Many people on the North Shore use the term "au pair" to refer to any baby sitter that lives with their family over the summer months. In truth, an au pair is a foreign person that comes to live with you for a full year and exchanges baby sitting and other childcare chores for free room and board.
But it's really much, much more than that. I learned a lot about the subject from Winnetka resident and neighbor, Laurie Murlick, who is an au pair childcare consultant for Cultural Care Au Pair in Winnetka Northfield, and Kenilworth. She's also a mother of three boys who understands the challenges and demands of motherhood and hosted an au pair when her children were young.
Laurie started her career in au pair childcare consultation in 2008 with Cultural Care Au Pair, which is the largest of the 14 approved au pair agencies in the United States. It's a highly regulated industry which is overseen by the United States Department of State.
Currently, she has 35 families hosting au pairs in the three villages she represents - Winnetka, Northfield, and Kenilworth. The girls (5% are boys) who become au pairs are between the ages of 18-26 - this exact age classification is regulated by the Department of State. Not all are young people looking for adventure, but in some cases are doctors, lawyers, or teachers who are required to learn English fluently for their employers.
The au-pairs come from 20 different countries mostly in Europe and South America and are carefully tailored to their future host family. Laurie says that a family with a newborn might need the nurturing personality of a girl from South America, while a more rigorous household with strict schedules would prefer someone from say, Germany or Scandinavia. Driving skills are very important for all families.
The au pairs all receive a J1 visa which is a one-year commitment with a option to stay a second year. They are paid $195.75 per week (based on minimum wage and regulated by the government) by the family and work up to 45 flexible hours.
However, Laurie stresses that the program is not designed to be a strict baby sitting job while both parents are at work. There is an important element of cultural exchange and she wants the girls to feel like part of the family after a few months of settling in. In other words, they are not just domestic help but integral members of the family that help with child care.
There is always a period of adjustment for each au pair - some are more proficient in English or Western culture than others and there is always the basic acclimatization of having people getting used to living with one another
Before coming, prospective au pairs are rigorously interviewed, and they also do several Skype meetings with their future host family. They must disclose tattoos, piercings, hobbies, health records, and the occupations of their parents. They all take one week of training in New York to get as fully prepared as possible for living in the United States, They learn infant CPR, get Red Cross First Aid certified, are taught about American culture and driving rules and what to do in case of an accident.
At this end, Laurie interviews local families interested in hosting an au pair. She tries to get to know the
family first and understand what they are looking for. They need to pass a criminal background check and provide references. It's up to her to determine if the family has the right intentions to successfully host an au pair.
Laurie's job has several components - she talks with the au pairs and host families on a regular basis to make sure that things are running smoothly and she is also in search of new host families. While many families love their au pairs and continue in the program for years, there is still a need for more host families.
Laurie is passionate about the program and is a natural people person. She cares about the outcome of every placing and is steadfast in her desire to set up each family and au pair for success. If there are any issues, she mediates and tries to find a solution that works for everyone. She will keep in touch with all the au pairs by meeting monthly to go bowling, or more recently, visiting a fire department to learn how they operate in America.
If you would like to explore this exciting childcare option and know more about hosting an au pair, please call Laurie:
Au Pair Childcare Consultant
Cultural Care Au Pair