Letters of Recommendation: For a so-so au pair? (Poll)

by cv harquail on January 20, 2010

When your au pair is getting ready to leave you, either to end her year or to extend with a different family, it’s nice to write her a letter of recommendation. Unless, of course, you wouldn’t recommend her to anyone.

When the topic of recommendation letters has come up before, you all have been of different minds when it comes to letters for so-so au pairs, or au pairs who are even worse.

Some think that ‘silence speaks volumes’ and that not writing a letter actually tells a potential family that you don’t recommend an au pair.

But, as sociologists like to say, “Silence is overdetermined”… there are too many reasons that a family wouldn’t write a letter (busy life, anyone?)   You can never be sure what exactly you are signaling anything by not writing a letter.

_3285_2718238377_7bedbf3250.jpgSome think that a very plain, “She was fine” letter should suffice. Any sensible host parent would either ‘read between the lines’ and understand that this was not a recommendation. Or, host parents would be looking for an au pair that actually got affirmatively enthusiastic recommendations.

What do you all think? Here’s a letter from a host parent:

Our current AP is leaving in early Feb.   She wanted to extend, but we do not want her to extend with us. She has been marginally acceptable, but due to other reasons I decided not rematch back on about month 3…..

If a prospective HF contacts me for info… how much do you say? Not say?

I feel obligated to be honest as I don’t want to see another HF in the same boat. I would not want a rematch or extension AP that is at best a warm body, acceptable…. Guess I feel more strongly on that than helping our current AP stay.

I believe she would say, do anything to stay and the way this works is the prospective HF would only get to talk to me if our current AP puts us in contact. I really believe that should change with the agencies. They have said that it is because there are some bad HF, but I think that could be dealt with by the LCC providing feedback. Another topic altogether and I guess responsibility of the prospective HF to make sure they do ask.

Just curious what others would do/have done in this situation?

Let’s take a poll, and then discuss, below!

For a so-so to not very good, but not horrible au pair,

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Orange mosaic by mag3737 on FLickr

[Note: There is a very interesting post on the NYT’s  Motherlode blog by Lisa Belkin on When to report a Nanny to the Police… it mentions letters of recommendation, as well some additional interesting stuff.]

{ 29 comments }

PA Au Pair Mom January 20, 2010 at 9:23 am

Our previous AP asked me to give complete her recommendation form (for a french AP agency) in PENCIL!!! She claimed she needed to translate my responses into French. I knew it was because she knew my responses were not going to be as favorable as she would have liked.

I called the French agency and they said completing the form in English was fine and to fax it directly to them. I completed the recommendation form honestly. I didn’t attack or punish, but I was honest. I figured if I received an AP with a glowing recommendation and then found out it was all a coverup, I wouldn’t be happy, so I wasn’t about to do the same thing to some other unsuspecting family.

Based on my recommendation, I thought maybe the agency wouldn’t hire her but I was wrong. She is now in a family in Nice, France and there are AGAIN major issues with her behavior.

Maybe the reference never made it into her “file” so that a family would choose her. I’m not sure.

I think being honest on an evaluation is the key thing.

NoVA Host Mom January 20, 2010 at 10:15 am

For a “marginally adequate” AP (or any employee for that matter), I would decline to write a letter of reference. I only write those for people who I can recommend fully.

Separately, if I was contacted by a prospective HF about said marginal AP, I would not sugar coat things and I would not lie. Tell the truth: give the good and the bad. She must have had some strengths, so give those, but also give her faults. I do not think it is fair to expect a new HF to know what lines to read between. Everyone has different talents for this, and I can safely say my husband has no skill at figuring out anything “between the lines”. I love him dearly, but this is my strength, not his.

My 2 cents January 20, 2010 at 11:01 am

We’ve had this happen and here’s how we decided to handle it: Our agency’s form had check boxes for whether we would recommend or not. I checked “yes,” and then gave a short one sentence description of why (basically that she performed her job competently; kind of like what a corporate employer might do in this situation). Our LCC, who had some issues with her, I noticed also did the same thing with her form. I also placed all of my contact information on the form so that the potential HF could contact me. My understanding at all times was that this was a document the HF would see. Also, my AP was acting very anxious about host families contacting us, so I think she thought the form was public as well.

We decided to handle it this way since our AP was, in fact, ultimately at her core competent and responsible and I wouldn’t feel any guilt letting her watch other children. Was she a load of other things as well? Oh, yes. But I didn’t think it fair to not recommend her if she was competent with kids, and we had after all stuck it out with her regardless of some other shortcomings.

BTW, host family did not contact us. Why anyone would accept someone into their home without at least calling the prior family, I cannot understand. She ended up leaving the program only months into her extension with them. Go figure.

Midwest Mom January 20, 2010 at 2:47 pm

While I haven’t had to write a recommendation letter (yet), we did put one AP into rematch and our new AP was on extension from another family who did write a letter.
The family that our rematch AP went to did contact me and I was honest and gave them the good along with the bad. I felt that if they knew what the issues were in advance that they might have a better chance of dealing with those issues from the get go.
Our current AP came with a glowing recommendation letter from her prior family. While that was a HUGE help with my decision process, I still did call and have a conversation with them. Like My 2 Cents says above, I would never accept an AP without talking to the prior family if there was a prior family. It really helps to have that conversation and get a good feel for their strengths and weaknesses.

franzi January 21, 2010 at 5:50 pm

during my rematch process i was not allowed to talk to the potential new AP and my family was not allowed to contact families i was in touch with. needless to say that didn’t work for neither of us. while i tried to stay honest, giving pros and cons, the host parents threw me under the bus big time. thankfully, the new family was able to keep things in perspective and didn’t feel appalled. my second hostfamily and i are a match made in heaven!

Mom of 3 January 20, 2010 at 3:45 pm

We were asked for a recommendation by our departing au pair, and I agreed to do it. She was adequate, but did not blow us away. I chose to state the facts (how long she was with us, the duties she took on, that she was kind to my children) and just not go on too much. I did say she was quiet and responsible, and responded adequately to our feedback (not that she was amazing and part of the family and awesome to work with). She’d be fine with other families, but if they want someone who is participatory and part of the family, she is not going to fit the bill….and hopefully that is obvious by the way I wrote it. So I guess you could say I wrote it in a “read between the lines” sort of way. And I left all my contact info so the next family could contact me.

Calif Mom January 21, 2010 at 11:17 am

It’s important to acknowledge that an AP might do a fine job for a different family. I have gone so far as to write something like “I believe a family with one toddler would be a better fit for her” for an AP who absolutely could not moderate or adequately supervise the disputes of two kids who are 5 years apart in age, and just plain smarter than she was. In fact, one AP (whom I actually think should have been sent home due to emotional issues, as we were already her third family in less than a year) did go to a family that fit that bill.

I had a very long, friendly conversation with that host mom–who couldn’t interview the AP in person b/c she was 1,000 miles from us–and was very clear about our experience of this AP, including advice for how the hosts would need to manage and structure her time. That mom was desperate for childcare so she took her. I do wonder if it worked out… I don’t wish the AP ill, because she’s a nice person, but she really needed a therapist!

MommyMia January 21, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Wow-you could be me! I did the same, and the family with one toddler who chose our previous so-so AP (who never called us, BTW) has apparently been pleased, or at least OK with her. I am of the same mind as many of you, would never think of hiring someone for whom I could not check references. I was surprised to see our most recent AP who went into rematch and swore she was leaving at the end of this year, if not sooner, listed on our agency’s “available now” list–not surprised that she isn’t extending with the current family (who did call me and I was honest about both her strengths and many weaknesses, yet also pointed out that it was mainly a personality thing and her not wanting to be a “part of our family” although we had discussed that in detail when hiring her). I also talked with the AP about how I had to be honest with a potential family, and she thanked me after she matched with them for giving her a “good” recommendation, although she didn’t send us the form, which I believe IS required by our agency for extension APs if they have had more than one family during their first year, which I find odd, unless she is planning to tell anyone who doesn’t check the facts a made-up story of where she was during her first 6 months here? I almost want to contact the agency and see if I can put my contact info. in her file that HFs see, but I don’t feel it’s my place to do so (she probably tells them I declined to fill it out, or we didn’t get along and she didn’t want to ask, but that would even raise red flags with me). I don’t know if some or all agencies require new families to contact the re-match families, but they should. I think the LCCs often sugar-coat the situation just to quickly find a new family for the “poor” APs so they won’t have to return home.

Anonymous January 20, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Our agency has categories with scores plus a write up. I mostly see 5s (which is the highest). If I see any 3s I rule them out right away. One 4 is ok depending on the category – not for “love of children” though- so this is another way to “read between the lines.”

I would be curious the success rate of ext. au pairs……

Darthastewart January 20, 2010 at 9:11 pm

My AD says that very few extension au-pairs who extend for a second year with the same family are successful. I don’ t know how that would relate to a second year but with a different family?

Sara Duke January 20, 2010 at 10:05 pm

We have not had a problem with extension au pairs continuing with our family. We had really bonded with the women, and obviously they with us.

I think it helps to sit down and have a realistic discussion about goals for everyone before agreeing to the extension. If you have areas that make you really unhappy, don’t let them slide because you’ll only get angrier about them in the extension period. One AP extended only on the condition that she be able to get a second visa (she did) so she could home for Christmas in her extension period (she had arrived just before Christmas in her first year). She was fantastic the whole time she was with us.

Getting back to recommendations. I believe that if you can’t say something nice, then you should be straight with your AP. Tell her, “I’m sorry, but the way I’m feeling at the moment I don’t think I can give you an honest evaluation that will help you. ” (I presume that you’ve given her a warning that you’re unhappy about her performance.)

In my one AP relationship that absolutely dissolved after 3 1/2 years (which were wonderful until my youngest hit 3 1/2 and my daughter had brain surgery), my AP said that it would be hypocritical of her to be polite and to listen to my instructions about childcare, but it never occurred to her to ask whether it would be hypocritical of me to give her a good recommendation when she handed my contact information out to prospective employers without asking. Boy was she surprised!

For the APs that are reading this – ask your HF if it is okay for you to give out contact information and whether or not they feel they could offer a positive recommendation! We have served as contacts for some young APs in rematch, and believe me, if we haven’t been asked, we are brutally honest about what we know (and see in our house if they have been staying with us).

Calif Mom January 21, 2010 at 11:08 am

I agree–our two extension APs have been wonderful. It’s terrific to not have to re-train, and the relationships all deepen.

However, it has also been VERY hard for th0se 2 extension APs to come to terms with leaving. The last months I sensed increasing anxiety and a certain entrepreneurship as they try to find ways to stay.

Should be working January 21, 2010 at 4:11 pm

I’m in rematch (perhaps my previous posts were already clues this would happen) and my departing au pair wants a letter too. I will write the letter, say she was kind and competent with the children, did the housework, and is a good match for a family who wants a very autonomous au pair (read: never home). I am not sure whether to say that we had a personality mismatch, or to add that she seemed dull-witted and depressive, or not to say anything and leave it to the next family to contact me.

This au pair came out of a rematch (financial problems in family) with an excellent recommendation. Knowing her now I find this hard to believe, but it proves that different au pairs work for different families, and it also proves that a GOOD recommendation is not a guarantee that an au pair will succeed in your house.

franzi January 21, 2010 at 5:55 pm

i actually like the idea of saying “the AP would be a good match for a family that is looking for an independent/family oriented/very popular/whatever family”.
if the new family wouldn’t seem itself fit for that category they would get the hint. if they don’t mind autonomous then maybe that AP is a better match than the current family is for her.

NoVA Host Mom January 21, 2010 at 9:59 pm

I would actually maybe even spell it out a bit more, saying she would be a good match for a host family who wants less of a “family interaction”type of relationship and more of an employer-employee relationship. I’d close telling the reader they were welcome to call or email me at any time if they need more information.

Mom23 January 22, 2010 at 8:59 pm

I was in a situation where I spoke to a host family who wanted to talk to me about my au pair (who was in rematch). I thought she would do well in a family with younger children since the many of the problems were with my pre-teen.

After she left we learned lots of things about her that if I had known I would never have been so positive. Some of the stories are coming out of my kids three months later.

'sota gal January 22, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Wow, I just wish our agency allowed HF’s to contact one another, or even to post any letters or forms with recommendations/feedback on their departing au pair. For our rematches their is a tiny little blurb in which you are supposed to try and decipher why an AP is going into rematch or extending.

Former au pair January 22, 2010 at 9:47 pm

I’ve just read all the commentaries and remembered the other topic discussed, about current and future au pairs contacting each other. The host mom was so mad that her au pairs “friended’ each other on Facebook, and how unfair it is for current au pair to share the information about the family.
So here is a little question: why host families happily write “not so good” recommendations, while nobody asks au pairs how good the family is?
Yes, we all know, that there are good and bad au pairs as well as families, but why host families are so against giving the current au pair the email of a new girl, especially when “relations were not too good”? It should be a fair game, isn’t it?

CV January 22, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Hi FAP-
That’s a good question. Let me make that its own post for next week!
cv

Anna January 24, 2010 at 12:10 am

Dear former au pair,

no, it is a very unfair little game. In both of the agencies I’ve been with, host families ARE NOT ALLOWED to contact the previous families of rematch au pairs. In case of rematch, they are not writing the recommendations either. We just can go on what the au pair herself tells us about why she rematched….. which is in most cases half the truth or not true at all. I’ve been burned on that, I believe that if I were allowed to talk to the previous host family, I would not have gotten a bad au pair into my home.

Former au pair 2 January 25, 2010 at 10:27 am

Yes, I know about this rule. But if you think about it.. in the end of the program when the au pair decides to extend with another family, the agency mails a form of recommendation that current host family needs to complete, no matter if the relations are good or bad. At the same time, this family is going to match with another girl and agency DOES NOT ask the current au pair to fill in the feedback about the family.

Anna September 7, 2010 at 11:14 pm

Hi,

Our previous au pair just left and I am trying to write a recommendation letter, but I am a little stuck. Does anyone have some examples that would not mind sharing with me.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 8, 2010 at 7:21 am

It depends on what you want to accomplish – do you want her to succeed in rematching or do you want to damn her with faint praise so the next HF knows what they’re getting into. APIA has a form that HFs fill out, and we were able to make it clear that our AP had had one accident but had learned to drive well enough that we were comfortable letting her drive the car (our state lets foreign non-residents drive for one-year on their home license). However, when potential HF called us to ask why we did not extend with her, the first thing I said was, “She never bothered to get our state driver’s license despite the fact that we told her several times we would reimburse her for the entire cost.” She finally found a family with which she could extend, but they don’t intend to let her drive.

Anna September 8, 2010 at 12:08 am

Hi, I post here a lot under the name “Anna”, just want to clarify that the above posting is not from me.

As to a recommendation letter, it sounds like you were not too happy with your au pair, otherwise you wouldn’t be at loss for words.
I would write about her good points, and leave my contact information in the letter if another family has questions.

Anna September 11, 2010 at 10:56 pm

I am not at a loss for words, rather don’t know where to start. She does not need a letter to be an au-pair in another family rather get a job in her home country unrelated to taking care of kids. I am just not sure what to write and need an example of a standard au pair letter of recommendation.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 11, 2010 at 11:09 pm

I would recommend sticking to the facts in that case. Was she reliable and punctual? Then say so. Did she do what was asked of her (even if she didn’t do more)? Then say so. Did she meet the other stated visa goals: attend cluster meetings, finish her required education?

I have only been asked to write one letter of recommendation for an au pair (I gave a verbal interview for another). She was a fantastic au pair – did everything we asked and more — and enthusiastically (including giving a peanut butter massage to my son’s hamster when he escaped from his cage and got caught in a glue trap one morning). She was a great friend to other APs in our cluster – and became the event organizer. She met her course requirements well and received a high score on the TOEFL. So my glowing letter was not just about her level of childcare (I was fairly explicit about her duties with The Camel – not every AP changes diapers and g-tubes in a large child), but how I felt about her as a person and a friend (and how jealous I was of any employer who hired her, because I had wish she had extended with us). When she received the letter she said she cried. I think she knew how we felt about her, but of course we had never put it in writing.

Busy Mom September 12, 2010 at 7:45 am

Anna,

Below is the text of a letter of reference that I wrote for former nanny. She was looking for another nanny position, but the letter speaks to her personal qualities as well as her level of initiative so would be appropriate for any future job.

To Whom It May Concern:

XX was employed as our full-time nanny from ____ to ____. She cared for our X children while we worked. She left because ______________

When XX started working for our family, our children were __________. XX was responsible for everything involving our childrens’ welfare while she was on duty. During the school year, she woke them up in the morning, got them ready for school and drove them to school. She picked them up from school, supervised homework and played with them. While the older two children were at school, XX played with the youngest, took her on outings, took her to gymnastics class, and ran errands with her. During the summer, she planned outings, took them swimming and played with them. About three evenings a week, she fed them dinner and got them ready for bed. She took care of them when they were ill.

XX was exceptionally patient in her daily interactions with our children. She was always even-tempered and loving. She always followed through on our discipline techniques so that parents & nanny had consistent expectations and consequences. She would bring behavior issues to our attention when necessary and we would together figure out ways to address those issues. She brings a wonderful sense of humor to her work with kids and my children responded wonderfully to her. My children all miss her.

XX is terrifically creative. On her own initiative, she stocked a giant craft box which kept the children amused. She held dance parties to get the children active and moving. When time permitted, she would plan theme-based parties like a luau and a sock-hop, complete with costumes and themed accessories. Another way in which XX went above & beyond was in meal preparation. Once I communicated our nutrition expectations, XX went out of her way to find recipes that the children would enjoy that fit those requirements.

XX is responsible, reliable and very well-organized. She is friendly and pleasant to have around. She is always on time and is honest. She is also a good driver and drove the children extensively. We provided her with a car.

XX is a terrific nanny and we highly recommend her. Our family feels lucky to have had XX as our nanny for two and a half years.

Please feel free to call me should you have any further questions.

Busy Mom September 12, 2010 at 7:49 am

One more thing – an au pair letter of recommendation is really no different than any letter of recommendation (or linkedin recommendation) that you would write for any person who worked for you. You want to cover those qualities that all employers are looking for: reliability, organizational skills, timeliness, honesty, initiative, etc.

Anna September 19, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Thank you so much!! I really appreciate the help.

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