Of all the pieces that go into finding, matching and working with an au pair that’s ‘right for you’, the agency you choose is pretty low on the totem pole.
Instead, I think about my experience and your experiences too with all the other things that go into having a successful year with an Au Pair, and I rank them in this order:
What’s Most Important When Choosing an Au Pair?
- Knowing what kind of help you need
- Knowing what kind of person will fit with your family
- Interviewing carefully so that you discover your blind spots and candidates blind spots
- Focusing on learning and growing rather than achieving ‘perfection’ in any way
- Being well prepared to welcome another person into your home and into your family
- Being sensible about your expectations
- Being fair in how you treat your Au Pair
- Having clear expectations, regular open conversation and kind intentions
I think these are far more important that which agency, which country, what age, how good your LCC is, and more. Plus, these are all things that you can influence!
My sense is that when families first approach the Au Pair option, they imagine that they can make concrete decisions (which agency) with concrete measures (how old) and by choosing wisely set themselves up for a great year.
But having a good au pair experience is less about where you shop than about the ingredients you choose and the way you combine them.
You can find a great au pair and get support with the legal elements of the au pair arrangement by using any of the verified, official US agencies.
There are some important Au Pair Agency differences to consider, such as (and again in my order of importance):
- Whether you like their matching process,
- Whether there is a local counselor with a good reputation
- Whether there is a cluster in your area so that your au pair has a peer group,
- Whether the agency rules require you to give your au pair 36 contiguous hours off each week
- What the host parents in your area say about their experiences
- The cost of the program fees
- The quality of customer service (e.g., will the matching counselor call you back promptly? Will the person in billing help you fix a payment problem?
- The quality of the Agency’s orientation & training classes
We’ve tried in the past to compare and contrast au pair agencies, and these comparisons are difficult to do well. Supposedly more comprehensive ‘surveys’ of host parents who’ve used various agencies are not scientific, and the surveys are largely filled out by host parents who have extreme experiences one way or the other.
The data that would *really* matter — about the percentage of rematches — is held privately by each of the agencies. More on that soon.
And in the end, I’m not sure it would matter all that much.
Time spent doing in-depth research about agencies would be better spent working on a handbook, thinking about your host parent perspective, and getting excited about the adventure.
I’m sure a lot of you readers disagree with me, so have at it in the comments.
In the meantime, here’s the email that prompted this post:
My wife and I are thinking about hiring an au pair. We have a toddler and our second child is due in the next month. We’re still at the early stages of this process, so I was wondering if you’ve come across good, or for that matter negative, feedback about any of the agencies that help connect families and au pairs?