Erika found that the local counselor (LCC) working for her sponsor agency, Cultural Care Au Pair, consistently undermined her rights while protecting the interests of her host family. First, she found that her LCC’s guidance was confusing and misleading about the nature of her work. For example, the LCC both insisted that an au pair’s job was strictly childcare while also encouraging her to “take out the trash and help” and perform duties as a member the household. Erika found that it became difficult to set boundaries with her host family, especially when the LCC told her employers that au pairs “aren’t supposed to work more than 10 hours per day but . . . that if they need au pairs to work more hours, they can make arrangements with the au pairs.” Over time, Erika’s host family became increasingly abusive, threatening to make her pay for things the children had broken and berating her for the smallest mistake. Only as conditions deteriorated did she discover that a previous au pair had run away, unable to bear the mistreatment. When Erika, too, finally hit her breaking point and escaped from the ongoing abuse, her LCC threatened to kick her out of the program. When she shared emails and screenshots of the way the family was treating her, the LCC simply “didn’t know what to do.” In the end, while Erika ended up leaving the J-1 au pair program altogether, Cultural Care Au Pair took no steps to sanction the family, which continues to participate in the program.
“I am happy I had the chance to be part of the American culture at a low cost but I am not happy with how my contract and au pair system work…. choosing to be part of the au pair program is a gamble and it is a risk. It’s a matter of luck whether or not you will have a good experience.”