How to Switch Au Pair Agencies, Gracefully

by cv harquail on October 16, 2014

Host Families choose their particular Au Pair Agency for all sorts of reasons.

They might choose the agency their neighbors use, the agency that has the best promotional deal, or even the agency that has a name they can spell correctly when they are googling in the middle of the night having been awakened again by a child or by their own nightmares about being unable to hold everything together any longer.

8237593710_15f7bfc3f8_zFamilies occasionally switch from one agency to another when they’ve had a bad experience, such as a relentlessly unhelpful local counselor or someone at headquarters who won’t return their calls. When this happens, host families are happy to scorch the earth behind them.

Indeed, for some, the more huffily and dramatically they can leave their disappointing agency, the better. (Not because they are mean people, but because they seek to make a point.)

Agencies, for their part, generally want to make us host families happy. It’s much easier and less costly to keep a current client than it is to acquire and ‘break in’ a new family.

Smart agencies, when they see that our contracts are at the 8 month mark, start to reconnect so that they can help us move into a new year as a host family and a client.

What happens, then, if you’re perfectly satisfied with the service you’ve received from an agency, but you’re planning to switch to a different one?

Host Mom Deirdre has this question:

What do you tell your current agency when you are switching to a new agency? I’ve been with one agency for a few years, and I just matched with an au pair from a different agency. She will come after my current au pair’s year is up.

I would rather not burn any bridges, because I might come back to my first agency again in the future. They didn’t do anything wrong, I just found the best au pair with a different agency this time (after looking and interviewing extensively with candidates from both agencies). And this au pair is from a country where my first agency does not recruit APs. I signed up with this other agency because I’ve heard good things about it (mostly on this blog) and I want to give it a try.

I would love to just not say anything, except that my current agency is still actively trying to help me match (I have an active application with them for another year). Of course I need to de-activate my application, and I guess they will ask me why. I suppose I could say that I am using a different type of childcare and leave it at that, but I wonder if that could come back to bite me.

Does anyone have any advice/experience in this area? Am I worrying needlessly?

I’d advise Deirdre to tell the agency the truth– that while she’s been happy with the agency’s service, she wants an au pair from a country they don’t work with.

By being forthcoming about the actual details, Deirdre can give the agency some feedback it can work with. The agency rep won’t wonder needlessly if they did something wrong in their relationship with Deirdre. They might also get a better sense of the demand for au pairs from this particular country.

And, the agency might realize– if their service is fine but their relationships are not strong enough that they hold on to their customer, perhaps they can up their game.

LCCs and Agency Folks, what would you wish this host mom would tell you?

Parents, would you rather not say why you’re leaving, just in case?

 

Image: Hawthorne drops, by Evan Leeson, on Flickr

{ 30 comments }

Returning HM October 16, 2014 at 9:49 pm

We were very happy with Apia but left for cultural care when we decided to host male APs. I was very upfront with our amazing Lcc, and she actually encouraged me to write to Apia hq to let them know why we were leaving. The director ended up calling me, and now Apia does allow HFs to match with males (but doesn’t recruit or screen males, so it was still impossible for us to use them). I am glad I was honest and up front, especially because our Apia Lcc was SO much better than our ccap Lcc is, so whenever I need an ear to bounce something off of, Apia Lcc is the one I call.

This is likely our last year hosting a male (my daughter will be 13 this year and is starting not to want a male ap anymore), so I expect we will switch back to Apia. Or at least will do what OP did and will register with both and then go with the agency of the Ap we end up selecting.

The one thing I have learned to do is always play the agencies off each other when it comes to finances. Apia always reduced to ccap price whenever I asked.

Host Mom X October 17, 2014 at 1:24 pm

In the midst of playing two agencies off each other on prices right now! PSA: APIA is going up to $8245 in 2015.

WarmStateMomma October 17, 2014 at 12:17 am

I had a terrible agency the first go-round. I told them we weren’t renewing and no one asked me why.

The current agency is fine and the LCCs are good but the agency charges a $950 premium for having a child under 2 and they have few APs who speak the language we want. My AP has confessed that the Chinese agencies coach the APs on how many hours to put down for each job and set them up with day care centers to use for taking photos with kids so they can pretend to have worked or volunteered there. Since most of these APs have no verifiable child care experience (let alone infant experience), paying $950 for a falsified IQ designation chafes me. It doesn’t go to the AP who has to care for the little one, so it seems unethical of the agency to collect it.

We are likely going to use another agency the next time because (a) the best Chinese APs are elsewhere and (b) I’m not paying another $950 premium for having an infant. I’ve told them the issue is that we’re looking for a Chinese AP who can drive and they don’t have anyone who fits the bill. It’s not personal.

Emerald City HM October 17, 2014 at 12:59 am

So I feel the need to clear something up here. If you are using APC the $950 extra isn’t a under 2 fee. It only applies to au pairs that have designated themselves as infant specialized, which is a more specific form of infant qualified. (Sort of). We have never matched with an IS au pair, but have matched with IQ au pairs and not paid the extra fee.

If your post is not about APC and this is a different agency, well then the above doesn’t apply.

WarmStateMomma October 17, 2014 at 1:52 am

I’m talking about APC. The $950 IS designation is not something the APs choose, have experience/credentials for, or have control over (at least according to my AP). It’s just something the agency manages.

For an additional $950 (so $1,900 total extra over the regular AP fee), I could have her spend an extra day at the training (3.5 days instead of 2.5). To be fair, I’m not sure if the whole 3.5 days would have covered infant issues or if it’s just the regular training plus an extra day for infant issues. My daughter was 15 months when the AP arrived, so infant massage and bottle feeding were not relevant and we didn’t pay for this.

Emerald City HM October 17, 2014 at 2:11 am

I have a child under 2 and I not pay a “child under 2” fee. If your au pair didn’t get an extra day of training for that $950 I would complain.

I paid $7850 (less repeat host family and early match discounts) which is th price they have listed on their main site for all au pairs. (Not sure if a link will post.)

Emerald City HM October 17, 2014 at 2:18 am

All of that said. The out of country partner agency might very well designate certain au pairs as IS because it makes them more money.

When we were first interviewing we interviewed an au pair that was designated IS, sent her a match offer, and she declined us because she didn’t want to be at home with a baby all day. She was from a different country than the one we chose (IQ but not IS).

Emerald City HM October 17, 2014 at 2:20 am

chose = au pair we ultimately matched with

Host Mom X October 17, 2014 at 12:33 pm

That must be what WarmStateMomma is talking about, because I had the same experience with APC, and I think I may have even posted my frustration about the IS designation on this blog before. It really is just a money-maker either for APC or their partner agencies, because in my experience interviewing and hosting, the IS designation doesn’t actually indicate that the AP has better infant experience than any other APs not designated. We have hosted several APC APs when we have had infants – wonderful APs who were great with babies and had infant experience prior to being APs – who were not designated IS. When I confronted APC about this, because we really liked an IS designated AP, but didn’t want to pay the extra fee because we didn’t want the extra training in “infant massage” and baby sign language (I asked if they could just remove the designation and not send her to the training), they said something like “no, it reflects the time that we spend screening the AP candidates to find infant-specialized candidates, it’s not just for the training.” I called them on their BS and mentioned that we were interviewing other non-IS candidates who had MORE infant experience than the IS candidate, so clearly they weren’t doing a great job screening. And I also mentioned that this hurts great AP candidates, because now we were going to reject a great candidate because we didn’t want to pay the BS extra fee; they should at least give the AP the choice to de-designate herself. (Especially since, unlike APIA’s “extraordinaire” candidates, the money does NOT go to the IS APs.) APC didn’t care; they stood behind their policy.

So, yes, I could see the Chinese agencies wanting to collect their piece of the extra IS fee and having all their candidates designated as IS.

WarmStateMomma October 17, 2014 at 1:35 pm

There are two separate fees related to infants; each fee is $950. One fee is for the designation (all Chinese IQ APs with APC had this) and one fee is for the training. The training one is optional. The fee for the designation is not negotiable and I got the same line about “extra recruiting” expenses. Since most Chinese APs with APC have no child care experience, charging an extra $950 for the IS designation that goes with all Chinese IQ APs is basically a premium on having HKs under 2.

Because the website wasn’t very clear that there are two different $950 fees related to infants, we felt misled that APC charged us $950 after we agreed to match with our AP because we thought the only $950 fee was for the extra day of training. They explained that one is for recruitment/designation and one is for the day of training. In the end, we really liked our AP and wanted to be with an agency that had lots of APs in our city and better LCCs than our previous agency. So we paid the $950. But APC doesn’t have many Chinese APs now and the quality of candidates is weak, so we’re going to match through another agency.

I’ve gotten to know 2 of APC’s LCCs in our city (we moved across town this year) and they’re both the kind of people you’d want as your daughter’s LCC. But we are looking for a unique skill combination (Mandarin and driving) that requires us to cast a wide net. I might be willing to pay APC’s premium if they had the right candidate, but they don’t.

Emerald City HM October 17, 2014 at 2:00 pm

But there aren’t 2 separate fees realated to infants. Their website is very clear for an extra $950 you can choose to get an Infant Specialized au pair, which includes the training.

“What is the difference between an Infant Specialized au pair and a standard au pair?
An Infant Specialized au pair is a trained au pair who specializes in infant caregiving and development. The Infant Specialized au pair has at least 200 documented hours of childcare experience with infants and children under two.

AuPairCare’s Infant Specialized au pair receives training in Infant CPR by the American Heart Association and 5 days of intensive training in infant caregiving and development, in topics such as: establishing routines for babies, feeding, bathing, soothing, transportation and general household safety.

S/He is also taught by certified instructors in baby massage and baby sign language to help nurture your baby’s healthy growth and encourage language development.”

“Infant Specialized au pairs attend a separate Infant Specialized Au Pair Training program, devoted to baby care and infant development”

“Does it cost more for an Infant Specialized au pair?
AuPairCare host families will pay an additional $950 at the time of match with an Infant Specialized au pair. This cost includes the overseas recruitment of au pairs with specific interest and experience in caring for infants.

It also includes the 5-day hands-on Infant Specialized training and orientation program at our Au Pair Academy in New Jersey. Your au pair will receive training and demonstrations in infant caregiving and development. Topics include: establishing routines for infants, feeding, bathing, soothing, transportation and general household safety. AuPairCare’s Infant Specialized au pair will also be taught baby massage and baby sign language by certified instructors to help nurture your baby’s healthy growth and encourage language development.”

“What if I find an au pair in the Infant Specialized au pair pool, but I do not want to pay extra for the au pair to go to Infant Specialized au pair training?

There is an additional $950 fee due upon matching with an Infant Specialized au pair. Within our online matching system, EasyMatch™, you can see our entire pool of au pairs, including Infant Specialized au pairs and standard au pairs. Families with infants are not required to match with an Infant Specialized au pair.”

That’s all from their website and it is very clear that there should only be one $950 dollar extra fee. So if your au pair was designated as IS and you paid the $950 (the years I did pay this it is a separate line item in my invoice) and she arrived at your house on a Thursday (instead of a Friday) I would demand a refund because you were lied to.

WarmStateMomma October 17, 2014 at 2:32 pm

You and I interpreted their website info PRECISELY the same way. However, they refused to process the match unless we paid the fee for IS designation. They said the training was optional and an extra $950. I’ve got it all in an email chain because we went round and round about it. Given their lack of clarity a year ago and the fact that I’m not going to match with their APs again now, there’s no way they’re going to suddenly issue a refund.

Host Mom X October 17, 2014 at 3:23 pm

Wow, WarmStateMomma, if that is true – that they made you pay the $950 AND told you they’d charge you another $950 if the AP went to the training you had already paid for, and thus your IS AP for whom you paid $950 did not go to the training you/she was entitled to – you should demand a refund, or at least a partial refund, no matter that you are switching agencies. There is only one $950 fee for IS au pairs, and you paid it, but you did not get the training that comes with it (if I am understanding you correctly).

However, I could see them taking the stance that what they meant was that the IS designation is non-negotiable: if the AP is IS, she remains IS, and costs $950 extra, but you can decide not to have her attend the extra training if you wish. So therefore they won’t refund you the $950, and they’ll probably say that they never meant to convey that it was a total of $1900.

I have had a few experiences with APC on this and other policies that I find excruciatingly irritating (e.g. their policy that all APs must fly from the training to the host family, on an exorbitantly-priced flight that APC books, even if your family lives only a few hours’ train ride away from the training and the train would be more comfortable, convenient, and less costly for everyone involved).

FirsttimeAPmom October 17, 2014 at 8:57 am

Just curious, how do you know their are better APs at another agency?

TexasHM October 17, 2014 at 12:34 am

Totally agreed don’t lie. I don’t know what your community is like but here we tend to know and/or hear about all of the other au pairs and host families so it would come back to haunt you and you’ve got a great reason for switching – you found the best match for your family and extra excuse (not that it’s needed) is AP is from a country your current doesn’t partner with so she (AP) can’t switch agencies even if you wanted. I also agree honest feedback helps (ideally) the agencies to work to get better. You have nothing to feel guilty about. Nothing. You gave them an opportunity to present their candidates and you preferred another. You wouldn’t lie to a recruiter about which job you took for the betterment of your family and this is much more personal than that. If they act like jerks I would be shocked and they wouldn’t deserve your future business anyway but the odds I think are very low any rational LC would freak. Plus, she doesn’t want you bagging on her, the agency or recruiting other families so it’s in her best interest to treat you well.

Emerald City HM October 17, 2014 at 1:16 am

In this case I would absolutely give them feedback. This is a good reason.

For the past two years we have been signing up with two agencies and seeing where we find a match. I tend to find candidates faster with the current agency probably because I’m familiar with the format and system. I am f going to continue to look s at au pairs from other agencies though when we are looking. I’m not entirely sure what I will say if we do switch. We are a very low maintenance family, so I imagine are the type of family they like to keep around.

gigi October 17, 2014 at 1:46 am

We just did this a few days ago (exact same reason). I sent an email to the matching coordinator at our current agency and he wished me well. No problem at all.

Peachtree Mom October 17, 2014 at 8:16 am

We were very happy with the angency we used for 3 years and LOVED the LCC. Unfortunately this year when we looked, all the candidates seemed so young, very few returned my initial outreach email and there were very few professional au pairs. I signed on with another agency also with the thought of signing on the best au pair for our family. Our original agency contacted me asking if there were any issues they could correct. I was honest and told them that the candidate pool was not the best fit for our family (gave the specific reasons) and the problems I was having with au pairs answering my emails. I also told her we were overall very happy with their agency’s service and the LCC. They were happy for the feedback and hoped we would consider them next year….which we will. :)

HRHM October 17, 2014 at 8:28 am

I agency hop on a regular basis, am honest about it and no one seems to care. We started with CC but had issues with the pool and did a year with APC. In short, the experience was no better, but after that, I register with CC, APC and APIA every year and search all three sites. I find the best AP out of the three agencies, and that is who I go with that year. This year we are with APIA and really happy with our AP. She isn’t Extraordinaire, although we searched those too, but she was definitely the best match for us. The agency and the LCC don’t get mad that we are leaving and always seem happy to have us back. If you don’t make it personal, neither will they.

OP October 17, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Thank you, this is exactly what I was hoping to hear. I will just be honest and professional. I’m glad to hear that has served you well.

The other responses have been good too! I guess I had a little fear that there would be some kind of negative reaction.

FirsttimeAPmom October 17, 2014 at 8:59 am

We interviewed candidates from three agencies. When we matched with our current AP I sent out a heartfelt email to to other two agencies saying that I may be back next time but that we found our match elsewhere. One agency replied to me and from the other I got crickets….after they had been emailing me daily. If I do change agencies, it would only be because of a good match, however I will not be going back to the agency who I never heard back from.

Host Mom X October 17, 2014 at 12:41 pm

I think as long as the reason is based on getting an AP that fits your family’s criteria (or agency support that works best for you), and is not personal (e.g. to a particular LCC), then it is a good thing to share the reason you are switching, and you could even say that you’d certain consider the agency again if xyz were different.

For us, we are about to switch agencies based mostly on more general agency concerns, though we also don’t really like the LCC (and we REALLY like the LCC of the agency we’re switching to), so when the LCC asks, we’ll of course only share the general agency concerns! (And we are in the second half of what has so far been a great AP year, which means we haven’t had to rely on the LCC at all anyway.)

Should be working October 17, 2014 at 1:29 pm

HM Deirdre–don’t worry. The agencies are about money, they want you as a customer and they will welcome you back if you are a halfway acceptable HF. LCCs turn over and are also pragmatic and eager to get the tiny bonus they get if you rejoin their cluster.

The anxiety is over a non-issue, in other words, IMHO. Some HFs feel like customer loyalty has or might let them call in some exceptions if something goes wrong (I think TaCL is one of these), but that’s nothing to focus on at this point.

NJ Mama October 17, 2014 at 5:23 pm

I’m not sure I had the most graceful exit with my last agency, APC. But I think it had more to do with my own circumstances.

In the spring, I started searching for a new au pair with APC and also signed on with Interexchange based on all the positive reviews on this site. I thought, why not expand the pool? Although at first I thought Interexchange’s pool of candidates was too small, once I started examining the applications I could see that they were more thorough. I did interview candidates with both sites, but the extra attention that Interexchange gave me — the background on the candidates, encouraging me to take my time, checking in with me — made me focus more on their candidates, and I ultimately matched with an Interexchange au pair (who honest to god is like Mary Poppins).

As many of you know, within a few days of matching, my former au pair, who had gotten engaged, started telling me she was too stressed by planning her wedding to work, and she wanted to leave earlier. We kept trying to accommodate her, and finally she just dumped us, two months into her 6-month extension, with four months remaining. At that time, if I had gone back to APC, I guess I would have gone into rematch and perhaps I could have gotten a new au pair sooner. But I had found such a great au pair with Interexchange that I didn’t want to “dump her” the way I was dumped. So that was a big part of why we stuck with Interexchange. The other part is that I really just grew tired of APC. Don’t get me wrong — I loved the last two area directors they had. And before the stretch of bad luck I also found some truly great au pairs. But when I was going through my bad stretch, I felt that the agency was much more concerned with the bottom line than with my family’s welfare or the au pair’s. I felt like I had to go above and beyond to prove to the agency that we were doing everything possible to make each match work. And I didn’t feel that the au pairs had that same accountability. In addition, when I found out that a former au pair was reaching out to each new au pair that we got and trashing us, APC said they knew — but they couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t understand why the agency wouldn’t even call the au pair and ask her to stop. It seemed once they had my $$$ they really didn’t care.

Then, about two months before my last au pair dumped us, I found out that the former au pair who had trashed us to other au pairs had also posted horrible lies with personal details about my family — in particular my children, including our full names, ages, hometown and where my H and I work – on a private Facebook site for au pairs. I alerted APC. Their response was just so typical. They told me they couldn’t do anything because the au pair had already gone back to her home country. OK. I get that. But I also didn’t get the sense that they would have actually DONE anything if she was still in the U.S. Plus, there were tons of other posts with personal info about other families. I told them that they should at least alert their families that this site was out there. I made some other suggestions — beefing up their own policy, outlining repercussions to au pairs who engage in cyber harassment, reaching out to the State Department, reaching out to Facebook — even asking all of their employees to ask Facebook to take down the site. They said their hands were tied. Their only recommendation was to remind me to tell my current au pair not to post personal details about my family. Um. OK. But my current au pair wasn’t the problem.

So when I was dumped, I just told APC that I was done. That was the truth — I was. I was so fed up over everything. And I didn’t really feel like I needed to give more of an explanation.

I also don’t think it’s a big deal to shop around. It may sound cold, but what I’ve learned in these last few years is that in the end it’s just business for them — and so it is for us. I can’t imagine an au pair agency not taking a family back for switching, although I suppose it could happen. But if it does, it’s just a sign that they’re probably not the agency for you anyway.

Just FYI … Interexchange offers a discount for switching agencies, and for all the military families out there, they offer a military discount too. So in the end it was cheaper for me to make the switch. And it really felt like it was a fresh start all around. I think I needed that. And while I do miss my former area directors, I’ve been really happy with Interexchange overall.

TexasHM October 18, 2014 at 1:51 am

NJmama so glad you had such a good experience. We wanted to go with interexchange originally but chose APIA because IE had a very small cluster in the area we were moving into and we wanted to make sure our AP had enough opportunities to make AP friends. We were honest with IE and they were great and thanked us for the feedback. That AP and the next were APIA and both APs had issues with the agency as did we.

When AP 2 had a family emergency and things got messy the AD at APIA was beyond horrible and when I thought things were cleared up she “put a hold” on our account so we couldn’t see candidates and told me I needed “to take a step back and take some time” when we asked to look at rematch candidates. High and dry. I called IE and explained situation and what we were looking for and in two hours got our current awesome APs profile. A week later she was in our house. I escalated our concerns at APIA so the AD wouldn’t pull that with other families hopefully and program director had no idea and said we were welcome back (she was great) and she understood the switch and hoped we would reconsider in the future.

I know several families that sign up on multiple sites and then pick the best candidate. It’s common. At this point I agree though with NJmama I feel like the screening, training and expectation setting (IE is brutally honest with potential APs) makes so much difference that I won’t be shopping next round. We also saved $$ so that’s icing on the cake. LCs come and go (had 3 at APIA in 3 years, 1 at IE but only been with them 8mos) and we are an experienced family so I don’t think we would ever use LC as an agency selection criteria but best candidate? Definitely.

Summer B October 17, 2014 at 11:44 pm

I work with Go Au Pair- and we actually really appreciate any feedback we can get! We are not offended at all. We understand a lot of times its as simple as finding the Au Pair that is right for them in a different agency’s pool. The more you can give advice to your Au Pair specialist or Placement Coordinator about their processes the more likely they will be to be aware of the things that need fixing.

For example the other day I was at a museum and everytime we loaded the elevators the doors closed too quickly. One of the times we loaded the elevator one of my friend’s toddlers didn’t get in quick enough and was from us scared her to death! (Luckily someone saw her boy being left behind and stood with him until my friend could get the elevator back to the right floor… ) My friend and I decided we need to tell the museum to slow down their elevator door. Even if I never go back to the museum again think of all those mothers who won’t lose their kids ;)

Hope you liked my analogy! Help us agencies keep our “elevators” tip top and you’ll get better service all around. We really appreicate the transparency! Any feedback is helpful to give us a greater understanding of ourselves…

Long Island Host Mom October 18, 2014 at 3:19 pm

I agree – be honest. The agency needs to know so they can possibly consider if some change needs to be made. While CC used to have a larger presence here – APIA has alot more AP’s now – there must be a reason for this. I have just started my 6th year with CC. This next go round will be the 1st time I will register with other agencies. When I register I am going to let CC know that I am doing this. I have several reasons. One is that I did most of the work trying to find an appropriate candidate and this took alot more of my time than it should have – a service I pay for. Also, our LCC is not so great for a variety of reasons and we have had 8 LCC’s in the 5 years I have been with the agency. This lack of continuity and experience has really not been beneficial at all ! If your agency doesn’t work for you – you spend alot of $ – you need to move on and let them know why. This is the only way they know to improve their game. Competition helps agencies improve their services or you have someplace else to go…to me it helps them to be honest and they should appreciate it !!

NJ Mama October 18, 2014 at 3:53 pm

TexasHM is right about Interexchange – they solicit feedback from families constantly, and they take the feedback seriously. It’s almost jarring in comparison to my former agency!

Along with the standard monthly checkins with the LC, the agency will also email you every few months to ask how things are going. I made comment noting that we had a very small cluster. And while my AP has found friends from other agencies, I wish it was bigger because I think it would give au pairs more support. I assumed the comment would have just gone into the abyss. But instead, two weeks later they responded saying they realize the cluster is small and they are working hard to expand it. The fact that they take the time to do that I think is really great. Thank god I haven’t had any issues with my current au pair. But I feel like this agency would really take it seriously.

And yes — the money saved is icing on the cake!

OP October 23, 2014 at 10:42 pm

Well I sent the email. I was completely honest, and said that we’ll look at their au pairs again next time and would be happy to sign up with them in the future.

And I got a lovely response back, saying that they are sorry to see me go but they are still there to help me if I need anything, and that I was always welcome back.

Yay! Thanks for the reassurances that this was the right way to go.

“Deirdre”

cv harquail October 24, 2014 at 8:16 am

Great! I thought it was an important way to give them the right feedback and — even better– help you come to closure that you were doing all the right things. Or things the right way. Or both.

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