.

In my opinion, paying attention to a candidate’s work experience is a good indicator of their real goals in coming to the United States. In my 9 1/2 years of reviewing applications, I have seen young women who had gained their babysitting experience in shopping mall drop-off childcare (like IKEA offers), those who barely met the 200 hours of experience in a 6-month window, and business majors with the thinnest of experience. I have seen AP resumes that list a myriad of jobs unrelated to childcare, who barely meet the 200 hours of experience necessary. They all might be fantastic young women, they might have actually done a good job at caring for my kids, but I don’t give them a second glance. I want an AP who shows that she’s interest in children through her past experience — her training in high school or college, her work or volunteer experiences. Every one of the 6 APs I have hosted has worked at least part-time as a requirement for a high school or college course, or full-time as part of work experience in caring for children.

Calif Mom November 19, 2010 at 11:08 am

In situations like these, advice above is sound.

(I think Gianna meant a professional LAWYER, not writer, about signing the waiver.)

Stay neutral, state facts using lots of dates and other data. Got a friend with legal letterhead? That often greases the wheels. If the agency did not live up to their end of the contract, you can make headway.

Persistence. And don’t yell at anyone on the phone, even if you really really want to. Yell here instead.

We were totally duped by our first au pair (from Bulgaria) so I know how used and icky that feels. Don’t give in; make the agency do right.

Good luck!

Calif Mom November 19, 2010 at 11:17 am

At some point, if you don’t get satisfaction, I would involve my Senator or Congressperson’s district office staff (the office in your local area code) as well. The au pair agencies are regulated by the State Department, and they really don’t want to deal with complaints from Hill staff asking why they are not screening au pair candidates. My mom has turned to elected officals’ staffs for help in ironing out many stupid issues this way, including phone company problems.

You’re not bothering them; elected officials have staff just to provide this kind of constituent service, and while they really care about you before an election, I bet they will help you now, too (doesn’t hurt if you donated to them, or voted for them, but that is NOT a prerequisite. Everyone is worried about the next election, so Congressmember might be the place to start. Save the Senator for your next level of escalation.). If you take the issue of improper or negligent screening of candidates far enough, there’s a national security case to be made, which ought to push some buttons. And if they hear enough complaints about particular agencies, Hill staff can make their lives living hells.

(oh yeah, don’t get in a fight with us. We have righteous indignation and persistence on our side! It’s a genetic thing.)

Anna November 19, 2010 at 1:29 pm

LOL. Sounds like you are quoting Haggadah in that last paragraph..

Jennifer November 19, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Hmmm… yes, i agree with reporting this. The girls are actually coming here to go to school and if they are “traveling” then that appears to be against regulations.

Interesting you post this becuase it was a concern for us in a little different way. We are ending the AP program but it is very close to our year. My AP is leaving before her year is up – by her own choosing. I had to sign a form that I would forfeit any remianing months/money and would not receive any type of refund. It would be minimal so I didn’t really give it any though. Well…. my AP told me last night that even though she is leaving early and she had to sign the same form, she is getting a $250 refund.

Gianna November 19, 2010 at 1:30 pm

I thought that the OP was CV – that was I said that a professional writer might not want to sign a confidentiality agreement.

I have been talking to all the agencies calling and telling them , truthfully, that I am updating my information. I also have called several LCC from other agencies whom I have met over the years. The fact is that all of the agencies which were hard nosed on refunds in the past are lightening up. They will all be VERY agreeable. I think the biggest problem the original poster has is that her children are aging out of the program. I suspect that her agency does not see her as a repeat customer. As far as Congressmen/women are concerned , I am a big believer in making them do their job. But ironically, a former LCC of mine told me that the State Department is very biased against FAMILIES and has very little sympathy the folks they believe are the villains ! I was told that DOS and arbitration boards prefer to err on the side of the perceived victims . And they do not think that families or agencies are in the weaker position. So I am told .

Mumsy November 19, 2010 at 2:23 pm

We were refunded by our agency our full fee less the few days that the AP was with us. We thought that was very fair as nothing that had happened had been the agency’s fault. We did not have to sign any confidentiality agreements. In fact, the agency sent us a really nice email and called to make sure that we were happy with the arrangement. The only thing I’d fault the agency on was allowing this AP to rematch with another family. Things apparently did not work out with that family either and she is now with her 3rd family in 3 months. She interviews well so families probably think they are getting a gem (as we did). But just give her 2 days ……

KM November 19, 2010 at 3:23 pm

I wonder what agencies could do to improve their screening process? It’s easy to say this is the general overall reason for a failed match. If agencies interview the applicants, check references, obtain background checks, and perform other required tasks, what more can an agency do? We’ve had great au pairs with minimal child care experience. Conversely, we’ve had au pairs with lots of child care experience or in a child related profession who have not been as good as the au pairs with minimal experience.

Our interviews are in-depth and over time. We avoid questions with yes or no answers. We IM a lot and Skype a lot with two or three applicants. Like Taking A Computer Lunch, we really evaluate candidates. And we too were once duped.

Honestly, I can see two sides to this. Some of our AP’s friends say they had a single brief interview with their host families. If these matches do not work, is it really an agency’s fault?

Jennifer November 19, 2010 at 3:53 pm

I really think it is a communication/expectation failure. The agencies tell these girls they are going to come to the US, see the country, make great friends, have fun and the experience of their life. They tell the families you are going to get childcare that is flexible and affordable. This at least has been our experience.

Momof4 November 19, 2010 at 3:49 pm

I had a really really bad 1st experience. However, I was able to get a full refund from the Agency that I was using. Full refund including the application fee! The first day the aupair arrived from Sweden, she was out the door that night. She didn’t even wait to meet HD. She already had plans with 3 other aupairs that hated Americans and their host families before she even landed on the tarmac. (You know – the agencies give the girls phone lists to encourage socializing.) But it this case, because of their phone list, there was no aupair/host family relationship from the beginning. Instead of trying to learn my routine, she was out the entire weekend. It was like we had this complete stranger in our home. She would’nt even talk to us. From that day forward, I kept my LCC aware of everything going on through email and communication. Aupair was breaking curfew, Lying, underage drinking, smoking cigarettes and more, refusal to do anything with the children, sleeping out every weekend – which was fine. It was her “free time”. But then started sleeping out during the work week as well. Not attending monthly aupair meeting. Only showed up at the end to “sign” the paper. She even told me that she had no interest in being an au pair. She only did it to come to the US for a 3 month visit and she didn’t need the money. Her family was well off. Cell phone records showed she stayed up all night talking at times. Hmmm. How do you watch a newborn after that??? She woke up one morning and walked out on my family one day. She called the agency and told them she left but hung up on them and would’nt tell them where she was. But the icing on the cake was when she posted pictures on facebook. It showed who she truly was! Smoking, drinking, all of that and more. She did end up going home because she didn’t want to screw up not being able to come back to the U.S. I gave up on the whole aupair idea until my sister insisted I try another agency. And I just want to let you know – that I now have the best AuPair in the whole world. She is from Argentina and she is amazing. So don’t give up, there is hope out there. You just need to find the right aupair!

azmom November 22, 2010 at 12:39 pm

We just completed a rematch situation and were offered a refund (minus the weeks used, no additional taken out) if we chose to leave the program. We chose instead to get a new au pair from oversees rather than a rematch though we interviewed both.

We did a much tougher screening process this time and included our family handbook and had a few nice girls (one I really, really liked!) actually read it and say we weren’t the family for them. That made me very happy! If someone didn’t have questions or comments after reading the handbook, then I’d pass on them. We had too many issues with our now outgoing AP with not reading the HB, not following the handbook and not coming out of her room, that we knew some of those hot spots that may become issues again, but also remembered that hole contrast effect so we also double checked those areas that were most important to us first. This site has been so extremely helpful! :)

Christine November 26, 2010 at 12:00 am

We’ve had about 7 AP’s, and requested refunds for 2 which failed to meet our needs, and was of course, denied. The agency refused when 1 girl couldn’t speak more than 10 words in English, despite having a perfect video on her profile (it was discovered she used cue cards and rehearsed). The second one could not bond with my children after a month of trying and the were numerous “accidents” leaving physical wounds on them. She also revealed that she was an athiest upon her arrival, despite my essay to the Au Pairs that they must believe in some kind of religion. No refund.

I do believe that many AP’s use the AP program as a point of entry into the US. Of the 5 successful AP’s we’ve had, 2 have stayed illegally…and I know many more through other families. When I called the agency in San Francisco to let them know, he claimed that this was “none of the agency’s business”.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 26, 2010 at 8:12 am

On your last point, it is interesting that your agency said it was none of their business that your APs stayed in the US. When we filed to sponsor our first AP as an employer (she had been a pediatric intensive care nurse in her country and we have a medically fragile child), our AP agency said they were legally bound to file with Homeland Security on her non-return.

As for your first points. I would have pressed further on English skills. It was incumbent on them to screen candidates for basic English skills. Our agency requires that part of the AP’s screening interview in her country be in English. The number of minutes spent conversing in English is documented, as well as the quality of the conversation. We have found over the years that Europeans tend to be the harshest judges of English usage. Our agency reminds us that it is a legal requirement to have a telephone interview, and that is our own screening process. We’ve had candidates that looked brilliant on paper, wrote exceptional emails, and could only answer one question in our interview, “Do you like cats?” We purposely limit our use of yes/no questions to compel candidates to elaborate. Those who are capable of giving us more than a short answer are those with whom we are willing to match. We had one AP whose English was not up to snuff, and we required her to spend 10 hours a week working on English conversation as a condition of remaining in our family on the grounds that her English was not good enough to communicate with emergency personnel in a crisis.

As for the potential child abuse, I would have raised the roof. One of The Camel’s teachers caused some accidents that required ER trips, and we made it clear to the school that she could not be left alone with The Camel, nor could she be permitted to put her on the school bus again. Fortunately, the para-educators in the classroom adored The Camel and fought for the right to care for her — and the incidents stopped.

Jennifer November 26, 2010 at 9:12 am

TACL – we had an AP from Mexico that on her interview statement said they never had to rephrase questions and she always understood the first time. Her English was supposedly good. We did struggle with the skype conversation and I would type words in and she would get it so I thought we would be okay. Come to find out she had “help” and someone was translating for her. She also told me that she had a friend in the US write her letter for her!! She spoke almost NO English. Fortunately HD speaks some spanish and we live in the South so I have an 8th grader that is pretty good in Spanish (a school requirement where we live).

Taking a Computer Lunch November 26, 2010 at 11:33 am

We had one incident in interviewing a candidate that had a friend beside her assisting with translation. She seemed very sweet, and she was a good candidate on paper, but DH and I did not give her a second thought. While we can live with someone struggling to learn to speak English, we didn’t feel that we could live with someone so uncertain. We have found (because we tend to interview 5 or 6 candidates on the telephone every time we match) that the telephone is very good for weeding out those candidates whose English is so rudimentary that they cannot hear cognates. When possible, DH and I are willing to select alternative words until a cognate is found. (DH and I know that the telephone interview is the hardest part of the application – unless you Skype – there is no body language to assist the candidate.)

Bob September 15, 2011 at 5:36 pm

I know this is an old post and old comments. I’m currently trying to find out if anyone has ever received an actual cash refund from Au Pair Care? Our family had a bad match, and have been so turned off by the ordeal that we have told them we will be leaving the program. Our LCC said we would get a refund within 30 days. Come to find out, they are now saying we will only get a credit for remaining months, to be used in the program we’ve already told them we are not staying in. We’ve paid thousands of dollars, and the au pair was here for just 3 months.

Any info would be amazingly helpful!

DarthaStewart September 16, 2011 at 9:09 am

I did get a partial refund- it wasn’t much, but it was something. We have since come back to APC, after being with a different agency for a little bit.

angie September 16, 2011 at 2:09 pm

We got a refund, but we had replaced our au pair with another through the same agency and paid for the new au pair already. It was APC.

Bob September 16, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Thank you for the info. So it was an actual monetary refund, not a credit?

Also, did you pay the full fee up front or in partial payments?

Thanks so much!

DarthaStewart September 17, 2011 at 1:14 pm

I paid the full fee upfront, and we got back a cash refund. However, it was not very much, when compared to the amount we paid in. It was less than half, but I don’t remember how much less than half.

hm Pippa September 18, 2011 at 12:19 am

We did manage to get a cash refund from APC for the remaining time on our contract, but we had to threaten legal action. In our case AP1 was simply uninterested and left 10yo to care for the 2yo (lasted 3 weeks), AP2 stole from us, lied, and was publicly physically abusive to the 2yo (lasted ~4 months with MANY interventions), AP3 was found in possession of drugs & drug paraphernalia and pepper spray–all within reach of 2yo (lasted 8 weeks). We opted to leave the program and demanded a refund. We were still out the full educational costs of 2 APs, a week’s vacation stipend, and fees for ~2 months of transition time where we needed back-up childcare.

Angie September 18, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Wow, those are flameouts. We’re on AP5, year 8, no issues. I’m feeling awful lucky!

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