The Siscos, a Navy family stationed in Tampa Bay, found themselves in a typical military situation. As a new family in town, they were searching for reliable childcare that would not break the bank while both of them worked.
They looked into getting a babysitter, enrolling their child in the on-base Child Development Center, finding a local day care center. Then they explored a childcare option they had not considered before: hosting a live-in au pair.
As a military spouse working for an au pair agency, I see how getting an au pair is a surprisingly affordable option for many military families. Here are some of the questions I am asked most often:
What is an au pair?
An au pair is a young person from a foreign country here legally on a J-1 visa who lives with your family and provides full-time childcare for your kids. Au pairs come to the United States through agencies regulated by the State Department, with specific program requirements mandated and enforced by the government. Your family must be committed to cultural exchange and willing to welcome a young person from abroad into their home as a family member.
How many hours of childcare do we need?
Many families look for extra help when there will be a significant change in the workload. An upcoming deployment or a demand for one of the partners to work a night shift can make an au pair a good option. Will your family need up to 10 hours of childcare a day? Will you need 45 hours a week of childcare? If so, a live-in provider might make sense.
How much does it cost?
In my work, I’ve seen that the average cost of having an au pair is $350 per family per week.
Where will the au pair live?
One of the considerations a family needs to make when deciding if live-in childcare is right for them is to look at their living situation. The process is similar in most aspects for families living on base versus off base. The program requires the au pair to have his/her own dedicated bedroom.
Can the au pair live in military housing?
Those families living in base housing will have to go through an approval process that can vary depending on the base at which you are stationed.
First, the au pair must have a J-1 visa given by the State Department. Because au pairs can come to the U.S. only through an au pair agency, this step is already taken care of by the agency.
Second, the active-duty spouse must go to the visitor's office and fill out a "Special Consideration Pack." This is a one-page form signed by the active-duty spouse and his/her commander. The process should not take long at all and the au pair can get approval to live on base for up to one year.
The au pair is given a picture ID to gain access on and off the base. In some circumstances, the au pair may be granted an "agents card" to access the BEX, NEX or commissary, but this requires special approval.
What will the au pair do?
The next step in the process is to determine your family's needs for childcare. To do this, you want to consider the age of your children and your typical work week. Do both parents work? Do you need your au pair to drive the kids to and from school and activities? Do you have atypical work hours such as early mornings or late nights?
One of the benefits of having live-in childcare is the program's flexibility. Au pairs can work up to 45 hours per week based on your family's schedule. This includes early mornings, nights or weekends.
A family might need the au pair to help get the kids ready for school in the morning, including making breakfast, getting them dressed and getting them to the bus or to school on time. That same family might also need after school help as well, like picking the kids up and taking them to their daily activities.
Au pairs not only provide childcare, they can also help with transportation, making meals and doing childcare-related household work, like laundry, tidying rooms and bathing.
Can au pairs help with the deployment?
If a spouse will be deployed during the year, the au pair might also help with scheduling Skype calls, writing letters and even making videos for mom or dad.
This was the case with the Siscos. Husband Brian was to be deployed during the au pair's arrival. Wife Sarah wanted the au pair to be able to help the children have regular contact with their father so that he does not miss a beat on their development while he is gone. Read about other benefits of hosting an au pair here.
Can an au pair move with your family?
A change of duty station can bring on a whole new set of challenges for a military family. What do you do with the kids during pack out and arrival? How will you find childcare at the new duty station? Will you be dealing with reintegration as well as a move?
The good news is, if the agency you are working with services the area you are moving to, then the au pair can move with you as well.
"The thought of live-in childcare had never been something that crossed our minds," Sisco said. After weighing all the options and considering cost, flexibility and reliability, they decided on au pair childcare and have selected Alina from Germany, who will be arriving soon.
"We are beyond excited to welcome Alina. I am most excited that she shares my passion for the arts and will be doing lots of arts and crafts projects with my kids while I focus on my at home graphic design work," Sarah said.
-- For more information about hosting an au pair and if it is right for your family, please contact Cultural Care for more information.
Keep Up with the Ins and Outs of Military Life
For the latest military news and tips on military family benefits and more, subscribe to Military.com and have the information you need delivered directly to your inbox.