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Rules Proposed for Au Pair Program

April 12, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A federal agency is proposing stricter regulations for the au pair program in light of British nanny Louise Woodward’s conviction of manslaughter in the death of a Massachusetts infant in her care.

Changes proposed by the U.S. Information Agency, to be published Tuesday in the Federal Register, are intended to strengthen oversight and accountability of the program and ``reduce potential risks of injury to program participants.″

USIA’s mission is to promote understanding between the United States and other countries. It began in 1986 administering the au pair program, a cultural exchange that designates private agencies to bring over young Europeans to stay with U.S. families and provide child care. They earn $139.05 per week.

The main changes proposed by the agency would require:

_That au pairs have training before taking assignments to care for children with special needs, such as blindness, and that they do not provide medical care for such children.

_That host families interview prospective au pairs, even by telephone if necessary.

_That au pair agencies’ annual reports to USIA summarize complaints about au pairs or host families, of all situations resulting in more than one placement for an au pair and of surveys of all host families and au pairs on the program’s strengths and weaknesses.

_That host families and au pairs receive brochures written by USIA, designed to avoid misunderstandings about the program’s purpose.

``The host family will not be receiving the message that, `Here is child care,′ and the au pairs will not be receiving the message, `Here’s fun and travel in the United States,‴ said USIA spokeswoman Jimmye Walker.

The rules are to take effect after a 30-day public comment period.

Other regulations will remain on the books. They include restrictions on placement of au pairs with children under 3 months and requirements that au pairs placed with children under 2 years old have 200 hours of infant-care experience and that au pairs work no more than 45 hours a week.

USIA has never had the manpower to conduct on-site inspections or enforcement, and that will not change. It will continue to rely on outside accountants to conduct yearly audits of au pair agencies and on so-called community coordinators hired by the agencies to monitor placements.

The program came under scrutiny after the October 1997 murder trial of Ms. Woodward, whose conviction on a second-degree murder charge in the death of 8-month-old Matthew Eappen of Newton, Mass., was reduced to manslaughter by a judge. Woodward was sentenced to the 279 days she had served since her arrest, then returned to England last year after the verdict reduction was upheld on appeal.

The case spawned criticism of the boy’s parents for leaving their infant in the care of a teen-ager and of the federal government for allowing the au pair program to turn into a source of cheap baby-sitters for American families.

On Monday, spokeswomen for the nation’s two largest au pair agencies, EF Au Pair, based in Cambridge, Mass., which placed Woodward; and Au Pair in America, based in Greenwich, Conn., said they favor the new regulations, which should improve the program.

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