Why do support moves occur?
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.
Addressing challenges preceding support moves
The following information is meant to give an overall idea of the approach AFS takes to handling host family support moves. The focus of the guidance herein is primarily for support moves based on participant behavior, difficulties to adjust to a different family culture and general incompatibility between the participant and host family.
- 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 it is true in most cases, the liaison is the person with the closest relationship to the student and the host family and is the person with the best understanding of how the situation has developed, from an outside perspective. Also, after the move the liaison will likely continue as liaison for the participant in the new host family.
- Before a decision is made to move a participant, the Liaison will facilitate separate verbal discussions with the participant and host family to understand each perspective, then joint conversations with the student and host family together in an effort to clarify the issues and seek possible solutions. The Support Coordinator may be involved or may take the lead. This may depend on the liaison’s level of experience and the travel distances involved. The Support Coordinator works directly with Support Staff and generally is the Support Volunteer that in collaboration with the Liaison helps the participant develop a 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.
- At times it is a good idea to have the student stay with an experienced volunteer for a few days. (We recommend having Pre-Screened families within the Team who have completed the hosting screening process - meaning that the 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 reflect on the issues she or he has with the host family in a separate environment. 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.
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
- They 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.
- They may be afraid of the unknown. The liaison can point out that a second adjustment may not be as difficult because they have learned a lot about themselves and others. The chapter or local volunteers will look for a situation that is right for them; there are other families with whom they can be comfortable and to whom they have much to give.
- They may fear gossip about the move. Everyone fears "gossip" but with appropriate handling, there will be very little. Volunteers should urge the participant not to voice concerns about the host family to friends. If asked by friends, a participant can say something simple such as, “it just didn’t work out.”
- They may be afraid that their parents at home will think they have misbehaved. The student can be assured by the liaison that the AFS office in their own country will work with their parents to explain why a host family change was necessary.
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 they were 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 will follow its standards and policies to identify appropriate next steps for the participant’s program, which in most cases would be to identify a replacement host family.
- 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 AFS handles host family changes with discretion and respects their privacy. It can be stated that people forget quickly, particularly if the family 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 public 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 AFS does not 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 they might be more readily accepted for who they are, 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.
Help everyone accept the decision
Once the decision has been made to move the student, you can help everyone through the process by stressing to all parties that no one is to blame, and recognize those involved for all they have done to try to make the situation work. You can help the family and student understand that they may resume a relationship down the road. No matter how difficult the move seems at the time, there will be a 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
- Despite all the care that the AFS volunteers place in initially matching students and families and the support provided to them on the program, some AFS placements result in a family change. The move is facilitated when thorough consideration demonstrates it is the most reasonable option available for both participant and host family, other support resources have been exhausted without improvement, and there is no longer room for growth and development in the relationship. Host family change also often helps us understand whether a student will demonstrate the same behavior in a different environment.
- When the move becomes necessary, it must be handled with great care. At best, a family change is uncomfortable for a family and student; at worst, it is exceedingly emotional. When a change is handled well, with respect and consideration for everyone, it may help to reverse negative feelings. Check out these Tips for Managing Conversations about Moves with Host Families.
- 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 discomfort between the student and host family.
- The move is only done after the Support staff has been notified of the reason necessitating the move and after the new host family has been fully screened. 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 RFS 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.
- The support staff will manage communication with the sending partner, who will, in turn, inform the participant’s natural parents about the move.
- If there are concerns about student safety and well-being the volunteers should inform Support staff and move the student immediately. The volunteers should call the AFS-USA Duty Officer if an emergency move is happening after office hours. More information about contacting the Duty Officer can be found here.
- Often, a permanent replacement host family has not been identified or fully vetted when a participant moves. In this case, the student should be placed with a fully vetted temporary host 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 placement 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 they have adjusted to the new home. They 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 original host 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.