Au Pair program offers child-care option

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— Having an au pair help care for her three boys is an appealing option for Hillary Singer.

Singer is one of six families in Steamboat who has an au pair from the EF Au Pair Program. "If you get someone who works out, it can be the most amazing child-care experience," Singer said.

The au pair program brings people ages 18 to 26 from Europe and South America to the U.S. to work as au pairs for a year.

Singer said an au pair can offer more flexibility than traditional facilities when scheduling times for child care. Often, the au pair becomes a familiar and trusted person to a family's children.

"These wonderful young people provide more than just a flexible and affordable child-care solution," said Tami Thurston, local coordinator for the program. "They enrich the lives of their American host families and in many cases, become life-long friends."

Prior to arriving with their families, au pairs attend training in New York.

Singer said families need to be proactive in screening au pairs before agreeing to the program. Singer said her first two au pairs did not work out for reasons that she felt could have been avoided through a more thorough screening process.

Singer's first au pair, she said, did not know how to drive, a necessary skill for her au pair.

"I tried to teach him how to drive but it just wasn't going to work," Singer said.

She said her next au pair had no interest in spending time with the family outside of his work schedule.

The au pair program will re-match a family with au pair candidates during the initial screening process until the family feels it has the right match.

The Singers now have a new au pair that is working out well. Singer said she thinks that younger au pairs are sometimes more suited to the position.

"I think it is great, especially when they live with you because you don't have to explain what your children need," Singer said.

The cost of having an au pair in comparison to traditional child care is considerable. The program costs on average about $250 a week regardless of the number of children in the home. That compares with a cost of about $175 per week in more traditional facilities. For families with multiple children the au pair program provides families a savings in child-care expenses. "With two or more kids it is so much more financially affordable," Thurston said.

Thurston said that some families choose au pairs based on where they are from and what languages they speak. She said a family in Steamboat chose an au pair that could speak French fluently to their children. "It's a great option for people who can have someone live in their homes," she said.

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