Au Pair

Karin Hornackova, 20, draws pictures with Elle Armbruster, 6. Hornackova spends a lot of time with Elle before and after school while her dad is at work.

Submitted photo

Day care is a big problem for working parents and while many are rushing around trying to pick kids up from a facility or working around the schedule of their baby sitter one Ahwatukee Foothills resident has found that a live-in sitter, called an au pair, is the way to go.

Paul Armbruster is a single dad from Australia who leaves for work in the morning and doesn't get home until 5:30 or 6 p.m. He said when his daughter was younger it was easy to drop her off at Tutor Time for the day but now that she's in school and has activities she likes to do he can't always handle it all. He did some research and decided to hire an au pair.

An au pair is a live-in sitter sent from a different country through an exchange program. Cultural Care is one of many companies that sets it all up. They screen each applicant, help them get their exchange visa and match them with the right host family. The program is meant to be affordable. The cost is around $345 a week, according to Armbruster, who has had an au pair from Austria in the past and now has one from Slovakia, says the cost is worth the one-on-one care and flexibility.

"The U.S. alternatives are not that good," Armbruster said. "If you get a college student, tomorrow they've got a hang over or the next day their car breaks down or suddenly they get another job. When you do the hour rate it adds up and then you've got to pay taxes and worker's insurance and all these other implications."

Karin Hornackova, 20, says being an au pair is a dream come true for her.

"At first I just wanted change and I always wanted to go to America," Hornackova said. "I wanted to be an au pair since I was 15 but most of the programs, because of the driver's license, you have to wait until you're 18. I was always doing research and when I turned 18 I was finally able to go."

Hornackova says she has learned so much since coming to America. Her English has improved, she has learned all about American families and she has met many new friends. Her program requires monthly visits with the agency to meet other au pairs in the area and she also has to take college courses while she is here.

A typical day for Hornackova includes waking up with 6-year-old Elle and getting her ready for school. Once she comes home they do homework and then it's off to any after-school programs or play dates Elle might have.

They do some art projects and if the weather is nice they might play soccer outside. Later, Elle gets a bath and then reads books and gets ready for bed.

Armbruster says the fact that Karin is able to do homework and have dinner started by the time he gets home is a big relief. He doesn't let Elle watch TV with Karin but he doesn't expect her to be constantly teaching Elle something either.

"For Elle, she's at school all day and she's 6," Armbruster said. "She doesn't need to come home and spend another few hours learning. She needs to come home and run around. She does homework and stuff with her but as far as education, she gets it at school. She doesn't need to come home and be over stimulated."

An au pair may be a good option for parents who have no family nearby and who need a flexible schedule. Armbruster says he feels like he has much more time for himself and quality time with Elle because of Karin. Both admit that it took some time getting used to living in the same home, but after a few months of adjusting they're figured out one another's schedules.

Cultural Care Au Pair conducted a study of working parents recently who had utilized more than one form of childcare in the past. More than two-thirds of the host families surveyed agreed they had more quality time with their children through the use of an au pair and 62 percent believed they had more time to themselves.

As kids head back to school and parents struggle to make sure kids are taken care of, a cultural exchange program may be a reasonable choice. It's certainly a choice Armbruster would suggest.

"You have to figure out the family dynamic and it depends on the existing family support you have," Armbruster said. "Some people have uncles and aunts and cousins who live just down the road. In that case you don't really need it, but when you don't have a support network around it's invaluable."

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