Au pairs and sexual assault

girl on phone (photo from dreamstime)

Today I am at Au Pair Clearinghouse discussing the recent news about the German au pair who is suing her au pair agency and its representative for fraud, negligence, sexual harrasament, assault and battery, and more. According to the au pair, her host father made sexual advancements and subjected her to abusive behavior. Although the au pair agency, US Au Pair, claimed the the host father in question had passed an extensive background check. it seems as though this complaint was not the first. According to the au pair suing, two previous au pairs had been forced to leave the same host family due to sexual harassment on the part of the host father.

You can read more about the case, as well as tips on how to not become victimized while working as an au pair here.

Holiday gift giving for au pairs

(photo by dreamstime)

So, the holidays are upon us – Thanksgiving was only a couple of weeks ago, and Christmas is only a little over two weeks away. Can you believe it? Am I the only one who thinks that December somehow shrinks every year?

Host families are usually very busy in December, which makes au pairs busy little bees as well. With Christmas parties, shopping, longer hours at work cramming in end-of-the-year projects, and the like, December gets hectic fast for families and their au pairs.

If you haven’t gotten around to Christmas shopping yet, you will be soon no doubt. You will probably not have a very hard time shopping for your friends and family in your new city and back home, but choosing appropriate (and affordable!) gifts for your host family may be more difficult.

Depending on what kind of family you are living with and working for, you may have children who either have all the the toys there are to have, so you are stuck wondering what to get them. Or you may be with a very minimalistic family who does not like their children to have playrooms that look like Toys-R-Us, meaning you don’t know if you can get them anything. Then there are the host parents – if you give them something, then what on earth should it be?

Add to all of this the financial dilemma of living off of roughly $500-$700 a month depending on where you work, and things can get a bit stressful. But they need not be. It is important to remember that you do not have to spend a lot of money on your host family. They know how much you earn and that you probably not afford to purchase expensive gifts for the whole family.

My recommendation is to get creative and keep things as simple as possible. Is there something you can give that the whole family would enjoy, such as a movie they all like or a game they would enjoy? If you aren’t sure what to give individual family members, then a group gift would simplify matters and make for a fun time.

Other ideas include giving services as gifts – such as an extra night of babysitting, cooking a special meal, or something similar. These things will cost you very little but would truly be appreciated by your host parents. For more ideas, Best Nanny Newsletter has some other great ideas from other au pairs and nannies as well.

What about you? Are you giving your host family gifts this year? If so, what?

Au Pair Tips – part 1

Hi again – it’s me, Talya, the writer of this blog who has been MIA for the last several months. We have finally settled in here a bit in Berlin and are starting to feel at home, so I can now focus once again on helping au pairs (and would-be au pairs) to learn what they need to in order to have the best experience possible.

So here we go …

For part one of my new Au Pair Tips series, we are going back to the basics. I see a lot of questions on our forum about whether or not potential au pairs should use an au pair agency. SomeĀ  have found host families on their own and want to know if they should move forward. In short, I would advise against going abroad as an au pair without an agency. Of course, you are all adults and can do what you like, but for practical and safety reasons, it makes sense to have the protection of a legitimate au pair agency behind you.

First, an agency takes the ultimate responsibility off of you (and off the family) for sorting out the important details. A good au pair agency will conduct background checks, negotiate contracts, ensure that the au pair and host family are as well-matched as possible, secure visas and work permits, and much more. For host families, this is important because an au pair is a big investment in both time and money. Host families need to know that they have the best possible chances of success when it comes to their au pair. They are hiring an au pair to make their lives easier and need things to go as smoothly as possible.

For au pairs, the agency helps him or her to be certain that they will move in with a safe family and that all (or most!) of the kinks have been worked out beforehand. An au pair agency also serves as a mediator between the au pair and the host family, and if any issues arise the agency is available to help. This is especially important for the au pair, who may be too shy or afraid to bring up problems directly with the host parents themselves.

So yes, I would definitely recommend an au pair agency. For anyone who has already found what appears to be a great host family, consider asking them to continue through an agency, so that both parties have the best chance at succeeding. If you need a place to start, the IAPA (International Au Pair Association) is a great place to start and has a list of agencies around the world.

when troubles with the host family arise…

For au pairs who are fortunate enough to have an amazing host family that they get along with, the possibility of problems surfacing during their au pair year is likely the furthest thing from their minds. But reality dictates that even the best of relationships experience turbulence at one time or another. When issues occur, it is important to know how to take care of things, before minor issues escalate into real problems. For those who have landed in a less-than-ideal host family situation, it is even more important to know how to deal with any issues that come up.

For starters, be aware of what is going on around you. When living cross-culturally, at times there may be trouble that you are unaware of. It can be easy to offend or break an unknown rule, since host families and au pairs are likely following a different set of cultural standards. If you aren’t careful, the differences may be small enough to miss, but easy enough to turn into something bigger, if ignored. (Now this does NOT mean that you should walk on egg shells, constantly fearing a problem with your host family. However, it does mean that you should be sensitive enough to know what is going on around you. If you start picking up vibes that something is wrong, then be proactive and do something about it).

When it becomes clear that something is wrong, address the issue, don’t ignore it. Two things will keep the relationship from trouble: honesty and responsibility. To keep life running smoothly for you, the au pair, and your host family, it is very important to be honest about problems that occur. This is true not only when you are the guilty party, but when your host family is as well. If something happens that really bothers you (and no, having to work an extra hour or two one day in a hundred does not count!), talk with your host parents about it. This will work out much better than simply ignoring problems, hoping that they’ll go away.

Responsibility is also critical. If your host family has a legitimate problem with something you have done, then accept responsibility so that the problem can be taken care of and you can all move on. Admitting fault is something nobody likes to do, but it will keep your relationship from souring. As long as you learn from your mistake and keep from repeating it, you will ultimately benefit and grow from it.