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- Thousands of young people are admitted each year to the U.S. as cultural exchange participants through the J-1 visa program, often to work as live-in childcare providers known as au pairs. Now, a lawsuit lodged on behalf of 90,000 current and former au pairs alleges sponsor agencies are exploiting the program as a source for cheap migrant labor.
- Ivette Feliciano and Zachary Green, “Have au pairs been exploited as a cheap source of labor?”, ‘’PBS’’, (Aug 12, 2018).
- Many of the roughly 17,500 au pairs who live and work in the United States every year have positive experiences. But according to a dozen current and former au pairs as well as former au pair company employees, ordeals like Juliana’s aren’t unusual, either. They relay horror stories of au pairs who are overworked, humiliated, refused meals, threatened with arrest and deportation—even victims of theft. Worst of all, they say, complaining about exploitative, unsafe working conditions rarely makes any difference. Sometimes, reporting abuse makes the situation worse.
- Au pair companies set au pair wages at $195.75 per week for 45 hours of work, or $4.35 an hour—a number that comes from subtracting 40 percent from federal minimum wage for room and board. Labor rights organizations call this a legally dubious arrangement for several reasons, including because deducting housing costs in programs where providing housing primarily benefits the employer (like the au pair program) isn’t allowed by law.
- Zack Kopplin, “‘They Think We Are Slaves’ The U.S. au pair program is riddled with problems—and new documents show that the State Department might know more than it’s letting on”, Politico, (March 27, 2017).
- As they walk out the door each morning, working parents are grateful for the nannies who care for their children in their absence. And yet, those same parents often struggle with the knowledge that their young children spend more waking hours with their nannies than with their mothers and fathers.
So when the time comes for the nanny to move on, parents may underestimate how profound the loss can be. As one mother in my women’s mental health psychiatry practice said, “I didn’t realize that she had become part of our family until she told us she had to leave.”
- Cameron Lynne Macdonald, a former nanny and medical sociologist, found in research for her 2010 book, “Shadow Mothers: Nannies, Au Pairs and the Micropolitics of Mothering,” that some families expect nannies to play a paradoxical role she called the “shadow mother.” (Yes, nannies can be men, and serve as shadow fathers, but research tends to focus on women.) In such cases, parents expect a nanny to form a strong bond with a child but also appear invisible in the family, “to be simultaneously present and absent in the children’s lives,” she wrote. By asking a nanny to work in the shadows, parents may avoid their own feelings about how psychologically important the nanny has become, and so may be less sensitive to their children’s needs around the separation.
Some parents do this because they are afraid that a deeper bond with a nanny will interfere with their child’s healthy attachment to them. In fact, studies show the opposite. When a child has a high-quality bond with a caregiver, this can actually help complement and reinforce parental attachment. Therefore, children who are more securely attached to both their nannies and parents feel more secure over all.
- Alexandra Sacks, “When the Nanny Leaves”, The New York Times, (Aug. 21, 2017).
- Families and the child-care workers they hire share a complex relationship that merges the personal with the professional. Around transitions, parents, children and nannies alike may experience a range of emotions including competition, guilt, abandonment, relief, resentment and love. An open and reflective dialogue including all parties — parents, nannies and children — can make saying goodbye a little easier.
- Alexandra Sacks, “The Emotional Impact of a Nanny's Leaving”, Psychology Today, (Sep 18, 2017).
- The influence of nannies and other significant caregivers on a child's psychological and emotional development may be profound and if unrecognized may contribute to psychopathology in adulthood. However, the significance of the nanny has been relatively neglected within the psychoanalytic literature.
- Jessica Yakeley, “Mind the baby: The role of the nanny in infant observation”, (19 March 2017), The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Volume 98, Issue 6, (December 2017), p.1577.
Encyclopedic article on nanny at Wikipedia
The dictionary definition of nanny at Wiktionary