Regulations & Additional Training for Au Pairs of Children with Special Needs

by cv harquail on October 15, 2010

The guidelines of the US Dept. of State regarding au pairs states that :

Au pairs may not be placed:

In families with a special needs child, as identified by the family. The au pair can work with a special needs child if s/he has identified prior experience, skill, or training in caring for special needs children. In this case, the the host family must review and acknowledged the prior experience, skills, or training in writing

This begs the question, then:

How are  au pairs without these experiences or formal training, who indicate that they are “willing”, legally placed with a family who has a child with special needs?201010151743.jpg

I’ve noticed that several agency websites explain that au pairs can care for children with special needs, and do not mention anything more than (for example): “When interviewing Au Pairs, Host Families will need to express in detail the special needs required as well as any qualifications their Au Pair will need.”

As far as I know (and please tell me if I’m wrong) only ProAuPair has a specialized program to identify au pairs with significant skills and training for working with children with special needs, ranging from occupational therapy to social work to pediatric nursing. (Note: link has been updated Nov 2010)

Many agencies will take note of candidates that have additional training and skills (like our au pair who had a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education) and can help families find a qualified au pair.

Is anyone able to clarify how this works?

Image: Camp Merrimack from Ashley Dinges


Taking a Computer Lunch October 15, 2010 at 8:07 pm

First of all, I gave birth to a special needs infant with exactly one night of babysitting an infant to my credit (plenty of experience with toddlers and older children) and zero experience in caring for someone with special needs. It’s a steep learning curve (especially learning to diaper a baby covered in wires in an isolette), but if I can do it, anyone can. I don’t expect my incoming APs to have experience in caring for my daughter (whose medical fragility ought to scare everyone away, and yet we’ve always selected from one of several potential candidates).

APIA has an area of the AP application for candidates to check special needs willing or special needs experience and then to describe their experience with special needs children. The application does not provide a lot of coaching, so if the candidate doesn’t have the vocabulary, it might be hard for them to know all the appropriate words in English. What I have found, as the parent of a special needs child, the both the AP letter and their work experience reveal much more about who they are, what is important to them, and what they have done.

As I parent of a special needs child, I can ONLY look at applications of special needs willing APs. I choose to look at those with special needs experience. I have found that those who toggle special needs willing without prior experience seem to have been coached to do so – there is something about their application that makes them weak (lack of English language skills, actual childcare experience). On the other hand, those with special needs experience, tend to have strong childcare experience and would make a good candidate for any child.

APIA has a “au pair extraordinnaire” program for those young women with 2 years of demonstrated childcare experience. We have drawn from this program 2/3 of the times we’ve matched, for two reasons: 1) the candidates demonstrate a real interest in children through their educational background and 2) the candidates demonstrate real experience lasting more than a week or two with children having a variety of special needs.

When I match, both the AP and I must sign documentation that they are aware that I have a special needs child.

darthastewart October 18, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Your comment about baby in Isolettes with tubes in wires- I remember getting ready to bring home my oldest, and being concerned that she was having all of her wires detached.- She was a 28 weeker, and had Apnea and Bradycardia, BPD, and a pneumothorax to go with it too.. I wasn’t sure just _what_ to do without wires.

But we learned. It’s amazing how fast you learn to deal with the issues.

HRHM October 16, 2010 at 7:01 am

I don’t have a SN kiddo, but I have had bad experiences with APs related to SN kids. I think it’s important to realize right off the bat that in a lot of other countries, any kind of disability turns that child/person into a “throw away”. Russia, Serbia, Bosnia, Ukraine, Hungary – children born with visible handicaps are frequently abandoned or subject to infanticide. Later-found problems often lead to either isolation or institutionalization. A couple of our APs have made comments (in front of DD) about Down’s kids and how sad that they were allowed to LIVE!!! I was horrified and set about correcting that attitude immediately, especially as I don’t want DD hearing and believing that kind of crap. But I don’t think all APs even know what they are signing up for by checking that box, since few other countries main-stream their MR or handicapped students and most APs don’t personally know any SN kids and their families. Caveat emptor.

Taking a Computer Lunch October 16, 2010 at 3:45 pm

My Chinese AP, who came from a country with a lousy human rights record, was very good with my daughter. She had thought that she wanted to work with special needs children in China, even though schools for children like my daughter did not exist. It takes explicit discussion to tease out attitudes, and it cannot always be achieved in a 90-minute telephone call (how long our telephone interview takes when we have a good candidate capable of merely answering our questions). And it’s true, 90% of the special needs willing APs out there haven’t any experience whatsoever, but I’ve been more than satisfied with the 10% that do in the 8 1/2 years we’ve had APs (but don’t get me started on the year we had LPNs…which is why we’re back with APs).

Aupairgal October 18, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Just to present a possible alternative meaning to “Down’s kids and how sad that they were allowed to live” could it have been a possible language issue? A lot of doctors in Europe test for things like Down syndrome in fetuses and many mothers do choose to abort those fetuses that test positive before they are born (I honestly don’t know if that is done in the US). So perhaps they could have meant that instead of actually killing live children. Just throwing that out there.

HRHM October 18, 2010 at 3:30 pm

I actually assumed she was referring to aborting them – that doesn’t actually make me feel any better ( and FYI I’m totally pro-choice).

Melissa October 18, 2010 at 6:27 pm

That’s how I took it too. And I agree – still an awful and extremely misinformed comment.

EC October 16, 2010 at 9:40 am

I would definitely agree with you HRHM. I think that part of the problem with au pairs who say that they are willing to work with special needs children, is that they often seem to have no real idea of what working with a child who has special needs entails, or they do not think about the fact that it is very different to work with, for example, a high functioning autistic child, compared to working with one who is low functioning and non-verbal. From what I can tell from the interview with my agency at least-APC, there was very little said about what working with a special needs child might entail, when I said I was “special needs willing”, and whether I was capable of capable of handling that. Those are hopefully deficiencies of the agency that will be made up for by a good series of interviews with host family, but there is still the worry of an au pair who thinks that they can handle looking after a child who has special needs, gives good answers, but does not fully understand what the reality of caring for a child who has special needs will be like reality.
I have five years of part time experience working with children who have special needs, I ticked that box on my application, but thought for a very long time about whether I wanted to or not. I have experience caring for a wide range of children with disabilities, which was what made me think for so long about it. I know just how hard it can be at times to work with a child who has special needs and was uncertain, even with all my experience, whether I was willing and or able to do that full time for a year. I just do not know whether all au pairs put that much thought into such a decision and even if they wanted to, whether they are equipped to make it.

APDads November 13, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Even if the au pair is willing to take care of children with special needs – and writes it down on her/his application, but has no previous experience with special needs, it’s the agency’s job to stop them. The Department of State states that:

(e) Au pair placement. Sponsors shall secure, prior to the au pair’s departure from the home country, a host family placement for each participant. Sponsors shall not:

(4) Place an au pair with a host family having a special needs child, as so identified by the host family, unless the au pair has specifically identified his or her prior experience, skills, or training in the care of special needs children and the host family has reviewed and acknowledged in writing the au pair’s prior experience, skills, or training so identified;

Nina January 19, 2012 at 2:16 pm

I just want to add that it really depends on the special needs the child had. I have a son with high functioning autism and it is very important to have an Au Pair who knows how to set limits. Thus we have a doctor’s note stating that he doesn’t need anyone specially trained. Our best Au Pair so far was one that didn’t check the special needs box but had chosen to be a daycare teacher in a country where they immediately learn how to set limits for kids. I tried contacting her, told he about my son’s issue and she came. She was that good that my son’s psychologist commented that she was better than most of therapists who get Master degrees and different certificates to deal with behaviors.

We also had another one that checked the box for special needs and was great but still not as great as the previous one.

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