How well do different Au Pair Agencies oversee “the rules”?

by cv harquail on September 11, 2011

When it comes to following the rules and regulations of the Au Pair Program, how much oversight do different agencies actually provide? Inquiring minds want to know, since these rules are there to protect all the parties in the Au Pair – Host Family relationship.


There are three areas where legal ‘oversight’ is necessary:

1. Managing the Au Pair’s legal status in the USA
2. Managing the Au Pair’s work, board and pay issues in the Host Parents’ home
3. Managing the Host Parents’ treatment of the Au Pair

Do you have any stories about Agencies doing a particularly good job in any or all of these areas?
If Agencies were to improve their oversight, where would you want them to focus?


Au Pair September 12, 2011 at 10:01 am

I’d love to hear anything about “InterExchange” agency; from you!

NoVa HostMom September 12, 2011 at 10:32 am

We have been with a couple different agencies and i really can’t tell much of a difference from an overall agency perspective. It really has to do with the LCC – not the agency. and whether you are having a good AP year or a challenging one really changes your perspective. with a good HF/AP relationship, the agency and even the LCC don’t matter that much. When you are having challenges then the whether or not you have a good or bad LCC comes into play.

I think what would be great is if the agencies did focus on making sure they hired good LCCs, had consistent requirements for LCC and had a clear escalation channel when needed. If you do ever need help beyond the LCC it can be very challenging as has been noted on this site in previous posts.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 12, 2011 at 11:41 am

I’d say a having a good LCC plays a major role, regardless of the relationship of the HF/AP (but especially when things don’t go well). Why? Because the LCC is the AP’s connection to following the agency rules, but also interacting with other local APs.

I know I have a brilliant LCC – she’s organized, dynamic, and supportive. She sponsors 2 meetings every month, one “free” at a coffeeshop and another “paying” meeting for APs to experience local museums, play mini-golf, see a baseball game, go to amusement parks, etc. Since most APs in our cluster arrive in late summer, she sponsors an annual “counter homesickness” trip.

My APs have emphasized how important those meetings were to them, because they had the opportunity to meet women working as APs from a variety of countries, and have their accomplishments celebrated. APs from other clusters who attend her events are jealous that their LCC is not as dynamic.

In addition, my LCC, when she learns of problems faced by APs in other clusters, warns their LCCs of HF infringement (it’s a good thing that TaCL took in your AP when her HF kicked her out the day before her last day of the year, it wouldn’t be tolerated in my cluster if I knew about it). She has acted as an intermediary for APs in other clusters facing rematch whom were friends of my APs.

And, when we spent a year in a difficult AP relationship, it was she who counseled us how to survive, but also continually contacted our AP to offer her help and support.

The bottom line, however, is that even the best LCC can’t help the agency enforce the rules if she doesn’t know they are being broken.

Calif Mom September 12, 2011 at 11:51 am

Agree with NoVa HostMom, that the local counselor matters a great deal. Even within an agency, one example that leaps to mind is variability in how much different counselors will “care” about whether au pairs actually attend cluster meetings, for example. I assume that a lax approach to requiring or tracking attendance at meetings would trickle over into other areas, too, like whether the two week in home meeting in person actually happens, if it’s actually within two weeks, etc.

When we switched to a smaller agency for one au pair year, we noticed a significant difference in how much contact we had with the counselor. One *might* assume that more contact would mean more support, but that was not the case in the long run. All that contact was mostly about checking off boxes on a form, I believe. Because the agency was smaller, it paid more attention to the details, but again, that was about the forms. Their orientation was much better than the cattle call of the big agencies, though. We have decided that a great orientation does not make up for the lack of rematch pool when you really need it. We had hoped screening of candidates would be better than the giant agencies, but not so. We’ve decided it’s all a crapshoot.

Large or small, the 3 counselors I’ve dealt with do all care a great deal about confirming educational credits.

As to whether they really keep tabs on the au pairs and make sure they are being treated fairly, I would say 2:3 counselors upheld the standards and did not just take the host family’s side in every conflict. Based on stories I’ve heard from hosts and our au pairs’ friends, I think it’s rare that an au pair gets a counselor who really goes out of their way to support the au pairs; most seem focused on supporting the hosts.

All have been equally good about issues around legal status, including visas for extension years, 13th months, advice about travelling with family out of the country.

Julie September 12, 2011 at 1:30 pm

I am a host mom and have recently become an LCC for the largest agency. I can tell you, my organization is hard core about following the rules (if you don’t hold a two week interview in time, you receive a warning the first time and can be fired the next). They constantly post blogs, send emails and encourage us in many ways to be better coordinators. Both families and au pairs have been required to leave the program if they don’t follow the rules. When a host family isn’t breaking the rules, but they are not being a good host family, they also often tell families what they are doing “is not in the spirit of the program.” (and can be recommended to find another form of childcare.) Most agencies, I assume, don’t just want a lot of families in the program, but the right ones. We are reminded over and over again that we are there to support the HFs and APs, but our primary duty is to follow State Department rules.

I agree that it does change based on who the local coordinator is. I have au pairs in my group not only from my own agency, but from Interexchange, Au Pair Care, EuroCare and Au Pair in America, because the au pairs and their families don’t feel supported locally by the organization, so I just invite them all to come to activities with us. It’s very important for an au pair to immediately have support upon arrival. I try to do that. If you don’t find a lot of support from your LCC, you should contact the company. Mine, in particular, wants active, successful LCCs acting as spokespeople in communities. Good luck!

German Au-Pair September 14, 2011 at 12:18 am

In Germany CC has the WORST reputation of all agencies when it comes to caring for their au pairs. Most au pairs who go there seem like they didn’t do any research at all.
On the other side I know a girl who had to go rematch and her CC LCC was great!

Recently I hear a lot of horror stories about the ADs with APC who only want to hear the hostfamily’s point of view and basically tried to threaten girls into staying with a family they really didn’t want to stay with.
Or about ADs kicking their au pairs out of the program due to a lie of the hostparents without even checking with the au pair on the matter.

My AD however is really great so far!

From an au pair point of view I couldn’t agree more: it’s really the LCC and not the agency who makes a difference.

Host Mom 4 years September 15, 2011 at 8:47 am

Congratulations on your joining one of the largest Agencies as an LCC. My legal mind raised a red flag when I read your following statement:
>> When a host family isn’t breaking the rules, but they are not being a good host family, they also often tell families what they are doing “is not in the spirit of the program.” (and can be recommended to find another form of childcare.)

An agency, that is making a “moral judgment” that is not based on the agency’s own written policies, the US policies and the Host Family’s local state laws and decides that a Host family did NOT break any rules, but FEELS like the host family is doing something that is “not in the spirit of the program”, this agency is opening themselves up for a lawsuit. It would be very hard for the agency to justify legally this “in spirit” policy that is NOT in writing and part of Host family contract.

If your agency applied this to me, I would definitely take them to task. I know you are trying to find another loop hole and apply a certain moral judgment to your host families, but you are way outside of your contract with the host families.

I am very interested in hearing from other host families what you think of this agency’s non-written policy – >> When a host family isn’t breaking the rules, but they are not being a good host family, they also often tell families what they are doing “is not in the spirit of the program.” (and can be recommended to find another form of childcare.)

Gianna September 15, 2011 at 9:13 am

I hear what you are saying HM4YRS and it great to have a legal mind applied to the issues. I am a little cynical about the post from the LCC who said how righteous the agencies are and that is why I am less concerned about this than you are. I think that the agencies rarely apply this moral judgement. Julie , you seem like a lovely person with a lot of enthusiasm which is a great gift for the aupairs in your group . You are also new. In my time , I have seen alot of LCCs come and go ( not just with my own agency ). I think that agencies exploit the turnover. New, decent, vivacious people come along and believe all this bruhaha about how ” we don’t take bad families “. Lots of nice LCCs quit when they see the agencies from the inside. Or, the LCC just gives up and does the best she can. The other option is that the LCC just gives up and does the minimum. Julie sounds like a treasure and for the sake of the aupairs I hope she stays with her agency for a long time. But I suspect that very, very few families are declined , much less tossed out , because of gray areas. The contracts are written to protect the agencies and they are not stupid. All those bulletins to LCCs are spin, too, I am sorry to say. That’s what I think, anyway

Julie September 20, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Thanks Gianna, that was nice. Host Mom 4 Years, situations that would be “not in the spirit of the program” would be something like a family who charges an au pair an outrageous fee to drive the car. One au pair lived near us in the mountains and had $300 of maintenance and gas costs in 2 months for driving only in the area. (The family had a long drive way and if she asked them to drive her to the end of the drive way so another au pair could pick her up, they would charge her a fee for it.) Is that illegal according to the State Department? No. But it’s not going to make any au pair happy and the family experience will therefore not be optimal. We’ve had families who have gone through 6 au pairs, each staying only 2-3 weeks. At that point, one must consider that the au pair program is not the best match for the family, or any au pair that might stay with them. It’s not done maliciously–but indeed, sometimes it is not the right option for either party.

As a host family, we went through 2 transitions and I think both au pairs and us felt supported in a situation that is difficult for everyone. LCCs generally make very little money to do what they do, but enjoy being around families and au pairs. Hopefully if they don’t enjoy it, they leave!

I think, like most people, agencies are probably trying to do what is best when dealing with charged emotions like most families have with their children and most au pairs have with their experiences. Like in everything, some LCCs are better than others.

Should be working September 20, 2011 at 5:22 pm

HM4Y, you make a careful difference between what is contractually required and what is ‘good host family’ practice. But I think you are not on track. Probably the ‘good’ here in ‘good host family’ is meant not morally, but in the sense of ‘is interested in hosting a young person in their house’ or ‘treats AP as member of the family’ or even the minimum ‘is kind to the AP’. Kindness is not a legal term, as far as I know, but it is important that a program that bills itself as cultural exchange emphasize it. If a host family never invited the AP on outings, or discouraged her from leaving her bedroom, or paid her pocket money in bags of small change instead of bills or into her bank account–these would not be contractual violations but would definitely not be in the spirit of the program. It is in my view the agencies’ job to promote the spirit in APs and in HF.

Host Mom 4 years September 23, 2011 at 12:31 pm

It is the job of the agency to promote the AuPair /Host Family experience. I agree. However, my point is about the contract. If an agency decides to terminate the contract because they feel a Host family’s actions are not in the spirit of the program, but the Host Family does not break any laws nor the Agency + Host Family contract, the Agency will be responsible for refunding the Host Family. An agency is putting themselves into a position to have to prove that the Host family broke the contract and therefore, the agency could then withhold some of the Host Family’s money. However, I would hope that any Au Pair agency that applies “Not in the spirit of the Program” to a host family would be fair in their refund policy to the side of the Host family. Good business practice.

Please also consider a flip point of view to this concept “Spirit of the Program”. Host families could also terminate the relationship with an Agency stating the Agency is not fulfilling their part due to the agency’s actions that are against the spirit of the program. Could the Host Family then request a refund that does not comply with the contract?

Gianna September 24, 2011 at 3:12 pm

I think that there are probably a number of throwaway lines in the various contracts that the agencies could invoke such as ” failure to cooperate with agency representatives “. I saw that once in a contract I read. I suppose that means that if a family never returns calls from an LCC or treats the aupair in some of the ways that TACL indicates above or other nasty tricks ( we all know what they are ) , the agency would have grounds to terminate the contract. I am just still not convinced that any agency really throws the book at families for being mean. I think , if the family becomes an expense in terms of the need for constant counseling , emergency housing , etc. the agency would decline to renew them. Maybe. I suspect that if an LCC objected too many times to families, the agency would get rid of the LCC. What they say and what they mean , is too different things. Let’s face it, the contract is in place to protect the agency and the agency alone.

WestMom September 12, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Speaking of legal oversight, I’d like to ask a related question to the group. We did a pre-match this year, with a lovely girl registered with a different agency than ours. While dealing with the application transfer logistics (to bring her through our agency), we were surprised to find out that she had not been required to have a physical evaluation or criminal check before being listed on her agency’s Web site. She was only required to do so upon match. I know the candidates end up doing the checks in the end, but it made me uneasy to think that registered, prospective Au Pairs might not be thoroughly vetted before being ‘advertised’.

(We had no concerns about the candidate, but in the end it gave me a poor impression of the agency…)

Our agency requires these checks as part of the au pair application, which makes me wonder: Is there a standard requirement about when criminal and health information is required to be shared with the (prospective) family?

JBLV September 13, 2011 at 6:23 pm

Interesting. I was told by one agency that once an au pair has registered with one agency, they cannot transfer.

hOstCDmom September 13, 2011 at 11:06 pm

I believe that is once they have their J-1 visa, as the agency is the sponsor for the J-1 and thus the J-1 is “tied” to the agency with whom the AP was with when s/he received the visa. Thus, AP cannot go into rematch and go to a family with another agency and “switch” agencies.

But when AP is in his/her home country, and has done an application with one agency, I have not heard that the AP can’t just go and complete the application for another agency. I had understood that if AP was registered with agency X, but found a HF on great aupair (for example) s/he could then go and complete an application with the HF’s agency, as a pre-match AP, in order to come to the HF as a legal AP with the agency with which the HF was registered.

German Au-Pair September 14, 2011 at 12:23 am

In fact you can even register with as many agencies as you want because you need to pay them after the match.
APIA does not require the criminal background check and the physical evaluation until you leave.
Actually if you apply like a year before you want to leave, you are not even allowed to hand in those forms because they cannot be older than 6 months upon arrival.

NoVA Host Mom January 16, 2012 at 4:18 am

Wait! The criminal background check is not done as an applicant, but after match is offered? Really? I mean, I can see having to have a new one done every 6 months if you still have not matched, but lots of jobs have those. Does APIA really hold off on the criminal background check until after the match is made?

massaupairmom September 16, 2011 at 3:07 pm

I’d love to hear from some families that took oversight issues up the chain of command. I myself brought what I thought was a hf situation that was WAY outside the boundaries to my former LCC, and it went nowhere. The family was allowed to match with a different au pair. I have the sense that, if I brought the same issues to my current LCC, she’d actually do something about it. I am wondering, though, how my agency would have responded if I had taken it up the chain myself. Has anyone done this?

The particular scenario for us was that an au pair was given a typewritten list of cleaning tasks to complete on a regular basis, including cleaning the host parents bathroom, doing their laundry, cleaning the rooms of their adult children…. Since the au pair gave me the list, and I sent it to my LCC, there can really be no question but that the family was breaking the rules, but there was no consequence to the family (and they had had au pairs for over a decade and had likely been getting away with this for years…)

Joanne Kelly November 1, 2011 at 9:00 am

Please everyone – do not give the above agency any money. They are not the large outfit they claim to be on their website and do not meet or vet any of their girls. They are in business only to get your money and send you any girl they can convince you to take. Most of their girls are entirely unsuitable and have not been advised of what an au pair job entails. This agency preys on first timers (host families and au pairs) and I would be amazed to find that they had ANY au pairs on their books who had done the job before…simply because these girls would not go back to this agency. Steer clear of – there are much more reputable agencies around that will genuinely help you find a good match. Wishing you all the best of luck in your search!

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