Child-care alternatives: the au pair

  • Article by: PAMELA KNUDSON , Grand Forks (North Dakota) Herald
  • Updated: January 10, 2014 - 10:37 AM

Some parents seek options abroad when looking for someone to help them watch their children.


Robert and Sarah Edwards of Cummings, N.D., play with their daughter, Ella, while au pair Melanie Bargfeldt, right, plays with their son, William.

Photo: Photos by John Stennes • Grand Forks Herald,

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Looking for an au pair to take care of her two young children while she and her husband were away at work, Sarah Edwards wanted experience, a calm temperament and a philosophy of child care that matched her own.

An au pair is a child-care provider from a different country who lives in the employer’s home and is subject to government restrictions. The role is similar to that of a nanny.

Specifically, the Edwardses wanted an au pair who spoke German.

“I really wanted them to learn the language,” said Edwards, who was born and lived in Germany until age 20, when she left to study at North Dakota State University.

“My husband doesn’t speak German, and I don’t speak it very well either, anymore.”

The Edwardses commute from their Cummings, N.D., home for work — she’s an assistant professor of counseling psychology and community services at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, and her husband, Robert, works for a Fargo, N.D., engineering firm.

“There’s no day care in Cummings,” Sarah Edwards said. Without family members in the area, the couple have found it difficult to find steady child-care providers.

“We had nannies before the au pair, but they were between high school and the next stage of life,” she said. “When they figured out what they wanted to do, they’d leave.”

College students had class schedules the family had to work around, she said. “They couldn’t work full time. They’d leave for another job or to start a career.”

The Edwardses searched for an au pair through EurAupair Intercultural Child Care Programs (, an agency that recruits and screens candidates, ages 18 to 26, worldwide for one-year positions.

Some au pairs have their sights set on New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, Edwards said. “We wanted to have an au pair who was OK with living in the country.”

Via Skype and e-mail, she and Robert interviewed five candidates before selecting Melanie Bargfeldt, of northern Germany. She joined their household Nov. 22 to care for Ella, 3, and William, 1.

“I liked them from the first second. There was a connection,” said Bargfeldt.

Being an au pair “is an opportunity to see another part of the world,” she said. “It’s combining two things I like: traveling and child care.” She plans to work for the Edwards­es until next November and then spend a month traveling around the United States.

Becoming more proficient in English is one of her reasons for becoming an au pair.

Her schedule may vary week-to-week, but her hours are generally 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. She has the upper level of the house to herself, which includes her own bedroom and bathroom.

By the book regulations

The hiring of au pairs from foreign countries is governed by the State Department. Fourteen accredited agencies have been recognized by the government, based on their adherence to rules on screening, psychological testing, acquiring appropriate visas and making travel arrangements.

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  • Bargfeldt says being an au pair “is an opportunity to see another part of the world.” Her employers wanted to hire someone who speaks German to expose their children to the language.

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