Unqualified au pairs are slipping through the cracks amid COVID-19

Unqualified au pairs are slipping through the cracks amid COVID-19

Troublemakers are out and about as the pandemic has plunged the au pair industry into chaos.

In June, the Trump administration signed a temporary ban until at least Dec. 31 on the au pair visa program — which promises affordable child care in exchange for room, board and a modest stipend for host families — because of COVID-19 job concerns. As a result, there’s a shortage of qualified, legal, foreign au pairs.

“The program has been paused exactly at the time when American families are struggling to stay at work with many schools and day cares closed,” Michael McHugh, senior vice president at New York-based Au Pair USA for host families, told The Post.

From a peak of 20,000 last year, according to US State Department data, the number of available
au pairs now in America has sharply declined. One placement agency recently confessed to a New York family that its supply was down from hundreds of au pairs to five. And among the au pairs who were already in the US when the ban came down are some who aren’t cut out for the job.

Last month, Bed-Stuy residents Lauren and Mark filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau against AuPairCare, the San Francisco-based agency they contracted to provide an au pair for their son, who was born in April.

“She confided to us she had no experience caring for newborns, contrary to what the agency assured us,” Mark told The Post of the 20-something from Brazil who joined his household in July. (She first came to the US on an au pair work visa last November.)

He said the woman also seemed to have little interest in working as a child carer — despite the fact her visa, which is still potentially renewable, is conditional on her working as an au pair.

“[She] asked us if she could get a [side] job as a bartender because she knows of places that ‘hire illegals for these types of jobs,’ ” wrote Mark in his complaint. “You can imagine the concern that came over us as we heard that our au pair wanted to work inside a bar illegally during COVID, and potentially putting our health at risk.”

The family had to let the au pair go after only three weeks, as their anxiety grew about her credentials and loyalty.

“AuPairCare did not do its due ­diligence,” Mark added in his complaint, “when it matched us with an au pair who never planned on being an au pair, but was only using the visa to get into [the US].”

The couple are seeking a full refund of the nearly $4,000 they paid AuPairCare, instead of the partial refund and credit offered. “No one [at Au PairCare] has returned a call or an e-mail,” Mark said.

In a statement to The Post, ­AuPairCare said that because it “values the privacy of all our participants, we are unable to address your specific inquiry. Our top priorities remain the health, safety, and well-being of both our au pairs and host families.”

Mark, who works in public relations, realizes he is not the only parent stressed out by a defiant caretaker. “[Our former au pair] said a lot of au pairs are not following COVID-19 rules,” he told The Post.

One Morningside Heights parent, who wished to remain anonymous, concurred.

“Our au pair didn’t seem to understand how dangerous COVID was,” the father told The Post. “This worried us because she would leave the house for hours, was gone the whole day on weekends. We didn’t know who she was seeing. So we ended up not renewing the au pair after her agreement was up in May.”

“Our au pair wanted to work inside a bar illegally during COVID.”

 – Brooklyn dad, Mark

Vanessa Gordon, a Hamptons resident and mother of two young children, said she’s shocked by a change she’s now seeing in the ­demeanor of au pairs.

“It’s just so incredible how these au pairs barely pay attention to the kids — they let them go to the bathroom in the middle of the playground, even though there’s a public restroom 100 feet away.
Most of the au pairs are on their cellphones 90 percent of the time,” Gordon, who publishes East End Taste Magazine, told The Post.

She chalks it up to there being fewer au pairs available in the US. “Agencies are letting the problem cases — au pairs who have no interest or experience in doing the job — slip through the cracks to satisfy high parental demand, with families sucking it up because they ­often have no other choice.”

Mark and Lauren have now hired a local nanny who lives with her own family in Brooklyn. “[My friends and I] can’t take our children to day care centers — they’re not safe and not even open,” he said. But “there’s no way in the world we would ever hire an au pair again.”