Au Pair Agencies Do Pre-Screen

Last week we discussed misleading advertisements made by some nanny web sites claiming to “pre-screen” caregivers on their web sites. To see the article posted on Wednesday click here, to view Part II of the article posted onThursday click here, and to read our post on Friday click here.

Unlike nanny web sites, au pair agencies are required to pe-screen caregivers prior to introducing the cultural exchange visitor with host families. Yet, similar to parents using nanny web sites the ultimate responsibility for the well being of the children still rests with the parents.

The United States Information Agency (USIA) says, “Nannies are childcare providers who are paid for their expertise and experience and they are employees of the family for whom they work. Au pairs, on the other hand, are participants in a USIA exchange program. Au pairs provide up to 45 hours of childcare per week as part of their responsibilitiy to their host family and are considered members of the family, NOT employees.”

Sponsoring organizations in the U.S. (au pair agencies) have the responsibility for administering the program, within the regulations set by the USIA. Unlike nanny web sites, the sponsoring organizations identify, screen, select, and match au pairs and host families and monitor the au pair/host family relationship throughout the year. At the end of one year, au pairs return to their home country.

Although USIA authorizes these sponsoring organizations to conduct au pair programs, the responsibility for choosing the right organization rests solely with the host family and the au pair.

The USIA established the au pair program in 1986 as an educational and cultural exchange with a strong childcare component. “Au pair” is French for “on the par,” reminding host families that their international visitor is to be treated as a member of the family, not an employee.

USIA’s rules are clear: au pairs are provided a private bedroom meals, remuneration tied to the minimum wage (will increase to $195.75 per week on Friday, July 24, 2009), a full weekend off each month, two weeks paid vacation, and up to $500 toward attending an institution of higher education. An au pair is not to work more than 10 hours a day/45 hours a week and is not expected to perform general housekeeping.

Sponsoring organizations in the U.S. have the responsibility for administering the program, within the regulations set by USIA.

Unlike nanny web sites sponsoring au pair organizations carry out the day-to-day operation of the au pair program. They identify, screen, select, and match au pairs and host families. They ensure that background investigations, including criminal history checks, are performed on au pairs, and that host parents have adequate financial resources to participate in the program.

The sponsoring organizations interview au pairs for spoken English proficiency and suitability to participate in the program. They also interview host parents to ensure spoken English fluency and suitability to deal with an international visitor.

The sponsoring organizations provide au pairs with a detailed profile of the host family and community into which they will be placed, and the educational institutions available in the community. They ensure that au pairs have all the training required by USIA. These organizations must maintain monthly contact, through local and regional counselors, with au pairs and host families to ensure compliance with the program.

For a listing of USIA-designated sponsoring organizations contact the agency’s FAX ON DEMAND service by calling (202) 205-8237 (document #203) from a phone/fax, or visit USIA’s web site at

Please Note: No guarantee of performance or competency is made by the designation of sponsor organizations.

Learn more by visiting U.S. Department of State web site at:


  1. My issue for nanny and au pair web sites is the web sites that combine nannies and au pairs. During the Visa process au pairs have minimum standards to comply with that are not childcare related but Visa (being allowed to work in U.S. related).It is the parents that still must do the background checks on these web sites? I would love to hear from sites like that place both nannies and au pairs since nannies and au pairs are screened differently.How exactly do they address those differences? How do they prescreen nannies?

  2. Do au pair agencies screen or just allow Visa appication do it for them? I am not confronting au pair agencies I just don't know. If so, why can au pair agencies do it and nanny web sites not? Is it au pair agencies ask for more money up front? I am not criticizing, I don't know.

  3. Parents should be very careful and not rely on nanny or au pair web sites in which they do not meet the staff of the agencies or the caregivers. Saying "pre-screening" is misleading. Parents have to do it when using a web site. Implying anything else is misleading.

  4. We highly recommend that all families and nannies do backgroung checks. Check references, driving, criminal,(Don't cut your self short in this area)Candi

  5. Candi- at Nannies4hire.If that is the case- then can you kindly please post that in HUGE BOLD Letters on all the pages of your website?Families really need to know this!Thank you- and I do think your site is one of the best ;-D~Andrea- Nanny in NJ

  6. What I have experienced is that it is often very very hard to contact nanny web site staff. Sites like don't even have a phone number or direct email address to contact. How can they claim in ad after ad that they pre-screen when you can't even contact them on the phone? I have filled out their form online and submitted it but never heard back from them by email or phone call. Not likely they are pre-screening anyone if you can't even figure out how to contact them? My friends that have used au pair agencies talk to the staff a lot but of course the staff never actually meet au pairs in person. But if they don't claim to then that is fine. It's nanny sites that advertise pre-screening when it's so obvious they don't.Verifying your credit card and email address is NOT pre-screening. People lie on applications and references too!!!!

  7. In response to AuPairDebbie's question, "Do au pair agencies screen or just allow Visa appication do it for them?": The Department of State has extensive regulations regarding the screening of au pairs. Au pair agencies must conduct an in-person interview, heatlh check, criminal background check, academic record check, reference check and personality profile. The visa application itself is only completed once the au pair is interviewed, screened, accepted onto the program and successfully matched with a host family.

  8. And is in no way an agency. If you find a good match on that website, then you and the au pair will have to go through an agency (at least for the au pair to get a 'J-1' visa to be able to come over for more than 2 months), and that's when the au pair will be screened (unfortunately, families are not really screened… I myself ended up in a first family that had already been through 8 au pairs in 3 years, but had changed agencies so my agency didn't even know her past!).And as an au pair, please let me laugh at the part where the au pair is considered as 'part of the family'..! We help the family, we can even get along well, but we are not part of it, and that's for the best, at least that helps us enjoy our days off away from the family and be ready to start the next week with the kids after some time away!!!

  9. I agree that is misleading. It is not staff that is screening the nannies and au pairs on their site it is the Visa application and united states government that is doing the screening. It is up to the au pair and host parents that ultimately do all the decisions. Au pairs are drastically different than nannies since they aren't in the program due to their love of children but of cultural exchange. Parents are stuck with the hard job of making the right decision of who to allow in their home. Au pairs work for parents in which one parent doesn't work overtime and has plenty of time and energy being a parent to a a foreign young adult.Sally, Essex County NJ

  10. Horrendous Business Practicesaupaircare.comLet me start by stating that it is important to note that an au pair is NOT a nanny – I discovered this the hard way. Also, I will assume my experience is an anomaly. Unfortunately, I was sold a bag of goods by the local Philadelphia Director, who told me everything that I needed to hear relative to my childcare needs after a disappointing experience with a nanny. "This program is different", and "You will not get that with us", were frequent comments I heard during the interview. So, I paid the $7,500 agency fee after her sales pitch, and slowly learned over the forthcoming months what I mistake this was.First, the girls are told that this is a cultural exchange program. That is a key reason how they get them here. This is fine, but to me, as a single parent, there should be much more emphasis on the childcare aspects of things. I did not see that with my experience. The girls are also relatively young, inexperienced, and not too mature at times. Most of the time, the girls are interested and focused on their next social gathering with the other local au pairs. In my experience, I had an au pair that did nothing unless told, no initiative whatsoever. She was also sloppy and unorganized and did not have the driving experience that was specified in her profile on the site. My biggest complaint is that the agency Director would be in communication with her to see how things were going, and get a very one-sided view on things without my input. I would then get follow-up calls from the Director accusing me of overworking the au pair, not giving her enough free time, etc. I thought this was totally unprofessional, and more importantly, totally inaccurate. If she worked 30 hours a week, that was a lot! And she can work up to 45 hours a week. And to be accused by the Director of over-working her on more than one occassion, I was annoyed to say the least.My au-pair contract was for 12-months. I decided at the 6-month mark that I would not extend her since this program is not for me – this was my option. Well, this got back to the Director, and now it seems the au pair wants to be placed in another family because she wants to be extended for another 6 months, and I will be left without childcare for the remaining two months. Talk about an inconvenience and unprofessionalism!! And, this is after the au pair just took her 2 weeks paid vacation, and I extended her the courtesy of keeping her on for another 6 months. So, my complaint is that I am paying for an au pair for 12 months, and I am getting 10 months of service, and overpaid on her vacation time as well. Oh, I get a two-month "credit" for services – not a monetary refund.So, as the old addage goes – you get what you pay for!!! From a business standpoint, this company needs to be closer to the families that are paying their bills, not the au pairs. And NEVER, EVER accuse a family of 'over-working' an au pair without speaking with them firsthand. This is just unacceptable. I am sure there are families out there that have had positive experiences with AuPairCare, but this was not true in my case. I think most families with children need a true "nanny", to help out around the house, and not a young adult looking for a cultural exchange, hanging out at clubs, and oh, happens to take care of some of the childcare responsibilities secondarily…

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