The following information is meant to give an overall idea of the approach AFS takes to handling host family moves:
- The in-country support team for the participant consists of the Host parents, Liaison, Support Coordinator and Support Staff. When the host parents are no longer willing, able or appropriate members of the support team, it is time for a participant move. Possible reasons the host family may no longer be willing to host range from participant behavior and adaptation skills, to what is commonly called an incompatible placement. Reasons the host family might no longer able to host could be economic difficulties, illness or change in host family relationships. Finally, due to inappropriate action by any host family member it may be necessary to move the student. The focus of the guidance herein is primarily for participant moves based on participant behavior and difficulties learning how to adapt successfully to a different family in a different culture.
- The liaison will most likely be working with the support team by the time a host family move is even considered, and will continue to be a key person in the process, as in most cases the liaison is the person with the closest relationship to the student and the host family, and the person with the best understanding of how the situation has developed, at least from an outside perspective. Also, after the move the liaison will likely continue as liaison for the participant in the new host family.
- If Liaison facilitated verbal discussions with the participant and host family do not resolve the placement issues, the Support Coordinator will likely take the lead for the support team. This may depend on the support experience of the liaison and the travel distances involved. The Support Coordinator works directly with Support Staff and generally is the Support Volunteer that helps the participant develop a Support Counseling Plan for Success or a Support Agreement as the next step in trying to resolve the issues. The Support Coordinator will also work with other local volunteers to facilitate a host family change if that becomes necessary.
- Despite all the care that the AFS volunteer places in initially selecting a particular student for a family, some AFS placements results in a family change. At best, a family change is awkward and uncomfortable for a family and student; at worst, it is exceedingly painful. When a change is handled well, with respect and consideration for everyone, negative feelings can be reversed in a short time.
- When appropriate support and interventions do not bring noticeable improvement in the family-student situation, a family change must be considered. It is done only when thorough consideration demonstrates it is the most reasonable option available for both participant and host family. When it becomes necessary, it must be handled with great care. It is also only done after staff has been notified of the reason necessitating the move and after the new host family has been fully screened
Family Changes Occur When...
- A family has only agreed to welcome a student
- A welcome family only commits to hosting a student for 6-12 weeks. Click here for tips on securing permanent families for welcome students.
- Other options and interventions have been exhausted
- A family change may begin to be considered only after the liaison and possibly other volunteers (typically the local Support Coordinator) have spoken to both the hosted student and the host family separately and have attempted joint conversations with the student and host family together in an effort to clarify the issues and seek possible solutions. At times it is a good idea to have the student stay with an experienced volunteer for a few days. (It is a good idea to have Pre-Screened families within the Team who have completed the hosting screening process - meaning that the volunteer's family has completed the online application, criminal background checks, references, and host family orientation - who can serve in this capacity.) This gives the student a chance to get away and reflect on the issues she or he has with the host family. It gives the volunteer a chance to observe the student in a neutral setting and perhaps gain further insight into the student's behavior or feelings. It also gives the host family a chance to be together as a family without the student and may help them gain some needed perspective as well.
- Strategies for resolving difficulties are not having the desired effect
- When having discussions with both the student and the host family, it is important that all parties agree to take concrete steps towards solving their problems. It is also important for all parties to come back together afterwards to assess progress and decide if the steps they have agreed to take are working. If verbal discussions prove ineffective, a written agreement, see Support Counseling Plan for Success and Support Agreement, may resolve the situation. Finally, when it seems that none of the strategies attempted are solving the issues, it is time to consider a family change.
- There is no longer room for growth and development in the relationship
- It is more constructive for the family to resume the routine they had prior to the student's arrival and for the student to have a fresh start in new surroundings.
The need for a family change usually develops over time, often without being verbalized. Look for these warning signs:
- The family is consistently critical or generally disappointed in the student, beyond the usual "ups and downs".
- The family, after urging and guidance, is unable to talk openly with the student, or vice versa.
- Negative remarks occur frequently and/or negative body language is evident on either or both sides.
- Either side avoids the other.
- The student's attitude, behavior, or appearance are described very differently by the host family than they appear to others outside the home.
Fear and resistance are natural reactions to the prospect of a family change, and both the AFS student and host family may distort the facts (or be in denial) to make the situation appear better than it is. In determining whether a change of family is necessary, volunteers cannot always rely exclusively on either the family's or the student's view of what is needed.
Reasons a student may resist a family change
- S/he may feel gratitude toward the family and be hesitant to do anything that might hurt them. The liaison can help a student see that if the situation is exceedingly difficult, it is no kindness to the family or him or herself to go on with it. A relationship cannot be built with a family on gratitude alone, any more than the family can build one with a student solely on pity or sympathy.
- S/he may be afraid of the unknown. The liaison can point out that a second adjustment may not be as difficult because s/he has learned a lot about him or herself and others. The chapter or local volunteers will look for a situation that is right for him or her; there are other families with whom s/he can be comfortable and to whom s/he has much to give.
- S/he may fear gossip about the move. Everyone fears "gossip" but with appropriate handling there will be very little. A simple matter-of-fact comment to those who ask is more than sufficient.
- S/he may be afraid that his parents at home will think s/he has misbehaved. The student can be assured by the liaison that the AFS office in his or her own country reassures his or her parents that a change of family is often times a natural occurrence through no fault of anyone, and that they need not worry.
Reasons a host family may resist a family change
- They may feel reluctant to upset the hosting arrangement or feel a move may hurt the student's experience. The liaison can suggest that it would better meet both their needs if the student lived in a situation where s/he was enjoyed - that ultimately it is kinder to recognize and admit that things did not work out than to persist in a mutually unsatisfactory situation.
- They may be afraid that the student will be sent home. They can be assured that AFS will counsel the student, and if it is determined that the student is qualified to continue on the program, another placement will be made.
- The parents and host siblings may feel embarrassed in the school and community or fear gossip about the move. They can be assured by the liaison that the family change will be made quietly, that few people need to know, and that a simple explanation is all that is needed for those who may inquire. It can be stated that people forget quickly, particularly if the family itself appears to take the move in stride. Also, the student, as part of the counseling process, will be asked to consider what positive things they have learned from the experience and per AFS philosophy to not make hurtful comments about the placement.
- The host parents may think that a move will reflect a lack of flexibility or generosity on their part. Here again, the liaison can point out that they will be showing greater flexibility and kindness in recognizing the difficulties and giving the student a chance in another situation. It cannot be stressed too often that our program's objectives are not to assign blame or fault.
- The family may feel that the difficulties presented by their student are a challenge which they as a family should assume for their mental or spiritual growth. While their motives may be admirable, an AFS student may feel patronized. It also might convey the message that the family feels the student is difficult "no matter what," when in another situation s/he might be more readily accepted for who s/he is, and not thought of as difficult at all. Working through difficulties is part of the intercultural learning process; however, viewing a student as a "family challenge" to be met and conquered is most often not a mutually beneficial relationship.
Handling a family change
Keep key people informed
If a family change is likely, the support team should all be aware. The liaison needs to notify the Area Team Support Coordinator verbally and through liaison reporting in MyAFS or Global Link. The Area Team Support Coordinator needs to be in discussion with AFS Staff (Participant Support Staff and the TDS). The Support Coordinator should be arranging for a Temporary Host family and notifying the Hosting Coordinator of the possible need for a permanent host family.
|A student can only move into a home if the family's online application, criminal background checks, references, and host family orientation are fully complete. The sooner the staff is informed that a family change will be taking place and that a potential host family has been identified, the sooner the screening process can be initiated. Hosted Participant Moves Checklist for Volunteers|
Help everyone accept the decision
Once the decision has been made to move the student, you can help everyone though the process by stressing to all parties that no one is to blame and praise those involved for all they have done to try to make the situation work. You can help the family and student understand that, after the strain of the move, they may be friends again. No matter how difficult the move seems at the time, there will be relief after it has been made. By offering support and a willing ear, you can be instrumental in helping to alleviate residual feelings of anger and guilt.
Moving the student
Generally once the decision has been made for a student to move, AFS believes it is best to try and arrange for the student to move as soon as possible to avoid more awkwardness and discomfort between the student and host family. Often a permanent second home has not been identified or the Host family is not yet fully vetted at this time. In this case, the student will be placed with a fully vetted temporary family or be given further support counseling by a fully vetted support family. Only families that have completed an online application, criminal background checks for all household members 18 years of age and older, references, and the host family orientation may be utilized during these interim periods between permanent host families. Even if a fully registered volunteer is living in the home, the family must still complete the entire screening process [including the Host Family Orientation] prior to the student moving into the home. This temporary home can give the student a chance to regain some feeling of security. It also gives the support volunteers some time to get an accurate picture of the student's needs in a new environment. Read more about Finding a Replacement Family.
Support After the Move
Frequent communication should be maintained with the student until s/he has adjusted to the new home. S/he may need some help in restoring confidence and reflecting on the experience to date. Please remember that an in-home visit must be conducted within 30 days of the student moving in with the new host family on a temporary basis, or within 60 days of the student moving in with a replacement host family on a permanent basis.
When appropriate, communication should be maintained with the first family to provide them a chance to share their thoughts and to give them reassurance about their relationship as a representative of AFS. Often families can still be involved in the local AFS organization and activities.
AFS Staff Follow Up
The AFS-USA national office keeps a file for every AFS Participant who is hosted abroad or in the United States. When they learn about a new situation/case, the staff keeps complete notes on who is handling the case, and what has been said or done.
When an AFS Participant moves, the support volunteer needs to notify AFS staff and the local TDS in order to process the move. Please see the Hosted Student Move Checklist for details. The Support staff person notifies the national office of the participant’s home country so that they may, in turn, inform the natural family of their student’s move. The TDS sends a move notification to all other AFS staff who need to know about the move, and computer systems are changed to reflect the new family and address. AFS-USA also sends welcome emails to the new host family that include links to a Host Family Handbook, the AFS Medical Plan, and the Host Family Income Tax deduction form all of which you can access here.