Sarah Vogel is a local childcare consultant with Cultural Care Au Pair. In this role, she helps families decide if hosting an au pair is the right childcare solution for them and provides year-round support to host families and au pairs. Her most challenging and rewarding role is being a mom of two children, ages 4 and 6. To learn more about Sarah and the au pair program, learn more here.
Finding flexible, affordable, and trustworthy childcare was never easy. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, many working parents were juggling working from home with overseeing online school and keeping younger kiddos entertained. While families could survive this scenario in the short term, it certainly wasn’t sustainable in the long term.
It’s no wonder that interest in the au pair program spiked during the pandemic. While classrooms and day care centers closed, news outlets featured stories of au pairs helping parents not just survive, but thrive, during the pandemic thanks to these key benefits:
- Ability to limit exposure to the virus with live-in childcare
- Structure and support for kids at home
- Competitive cost – comparable to other childcare options
- Families gain a new cultural perspective and enjoy sharing American culture with their au pair
- Au pairs become like a member of the family, sharing comfort and support during these unprecedented times
Benefits aside, it’s still important for families to consider what it means to have a new person in their homes during a pandemic. Here are a few of the questions I’ve received from families considering hosting an au pair during this time:
Are au pairs still coming to the U.S.?
The short answer is – yes. Due to the pandemic, there are some challenges and delays in the visa process, and there are travel restrictions in place from certain countries. However, hundreds of au pairs have successfully joined their host families in the U.S. since this summer.
Given these circumstances, Cultural Care recommends that host families apply with an agency at least 3 to 4 months before they would like to welcome an au pair into their home and that they are able to be flexible with the start date.
How do you welcome an au pair during COVID?
In the past, families would go to meet their au pair at the airport or bus stop with signs, balloons, and hugs. These days, it’s best for everyone to follow state and local safety guidelines when welcoming an au pair. Many families put a welcome sign made by the kids on the au pair’s door or a goodie basket in his or her room. There are also considerations around social distancing and quarantine (more on that later). The bottom line is that you can still make an au pair feel welcomed even if it’s not the same as before.
Does an au pair need to quarantine when he or she arrives? What do we need to do during our first days and weeks together so we all stay safe?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed guidelines for those coming to the U.S. from other countries. Additionally, families should check state and local rules around testing and quarantines for those arriving to your area. Depending on the family’s situation, they may ask their au pair to stay in the bedroom they’ve provided for a period of time while monitoring for any health issues. Or, a host family may ask the au pair to stay at a hotel at their expense after he or she arrives.
Either way, it’s important for the family and au pair to stay connected during their time apart. Some families cook dinner together over zoom or have a game night over Facetime.
My kids are doing virtual learning. What role can an au pair play in their online schooling?
Au pairs can offer invaluable support for online learning students and their parents. Au pairs can be responsible for helping children log into online learning sessions, overseeing homework time and planning activities when they have breaks.
On the other hand, au pairs are not trained educators and can’t be responsible for making lesson plans, teaching new material, or corresponding with a child’s teacher.
I want my au pair to have a great experience, but I also want our family to stay safe and healthy. How do I find that balance?
The answer here is communication. Clear and consistent communication before an au pair arrives and when they are here about important topics like mask wearing, social distancing, and travel is essential to ensure a host family and au pair are on the same page.
It’s also important for your family to follow the same guidelines as your au pair. That means, if you ask your au pair not to dine inside a restaurant, your family isn’t doing that either. Sharing the responsibility for keeping each other safe will help strengthen the bond between your family and au pair.
Lastly, don’t forget about flexibility and fun. All of us have learned to be more flexible as the pandemic has gone on. We are also finding new ways to enjoy life safely. Remember, au pairs come to the U.S. to experience American life in a family, so think about what special traditions, foods, and experiences you can share with your au pair. Many au pairs who have been here during the pandemic say that they have become so close with their host families because they spend quality time together and have supported each other through difficult times.
During this uncertain time, finding the right childcare is more important than ever. Please feel free to contact me with any questions and to discuss if hosting an au pair may be a good fit for your family.