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Exclusive Interview with Ellen Hoggard, President of Au Pair Foundation
Exclusive Interview with Ellen Hoggard,
Au Pair Foundation’s President
We are happy to talk to Ellen Hoggard, au pair expert and new President of Au Pair Foundation, a small agency located in Petaluma, California.
Ellen Hoggard has been the President of Au Pair Foundation since 2013. Hoggard’s background in cultural exchange programs spans 25 years and her involvement with Au Pair Foundation goes back to 2012.
Hoggard, a graduate from Duke University, has traveled to over 15 different countries, and enjoys her opportunity to visit new countries and experience new cultures and languages.
Read more about Ellen Hoggard in her bio.
Edina: Hi Ellen, thank you very much for speaking with me today - I know our readers are looking forward to hearing about you and what's new with your agency, Au Pair Foundation. Ellen, can you tell our readers a little about yourself, your background and how you became part of the au pair industry?
Ellen: Thank you for having me! I have worked in the field of international education for 25 years. I have had the good fortune of being involved in international educational exchange programs since the age of 14 when I went on my first high school exchange.
Prior to Au Pair Foundation, I have had the privilege of working for many wonderful organizations – such as The CLOSE UP Foundation, AFS International, AMIDEAST, Sister Cities, OPEN DOOR Student Exchange and AYUSA. During my time at OPEN DOOR as the Vice President for International Programs, the founder and I started the first exchange programs in Russia, Romania, the former Czechoslovakia, Lithuania, Poland and Hungary. I then supervised all the grant programs under Samantha Smith programs in Eastern Europe, the FLEX program, and the Congress-Bundestag Vocational exchange program and obtained funding from the Soros Foundation.
I was invited to the White House to meet President Clinton in the Oval Office in honor of our work with the Congress-Bundestag program. I also represented the US Field of Youth Exchange at the 1996 Department of State Transatlantic Summit between the US and the European Union. I received the Award for Distinguished Service from Sister Cities International.
As a proud mother of two daughters, I strongly support the au pair program’s core values and achievements to promote opportunities for young people to live abroad and to give families worldwide the chance to have a young person from another country as a part of their family.
Edina: Ellen, Au Pair Foundation seems to have undergone a unique transformation in the past year – you have a newly updated, user friendly website and a new President, you! Your agency made our list Best Au Pair Agencies for 2014 by our host parents. Can you tell us what changes you and your team have made to create such a transformation?
Ellen: Yes Edina, it has been a busy year and half at APF. We started at the most basic level – providing an excellent cultural exchange program for our Au Pairs and Host Families. We overhauled everything from basic forms to our brand-new, user-friendly website – and everything in between. It has been a long process but when you start with the basics and build up from there, you create a solid foundation, with solid people who truly care about what they do and who they work with.
Au Pair Industry Trends
Edina: Ellen, can you tell us more about au pair trends - how has the au pair program changed over the past 5-10 years?
Ellen: Over the past several years, there have been many changes in the au pair program. Due to the economy, a lot of families have become dual-income families versus single-income. There has been a huge demand in American families’ need for flexible, affordable childcare.
On the au pair side of things, we have seen an increase in participation, especially from new au pair recruitment countries. APF is now working with Spain, Moldova and Argentina – when just two years ago, those were not au pair recruitment countries on our radar. It is exciting to work with these countries that are so excited about sending their fantastic au pairs to the US with APF.
APF is proud to have a large number of well-qualified au pairs from all over the world who are older – between 22 and 25 years old (strong drivers, predominately Infant Qualified and with extensive childcare experience). You should see some of the au pair applications – their childcare experience blows us away!
Au Pair Screening Methods
Edina: AuPairClearingHouse receives a significant number of emails and inquiries about au pair screening and the methods au pair agencies use. What is Au Pair Foundation's screening process like and what sets your agency apart from the other agencies?
Ellen: We really start at the VERY beginning. For APF, we begin with the vetting process for all of the organizations we work with around the world. This includes a full application packet, references from US based au pair or exchange programs they have worked with before, our verification of those references, background checks, their agreement to au pair recruitment and quality procedures that stand up to APF’s high standards. We also strive to work with International Au Pair Association members. We are a proud member of IAPA and know that the reputation and quality standards of an IAPA member are second to none.
For each au pair, they begin by completing our au pair application, which includes many parts, including personal information, family information, childcare experiences, non-childcare employment experiences, childcare references, character references, high school diploma, copy of their passport and driver's license, background check, health exam report, photo collage, Dear Host Family essay, and video.
From there, an au pair completes the Booream-Flowers Au Pair Test, which we use for our psychometric test. An au pair must pass on her first try. We do not allow re-tests.
The overseas offices conduct an interview of the applicant in English to assess their English skills and ensure they are appropriate for the program.
Once these steps are completed, our office receives and reviews the au pair’s application. We are reviewing to ensure all pieces of the application packet are there and to ensure that everything checks out.
The last step requires a Skype interview between our office and the applicant. We are assessing English skills, since none of us in the office speak another language fluently!!! We need to ensure that they can converse with us!
Phew – if all of the above clears, then the au pair is accepted to our program for matching with prospective Host Families.
Edina: I think the Skype interview with your office is really a great feature, something that the other agencies are not doing – I am sure host families will greatly appreciate that step in the application process!
Edina: Can you tell us about your psychometric testing? You told us you use the Booream-Flowers Au Pair Test - do you find it effective? Why is psychometric testing important?
Ellen: We work with Jamie Flowers, the daughter of Dr. Flowers, who developed the Booream-Flowers Au Pair Test. Sadly, he passed away in May 2012. Jamie has been wonderful to work with.
We believe that psychometric testing is very important to this program, as it helps assess the applicants’ mental state and ability to adapt for a year abroad in a foreign country, away from family and friends.
Au Pair Training - Orientation
Edina: Let’s talk about au pair training now. In my experience reviewing au pair agency services, I found that host parents prefer their au pairs are trained in person (when they get to the USA, and the training is done by agency staff). I understand that your agency does not do face-to-face orientation training with your au pairs (and before they arrive at their host family) but instead you rely on online training.
Ellen, would you tell us about online au pair orientation training that your au pairs receive and how successful is this method?
Ellen: Yes, we do an online au pair training program. Our training program meets the Department of State’s required training and orientation. We have found that our au pairs and host families really like the flexibility that it provides.
Host families enjoy the ability to have their au pair arrive any day of the week they choose, not being locked into a specific arrival week, not paying a domestic transportation fee from New York to their home airport, and having their au pair actually absorb the training prior to her arrival versus just after she arrives to the US – jet-lagged and homesick.
Au pairs enjoy many of the same things that host families do, as mentioned above. In addition, the au pairs like being able to do the training online in a forum that is very convenient for them. They can take their time between the time of match confirmation and their visa appointment (typically, 3 weeks) to complete the training.
While we will keep the online training program, we are working to develop a post-arrival regional meeting of au pairs to address those initial issues and transitions that happen in the first two months of the au pair year.
Working With a Smaller Au Pair Agency
Edina: Your agency is small – and many times, I think that is a great advantage to host parents because the program staff and families really get to know each other and they are not just a number. What are the specific advantages for a host parent when working with a smaller agency like Au Pair Foundation?
Ellen: Obviously folks love talking to real people and not just voicemails and phone options. We make it our watchword to give people the same kind of service we want for our own families – caring, competent and one-on-one.
I think that APF’s award for best agency for 2014 underscores our excellent customer service – we are proud to offer one-to-one, personalized service to all of our host families and au pairs. During their exchange year, au pairs get to talk to real people in the APF office and field staff, as well as, being assigned to the same staff throughout their year. Host Families also have the same dedicated staff assigned to them throughout the process – from host family application through the end of the au pair year. There is a live person to answer the phone and there is consistent staff dedicated to each program participant.
Quality of Au Pairs
Edina: Au Pair Foundation received the highest ratings for their Quality of Au Pairs (86% Host Parent Satisfaction) for 2014. Would you tell our readers about how you go about recruiting the “best” au pairs?
Ellen: We have partnerships with some of the most well-established partners worldwide and we have taken a new look at every partner to determine if they have the standards we require in order to maintain our partnership.
APF exceeds all Department of State standards, including background checks and weekly surveys to check on au pair working hours. In 2013, APF began background checking all host families, Local Community Representatives (LCRs) and staff. This was an added layer of protection for all program participants since we have been background checking au pairs for years. We background check all host families, LCRs and staff on an annual basis.
Additionally, in January 2014, APF began conducting a weekly survey of all current au pairs to ensure that au pairs were not overworked and were receiving their weekly stipend on time and in full. Our au pairs really appreciate the confidential manner in which they can mention other problems or concerns they have. Word of mouth spreads to other potential au pairs that we care about them and will match them with a good host family – so the “best” and the “brightest” au pair candidates call us first.
Edina: That makes perfect sense! And our survey ratings do support this! I know host families will want to know that your agency is one of the best programs to choose if they are looking for top, quality au pairs. Good job!
Ellen: Thank you Edina! We truly appreciate our host families who have given us the ultimate compliment by rating us as the best. There is always room for improvement and we will continue to improve our program for years to come.
I would also like to thank you, Edina, for your tremendous efforts on behalf of au pairs and host families around the US. Au Pair Clearinghouse is a wonderful resource for people new to the Au Pair program and for those who have hosted for years.
Popular Au Pairs
Edina: You are very welcome! We work hard everyday to bring unbiased and useful reviews to parents so they can make good choices when hosting an au pair. Ellen, there was a lot of hype in the late 1990s – 2003 over au pairs from China and American children learning Mandarin with their Chinese au pairs, but I am not sure the numbers of Chinese au pairs in the States reflect that same enthusiasm today. Are Chinese au pairs still “trending?”
If so, why and do you recruit Chinese au pairs? If not, why did this trend die away?
Ellen: We still find many US Host families are very interested in Chinese au pairs. Many families are keen on having their children learn Mandarin. I think the original phenomenon of hosting a Chinese au pair has died down a bit, but a large interest still remains. We do recruit au pairs from China and they are quite successful with the right family.
Edina: Interesting! What type of family would benefit the most from an au pair from China?
Ellen: Our au pairs from China are typically older, Infant Qualified and highly educated. A family with babies and pre-school aged children does very well with Chinese au pairs. Additionally, we have a few families whose children attend Chinese immersion school, thus, they want to continue that language immersion at home.
Edina: My readers always ask Au Pair Clearinghouse, “What are the most popular au pairs to match with?” I think nationalities tend to change over time, for example, in the 90s, German au pairs were very sought after because of their excellent English and driving skills – then we saw au pairs coming from South America and parents were matching with au pairs from Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, etc. What do you think host parents are looking for today in terms of nationalities and current needs for their families?
Ellen: At APF, our host families are all over the map as far as what countries they are interested in. Many host families come to APF with a specific language preference in mind – Spanish being the most popular. However, strong driving skills are another high preference for families.
During the matching process, we work with our host families to find the right au pair for their family within their requirements and desires. We find that it is so much more important to have the right au pair for their family in terms of personality, personal values and childcare experience, rather than focusing on a specific country or language. Likewise for an au pair, we focus on having the best interpersonal match for each individual au pair.
Edina: I would imagine Spanish-speaking au pairs are in high demand, due to our public schools starting Spanish lessons in grade school, sometimes even in first grade! It's wonderful to have a Spanish speaking person in the home, to help the kids learn the language more easily. Hearing the language on a daily basis is half the battle, right?
Ellen: Absolutely! School language programs and immersion schools are quite popular these days. Predominately, those programs are in Spanish. Therefore, we definitely see a large number of host families who are interested in Spanish speaking au pairs because they want their children to learn the language. By continuing the language immersion and skills at home, the children learn the language that much faster.
Advice to Host Parents
Edina: Ellen, do you have any advice for new host parents, who are not sure about how to choose an au pair, or they may be anxious that a young au pair is not going to be a safe or experienced childcare giver?
Ellen: Certainly – and that is definitely something that we see. New host families who have not hosted before, or perhaps have not even had childcare before, are nervous about leaving their children with a childcare provider.
However, at APF, we are all moms and some of us are host families. Therefore, we have been there and we understand those questions and how to help a family through the process. With the matching process, we are able to take a personalized, one-to-one approach with our families. Our placement team takes the time to get to know the families and find out what they are really looking for in a childcare provider.
Additionally, all of our au pairs have vast amounts of childcare experience, which is detailed on the au pair application, as well as through the childcare references. All of this is provided to the host family, so that they can determine if the au pair candidate has the requisite amount of childcare experience that they are looking for in a childcare provider.
Lastly, we always offer new host families to speak with some of our veteran host families so that they can share good tidbits of information. We try to connect like-minded host families. For example, host families that may live in a smaller city, or rural setting, might be concerned about hosting an au pair. We have host families all over the country, including very rural areas. Therefore, we would connect the families in rural settings together so they can share their experiences. This helps the potential host family get a real-world glimpse into hosting an au pair in an environment that is similar to their own.
Edina: Thank you so much for speaking to me about your agency and all the new changes that are happening at Au Pair Foundation! We wish your agency all the luck in the world and we are proud and delighted to have your interview on our website!
Ellen: It has been my pleasure Edina. I have enjoyed our conversation. I appreciate you and your team who provide such a wonderful resource to au pairs and host families. Au Pair Clearinghouse is truly the go-to guide for the au pair program.
Edina: Thank you for the kind words and we are very proud of our consumer au pair agency review services that we provide for all host parents in the USA!
Read More About the Au Pair Foundation Agency