As a Bay Area working mother of six children under the age of 10, I’ve experienced every form of childcare that exists. I’ve also spent more than 20 years working in the au pair industry and have a deep understanding of every aspect of the business. During that time, I’ve seen a lot of improvements to the program – yet, most host families know little about these changes.

The au pair program has evolved considerably since its early days. From professional au pairs to specialized programs for children with special needs, host families have never had more options for live-in childcare. Yes, au pairs are still young adults from different countries who provide childcare services in exchange for room and board – but they are also so much more.

There are Two Types of Au Pairs
Even those familiar with au pair programs may not know that there are two types of au pairs – traditional au pairs and professional au pairs. Traditional au pairs are typically recent high school graduates with varying amounts childcare experience while professional au pairs, a newer option, have degrees or at least one year of full-time professional experience in a childcare-related field.

While most traditional au pairs become au pairs as a type of “gap year” program, professional au pairs, who are often older, have a keen interest in gaining experience for their future careers – and see their time in the US as an opportunity to build professional skills that will directly impact their future.

Au Pairs Can Have Specialized Training
The typical picture of an au pair is that of a live-in babysitter or mother’s helper – but times have changed. Our increasingly globalized society means that young professionals from other countries are looking for international experience both to broaden their cultural horizons and to gain experience in their chosen careers.

This has changed the nature of the au pair program and attracted more young professionals seeking to further their hands-on experience. Professional au pairs often hold degrees in child-related professions such as pediatric nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy, special needs education, or early childhood education. They are eager to put their degrees or training to good use and provide families with a high caliber of care and relevant professional experience.

Au Pairs Are Eager to Work with Children with Special Needs
In the past, host families often struggled to find au pairs that were willing to care for children with special needs. And, even if they did find an interested au pair, that au pair didn’t always have relevant training and experience.

Most professional au pairs are not only interested and motivated to work with families with special needs – but they also have extensive experience and training. Many have experience working with children with a variety of special needs including autism spectrum disorder, ADD/ADHD, Down syndrome, diabetes, epilepsy and seizures, extreme/undiagnosed disabilities, and other physical and mental delays.

Au Pair Programs Are Still Flexible, Cross-Cultural and Affordable
Though the au pair program has evolved in recent years, the core aspects of it remain the same. One of the key benefits of au pair childcare is that au pairs don’t have set schedules for their working hours. Au pairs can work up to 45 hours per week (and up to 10 hours in one day) – giving families a high level of scheduling flexibility.

Also, au pairs provide families with a unique cross-cultural experience. While they all speak English, au pairs come from a variety of different countries and their international backgrounds help give children a deeper cultural understanding of the world beyond their family and community.

Finally, au pair childcare continues to be among the most affordable options for American families. A professional au pair costs far less than a nanny. And, the cost of an au pair doesn’t change no matter how many children are in the same family – making it particularly attractive for families with multiple children (like mine!)