Reading the Fine Print: How do Au Pair Agency contracts differ?

by cv harquail on November 16, 2010

With our previous conversation about whether or not an au pair is supposed to be paid pocket money if s/he takes additional vacation weeks, I was reminded of this very simple and confusing issue:

201011160508.jpgAlthough US regulations apply to any US au pair, each agency has its own ways of interpreting and explaining the rules.

Depending on the fine print of your agency contract, your obligations may differ from those of a host family with a different agency.

We’ve seen this before in our conversations– some fine point of interpretation about a family’s obligations, different beliefs about what’s right, and the discovery that the differences map to people being with different agencies.

Places where agency differences have come up include:

(1) paid vs. unpaid additional vacation time,
(2) paid vs. unpaid orientation weeks,
(3) consecutive vs. separated day and half-day of the “day and a half” off duty each week,
(4) what counts as a “half day”,
(5) how many times an au pair’s day can be ‘split’ with off duty time, and
(6) procedures for managing an au pair when you go into rematch.

I bet that I’d find just a couple more if I went back through all our pages.

Does anyone recall other topics where agencies seem to have different policies?

Sometimes, Agency policies get updated and you don’t realize it.

I was a little surprised to discover in the unpaid vacation conversation that unpaid vacation was ‘not allowed’. I know that sometimes the agency rules have actually changed while I’ve been a client– for example, the clarification that a ‘half day’ meant no more than 5 hours on duty, and not ‘at least 8 hours of time between 7 am and 8 pm’.


Sometimes, you’ve gotten used to one interpretation.

Often there is an interpretation that’s been supported by other host families and your counselor and seemed to be ‘correct’, and then a new counselor/LCC has a different interpretation. This has happened for us around whether or not non-credit ESL classes ‘count’ towards the education requirement.

Sometimes, the laws underneath the policies or advice actually change (or are different).

We’ve seen this with the question of whether or not your au pair can use an international driver’s license all year or whether s/he needs to get one from your state.

Sometimes, nobody seems to be confident about what the actual ‘right’ answer is.

and so you (or we) continue to look for definitive information. Income taxes for au pairs, anyone?

Sometimes, we’ve just got it wrong (despite our best intentions).

None of us wants to interpret the rules unfairly, or to treat our au pairs in a way that is ultimately unfair.

In the end, there are two basic principles that we should follow:

1. What is the kind, generous, responsible interpretation of the issue that meets the au pair’s needs, the family’s needs, and is felt to be fair by all, and

2. What does the fine print in your au pair contract say?


See also:
Scheduling your au pair for a half-day
Scheduling Your Au Pair: Naptime, Mealtime and Meaningful Breaks
Do you pay your Au Pair for her orientation days?
Choosing an Au Pair Agency:
Two questions that might make a difference

The fine print from
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Taking a Computer Lunch November 16, 2010 at 9:33 am

APIA States for the Work Schedule
* Au pairs can work a maximum of 10 hours a day and 45 hours per week.
* The au pair is entitled to one and a half days off each week, which means that if her hours are spread over 6 days, one of those work days cannot exceed 5 hours of work.
* Au pairs get a full week-end off every month, from Friday night to Monday morning.
* Any hours that an au pair has responsibility for the children, even if she is sleeping, are considered work hours.

The Web Site has this to say about Vacations:

Your au pair or EduCare companion is entitled to a minimum of two weeks off with full weekly stipend during her twelve-month stay. An extension au pair/companion is entitled to an additional two weeks of vacation for an extension period between nine to twelve months or one week for an extension period of six months.

When making your plans, please consider the following:

* The vacation should be scheduled at a time that is mutually convenient to both the host family and the au pair.
* Conversation about vacation planning should begin early in the year.
* It is recommended that an au pair take one week of vacation in her first six months and the second week in the last half of the year.
* Vacation should not be scheduled in the first month after her arrival, as this is a time for both parties to develop a relationship and get acclimated.
* If the vacation is to be broken into daily segments, the au pair should receive a day off for each day in her standard work week. In addition, she would still receive her weekly free time and one complete weekend off each month. Both parties should agree upon the specific arrangement in advance.
* If your au pair travels with your family as part of her child care responsibilities, it is strongly recommended that a schedule be discussed in advance. Think about how you will divide child care responsibilities between you and the au pair. Remember that the au pair may need orienting to a new setting and that you are responsible for all of her meals while she is traveling with you.
* If you and your au pair will be traveling together, please leave a phone number with your Community Counselor where your au pair can be reached in case of emergency.

Anna November 16, 2010 at 9:38 am

Another difference is how long is two weeks vacation? One agency I was with said 10 working days, another – 11 working days.

Also, how vacation is earned (my current agency – a day per month starting with the second month)

And, how accounts are settled (or not) during rematch (one agency – au pair and family pay each other what they owe for used but unearned vacation – or earned but unused vacation, and prorated by length of au pair’s stay education money balances; another agency – au pair carries her benefits with her, so if the family already paid for au pair’s education and the new au pair hasn’t taken her classes yet, the family is out of education money twice in one year!)

Should be working November 16, 2010 at 1:39 pm

We got hit with the two-education-benefit problem in rematch. Not fun, especially since the first one didn’t even elect to finish her au pair year.

MommyMia November 16, 2010 at 4:07 pm

That is one of the major reasons we decided on our current agency over another one when we switched! If we’re trying to save money and work with more reasonable people, it didn’t make sense to possibly get hit with this double-whammy!

hOstCDmom November 16, 2010 at 10:39 am

We have been with CCAP and with APIA.

CCAP’s contract states that the one and a half days off per week must be “consecutive”. APIA does not include provision in its contract that the 1.5 days must be consecutive. The DoS regulations do NOT state that the 1.5 days off must be consecutive. Thus, CCAP is going further than the regulations, and in favor of the AP, and in one sense against the interests of the HF because the requirement that 1.5 days be consecutive precludes for many HF a Saturday night out if their AP works a traditional M-F work schedule. And this in the face of CCAP’s advertising about one of the benefits of having the “flexible childcare of an AP” being “date nights” or a “Saturday night out” for the HP.

Not to say I’m against a provision beyond the regs that is in favor of the AP (!!) so don’t flame me, but I do find it interesting that an agency makes an “unnecessary” concession to the AP, versus the HF, when it is from the HF that they receive their revenue and to whom they invest significant marketing $. From a purely business point of view, this is counterintuitive.

NOVAHostMom November 16, 2010 at 1:21 pm

In my opinion based on 4 years experience with CCAP, they typically in most cases are more likely to favor the Au Pair’s interest. I’ve heard this from quite a few Host Families. I think this thread is great and extremely informative for all host families as I had to read the fine print just to counter CCAP’s interpretation that is not written down anywhere. CCAP has a tendency to tell you over the phone, but cannot back up their policy in writing. Please, please every Host Family with CCAP to make sure you read your contract to make sure that any verbalized policy by CCAP’s is in compliance with your contract. :-)

hOstCDmom November 16, 2010 at 1:40 pm

NOVAHostMom –
Do you mind sharing which CCAP interpretation it was that was not written down anywhere?

For the record, during my years with CCAP, in my experience I generally found the opposite of what you state NOVAHostMom to be true – I felt that CCAP was actually more inclined to support HFs over APs (hence my surprise at the provisions re “consecutive” 1.5 days noted above) and I assumed (perhaps incorrectly) that their financial interest lay in keeping HF = paying customers, happy.

BLJ Host Mom November 16, 2010 at 1:49 pm

This is a smaller and less significant difference than most, but our new agency (or LCC – I’m not sure) does not require that the AP go to 10 of 12 of the cluster meetings like our last agency. This is a little disappointing as my new AP has only gone to 1 of 4 cluster meetings so far and it sounds like only a few other APs showed up. Our LCC plans pretty cool meetings, in my opinion, but that’s not the issue I have with it. This is how the girls get to know each other, it forces them to network with each other and see something in our city. It seems like our cluster has a few tight groups of friendships, and it leaves the new girls feeling unwelcomed a bit. My new AP has fewer AP friends than my last AP because no one is attending the cluster meetings. There are only 15 girls in the cluster so when only 4-5 show up, it doesn’t feel for them like there is this bigger community of them here. I like it when the agency requires this.

Oddly enough, the host PARENT (adult only on a weekend) event, IS required. I just missed ours, 3 weeks notice, this time of year was a no go. Unless I put my AP over on hours to make her work on that Saturday. Well, what are they going to do? Take away my Au Pair? I need time with my kids on the weekends, not necessarily other host parents whose Au Pairs aren’t even friends with mine because they have never met!

Another difference. Old agency required deposit from the APs and they got that back if they didn’t go into rematch or go home early. This agency doesn’t. I’ve seen more rematch this year but who knows if it is related.

This agency plans a really cool across the US trip for the 13th month. I think that is a great idea. The 13th month was hard on our last AP because she didn’t have anyone to travel with, and had so much luggage to take around with her. It sounded better in theory than actuality. You say goodbye to your loving host family to have a month alone before seeing your real family that you miss so much. I like this 13th month trip planned by someone else with build in new friends for the final hoorah for those who chose to do it!

Lastly our old LLC told us it is 72 hrs of non credit classes to equal 6 credits and the new LLC told us it is 80 hrs of non credit classes to equal 6 credits.

MommyMia November 16, 2010 at 4:14 pm

At least your agency HAD a parent event (I understood that this was a DOS requirement, but perhaps I’m mistaken.) Previously, our agency had a family event that included APs, but the past two years, the LCC did nothing. Neither did she enforce the attendance requirements for cluster meetings, and now she’s down to only six or seven families, so these poor APs really don’t get to know each other at all, unless they’re out there making their own friends. But I agree with the girls’ opinion – the meetings were boring and lame, and with usually less than two weeks’ notice, instead of a planned schedule for the year, the chances of them even being able to attend were very slim! Our new agency seems to have less meetings that sound way more fun, and the new LCC equivalent was an au pair herself, so seems much more in synch with the girls’ interests, yet amazingly well-informed and proactive for families. I hope this bodes well for our upcoming year.

Melissa November 18, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Our agency (this is our 1st year with them, we’ve used others before) has no AP events or meetings at all. This amazes me because I thought it was a requirement, but I can’t locate anything from the DOS on it. Our LCC simply sends out a monthly email asking everyone to respond that day.

Gianna November 18, 2010 at 6:01 pm

All of my aupairs have friends who tell them that they have no obligation to go to meetings ! I called the DOS and it is definitely a requirement. Either the LCC is just lazy or the agency doesn’t care and sends her a message that is not a problem. Whenever I talk to people who have aupairs , they tell me that they are just as happy to have an LCC who blinks at requirements. In fact, someone just told me the other day that she is switching to an agency that is a little more lax than her present agency – she just doesn’t like the hassle of meetings.
This doesn’t feel safe to me but I suspect that there are more people like her than like me and who am I to judge her position ? Everyone on this site, seems to agree with my feeling that meetings are in the interest of a happy aupair. I think so, anyway.

Taking a Computer Lunchs November 18, 2010 at 11:06 pm

I agree that meeting attendance has a direct impact on the quality of the AP’s year. It’s a time to form bonds, to meet other women working as APs nearby, to learn about American culture (if the LCC is good) and to gain skills. After AP #5’s reluctance to participate in anything that caused her to stretch her already overtaxed and culture-shocked system, we told her that it was mandatory to attend free meetings (our LCC does one no-cost meeting and one activity meeting nearly every month). It is now in our handbook. However, you can’t compel an AP to participate in something that doesn’t exist.

Almost every one of our APs have invited women from other clusters to attend their meetings – especially those for-fee special events, which have included college football games, skiing, visiting a pumpkin patch, going to a local Renaissance festival, and a dinner river cruise.

Calif Mom November 16, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Interpretations of car insurance requirements vary by agency. APIA didn’t care how we handled it (our insurance company did not require that AP be actually named in order to be covered the same as we are by our plan). Our new, smaller, cheaper agency does require that we put the AP’s name on our insurance policy.

Support materials given to new host families vary widely, too. Our new, smaller, cheaper agency offers–and actually insists that you fill out and turn in–vastly superior checklists and forms that basically cover all the decisions a new host family needs to make when welcoming an AP and figuring out how to run things smoothly. I have no doubt that just those materials alone would have saved us a rematch or two if we had had that kind of guidance earlier in our hosting “career”.

MommyMia November 16, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Good point – sounds like we may now be with the same, smaller agency (we, too, just switched from APIA). My husband was commenting after reading over some materials we just received RE witholding and taxes, as well as the orientation checklist, that he wished we’d had these things when we first started, too. Plus, they have a wonderful-sounding “Bed & Breakfast” program where families can sign up to host travelling APs for one night (they say even just a sleeping bag on the floor and small breakfast is all that’s expected…plus, they’re supposed to make arrangements at least a month in advance, which is a great idea!) so that they have the opportunity to travel and see more of the US while here. For some APs, I can imagine this would be a spectacular experience, and another way for our AP to meet more of her counterparts.

Gianna November 17, 2010 at 9:30 am

I have always opted in favor of the agencies with smaller clusters and smaller LCC to aupair and family ratios. When I first started researching agencies, I was horrified by the 60 families to an LCC situation. I also want an LCC who knows my name as
we previously discussed, I want someone who sees my aupair on a regular basis, and I want to stay, if at all possible with an agency with whom I have a history. There have been many times when I thought of giving up the whole project but upon reflection, the smaller groups and the relationship issues won out. I always call several agencies to find out about changes in policies and I think, given the state of the economy, most of the agencies are being very flexible now. Loyalty means alot to me.

Should be working November 17, 2010 at 10:44 am

We had a small agency that was personal, helpful and had a relatively low price. Then when we needed a rematch they didn’t have any candidates that met our criteria–because they are simply small. Since then we’ve been with a big, impersonal, sales-y agency that, it must be said, has worked well for us. While I like the small agency culture better, I really only *need* the agency in case of rematch. On the other hand, 60 families per LCC would be very off-putting.

Now looking for APs while we live in Europe I see an entirely different culture. Anyone can, and does, hang out a shingle or a website as an AP agency, the costs are 1/10 of US agency costs, and the service is not so good so far, AND screening does not seem to be very rigorous.

kajs November 17, 2010 at 10:34 pm

where are these low cost agencies may i ask??? They all have such hefty yearly fees! We are interested in hosting an aupair, but, are shocked at the up front costs….

Should be working November 18, 2010 at 3:26 am

They are not low cost, they are just a little less than the others–about a difference of $15/wk in my case, which adds up to about $700 less than the bigger agencies.

kajs November 18, 2010 at 9:53 pm

what agencies are considered lower cost may I ask?

Dorsi November 19, 2010 at 6:37 am

There are only 12 agencies (if you are in the U.S). A handful of them won’t serve your area. I made a spreadsheet when I was looking a few years ago (now I am choosing agencies for other reasons than price). CHI may be the cheapest, but I don’t think they are very widespread. You do need to look at total price (there are application fees, travel fees, etc.). I don’t think the range between the cheapest and the most expensive is more than $1000 — which (as mentioned above) is not much more than 15-20/week. There are a lot of good things and challenging things with the AP program — don’t let $20 be the deciding factor.

Anna November 19, 2010 at 10:13 am

Yes, agree – also need to look at travel fees, they can add up to a lot (my present agency doesn’t charge them at all, the one I used last year charged a ridiculous amount for a one way plane ticket from NJ to DC, and they didn’t let the parents arrange the travel)
Also, and this is something that not every agency will disclose on their website, you have to look at repeat family discount. My present agency has a hefty one ($500!) plus no application fee for a repeat (or switching from another agency) family. Another agency I was with had no repeat year discount, just a free application fee – that was their “discount”, and they did call it a discount. I was shocked to find that there was no discount off the program fee itself.

There are also rewards they give you for recruiting other families. I think I offset the more expensive agency’s difference just with referral fees in one year (I earned $800 in referral fees). Another agency – I saved $900 outright (with switching family discount, free application for switching, and savings on travel fees) – but their referral bonus is half of what the other agency’s was, and they don’t have a formal program where they pay you to host informational parties….

Taking a Computer Lunch November 18, 2010 at 8:12 am

DH and I underreport our tax deductions and use the big return to pay for AP fees. Not the wisest investment strategy, I suppose, but it works for us. When my kids were young, having an extraordinnaire, including the up-front fees, was cheaper than putting a typical infant and a special needs toddler-aged infant into child care (not that I was likely to find a child care provider that would take said special needs child). Now, that both kids are school-aged it’s a luxury to have an AP, but for us it makes the difference between spending all of our vacation time schlepping The Camel to and from doctor’s appointments and actually spending it on a vacation.

Darthastewart November 18, 2010 at 2:53 pm

I also wanted to point out that an au-pair can be quite costly from the “hidden costs” perspective- food, extra utilities, car insurance, and more. Please don’t consider it a “low cost” solution.

Calif mom November 18, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Yes, there are hidden costs, but there are hidden costs to every childcare arrangement. We don’t pay $100 extra to a babysitter if hub and I want to go see a play, for example.

The cost of [summer camp x two kids] plus [before and after care x two kids] plus [spring break and winter break camp x two kids] during the year, plus occasional date-night babysitters works out to roughly the same cost as an au pair for us, including extra food and travel costs and including $1,500 car damage. I even did a spreadsheet–and yes, DH corrected it. Even so, he agrees that it’s about the same but offers much better flexibility and sanity maintenance for parents. If you have a lot of vacation time you can take in the summer, your math would work out differently.

(CHI’s rates are a lot lower than APIA’s, or at least they were a year ago.)

Calif Mom November 19, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Hmmm. A spreadsheet would be a fabulous tool. I wonder if there’s a way to do one here via crowdsourcing (which is essentially what our comments are) so that CV wouldn’t have to maintain it. People could plug in local data. Are there any tools out there that could be dropped into the blog format?

cv harquail November 19, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Very interesting question! I start looking around… maybe I could just do something simple with a link out to a google doc? cv

AZ HM April 5, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Did anything ever come of this idea of sharing a google spreadsheet (or similar) to run an agency comparison? I’m about four months away from a new aupair and am considering whether switching agencies could be beneficial. While I appreciate all the discussion here, without the specific agencies mentioned by name it is hard to really benefit by all the comments.

Calif Mom April 6, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Funny you should ask. My current rematch experience is shining a light on some interesting refund/cost/rematch differences.

What I have found this time is different from earlier situations. If we were to build a spreadsheet, I think it would quickly get out of date.

You really do have to double check for freshness every time you are up for “renewal”. It’s kind of like open enrollment with health insurance–that increase in the copay can kill you, like the new “you can’t get a refund if you rematch after 6 months, you will only get credit toward a new au pair” fine print can kill your budget, too.

That new policy–agency folks, are you listening?–might seem like it would inspire you to stay with a certain agency, and might also seem to discourage rematches. I’m sure the agencies are hoping it will prevent defections to other agencies, but counter-intuitively, it can send families packing because depending on your particular variables, losing several months’ worth of agency fees might turn out to be cheaper for a family than paying for drop-in before and after school programs, or hiring a temporary sitter while you sift through candidates–again!–interview them, roll the dice, and wait weeks for their visas and orientation.

–another hidden cost of seemingly small policy differences–additional back up childcare costs when you have to wait an extra month because they only bring au pairs into the country once a month, or twice at best (in summer). If you are keeping your au pair the full year, this is more do-able, but if you’re in urgent need of an au pair, this hurts

–Discounts are varying a lot from what was the norm a couple years ago

–fees have gone up in some agencies but not others, so the small agency that was cheaper may not be cheaper than the big one anymore

–and obviously, as mentioned above but not to be underestimated, the small agency may have no rematch au pairs for weeks. Or only ones that don’t quite meet your needs. So then you are forced into the uncomfortable position of having to decide whether to settle for something less than ideal, but in country, or waiting 8 weeks for a new au pair whom you hope will indeed be ideal (but might not)

Anna November 19, 2010 at 1:27 pm

I think that’s what aupairclearinghouse started selling. Yes, they now charge membership and claim to provide this kind of comparison for paying members.
Which kind of pissed me off because about a year ago I wrote the founder a huge email with my analysis of price comparison of the two agencies I’ve been with (AuPairCare and AuPairUSA(Interexchange)) – for free! I spent hours on it and shared it for a guest post program; it never appeared on the website then…. But I am sure my good ideas are being used now.

azmom November 19, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Wow, that’s horrible that they’re probably profiting from your work.

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