US: All in the family (just someone else’s): Child care as vocation has quirks and perks
Julia Koschulla knew when she was in high school back in Germany that she wanted to attend college, but she had no idea what field she might pursue.
During her junior year, someone suggested she look into becoming an au pair — a person from another country who works for and lives with a U.S. family. A year later, after contracting with an au pair agency, she was in Alpharetta, Ga., living with a new family and caring for a 6-year-old girl and 9-year-old boy.
A short while later, the family moved to Rome, Ga., and asked Koschulla, now 23, to move with them. When her two-year term with the au pair agency ended, she chose to stay on with the family and is still with them in Rome. She says the job has been rewarding, a learning experience and a tremendous opportunity.
“I like several aspects of doing this,” she says. “I don’t live by myself. I have a family. I know the routine, which I like because I know what to expect. I like kids, but not 20 or 30 at the same time. And, while I do like the schedule, I also like being spontaneous and this allows that.”
Unlike a nanny or a baby-sitter you use on a regular basis, au pairs are governed by the U.S. Department of State and subject to government restrictions. There are 15 accredited agencies in the United States that screen applicants and help acquire visas, match au pairs with families and make travel arrangements, according to the State Department.
The agencies have received the State Department OK by sticking to rules on screening, psychological testing, acquiring appropriate visas and making travel arrangements. The agencies also provide health insurance coverage for the au pair, who must pass a physical examination to qualify to work.
Among the federal rules, an au pair must be paid no less than $195.75 a week, be given a private bedroom, work no more than 45 hours a week and have two weeks of paid vacation a year.
When applying to become an au pair, Koschulla says she had several options for finding a host family. Au pairs, for example, can indicate a preference regarding family size and type, location and whether they can and will work with a child with special needs.
Koschulla says that, while she was in Atlanta, there was a cluster of other au pairs with whom she met regularly to discuss issues related to the job. They also provided a social outlet away from her host family.
Although she lost the connection with other au pairs when she moved with the family to Rome, she has since found new friends and new social outlets, including learning about American sports other than the more familiar soccer.
“I’m not set in my ways or hard to get along with, but (moving to Rome) did make it hard to find new friends,” she says. “I didn’t have other au pairs around to lunch with, so I would often do things on my own, but eventually I got into other sports and found new places and things fell into place.”
Koschulla is currently studying criminal justice at Dalton State College and hopes one day to be a detective. She is not likely to be an au pair for another family, she says.
“Overall, it’s been a good experience,” she says. ‘I think I’ve grown on a lot of levels, but you are taking care of someone else’s kids. Some weeks are mixed. I’d like to eventually see what living on my own is like.”
Au Pair Rules
An au pair must:
• Be proficient in spoken English;
• Have a secondary school graduate or equivalent;
• Be between 18 and 26 years old;
• Must pass a physical exam;
• Be personally interviewed, in English, by an organizational representative who shall prepare a report of the interview to give the host family;
• Pass a background investigation that includes verification of school, three, non-family related personal and employment references, a criminal background check or its recognized equivalent and a personality profile.
Source: U.S. State Department
An au pair’s host family must:
• Provide a private bedroom, meals and a weekly salary of at least $195.75;
• Limit working hours to 45 hours per week, and no more than 10 hours in one day;
• Limit household responsibilities to those related to child care, Including meal preparation, laundry and room clean-up;
• Give 1 1/2 days off per week, at least one full weekend off each month and two weeks of paid vacation;
• Ensure that another adult is home at all times if there is an infant under 3 months old in the home;
• Offer transportation so the au pair can attend monthly au pair gatherings and meetings and educational classes.
Source: U.S. State Department