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Au Pair Care

This website looks more like an airline commercial than an au pair agency. A young blonde woman hoists a smiling baby. They’re surrounded by splashy ads for au pair testimonials, links to applications and host family forums. It’s overwhelming, actually—too bright, the font just a little too commercial. Au Pair Care really wants you to like it.

And why shouldn’t it want that? After all, Au Pair Care’s bread and butter is connecting compatible people: families needing childcare, and young men and women looking to see the world. But creating this kind of compatibility is more complicated than, say, filling out a Walmart application. This is a delicate business. Both the au pair and the family are vulnerable. (Would you invite a sociopath to care for your children? Would you live in a house with a monstrous, selfish family?) Au Pair Care seeks to bridge the gap of mutual suspicion. Trust Us, their website says, littered with accolades and accreditation.

In terms of recruitment, however, their methods are hazy. Interested applicants need only to like children, have no criminal record, and be in good health. (Further interview questions were not available; presumably they would be administered in person.) The interested host families have to share even less about themselves, nor do they have to submit to an interview. Au Pair Care acts on the behalf of “typical American families … hard-working, friendly, busy, and [who] want the best for their children.” It has representatives in nearly every country to interview interested au pair candidates. (US citizens are not eligible to become au pairs. Import only.) Looking at the website, there’s the sense of a giant, international network of nannies, all of whom are absolutely trustworthy, unmarried, childless, moral people under 25.  Indeed, the company promises “high-quality, pre-screened” au pairs. The same language we use in this country to describe firearms, pharmaceuticals, blood donations.

Is it right to commodify such an intimate connection as that of a domestic worker and a child? Live-in help has fallen from the mainstream in America. It is perceived as being hooty-snooty, the privilege of the upper crust, the refuge of those who don’t want to raise their own children. It’s fine to have a babysitter, of course, or even a nanny but an au pair? A foreigner? It grates against the basic American sensibility of self-reliance. Au Pair Care addresses that by presenting au pairs as wanting “to see the world, to study abroad.” The involved parties are mutually indulgent. More than one host family testimonial compares hiring an au pair to having another child. The word “host” is used, instead of “employ.” Is it really that simple?

Perhaps these doubts are misplaced. However, the differences between a nanny and an au pair are substantial—and they don’t seem to come out in the au pair’s favor. CRF

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