It is helpful to relate the use of support counseling tools to the “Continuum of Issues” described in the online training (Hosting & Support Affiliations). There are four levels; Mild, Moderate, Serious and Emergency and five specific support tools; Verbal discussion, Plan for Success, Support Agreement, Letter of Warning and Joint Staff Counseling Call.
Defined as Issues that have been noted in liaison monthly reporting but are likely to be resolved by the participant or may require moderate intervention by the host family and possibly the Liaison talking to the participant and host family individually. A further step is a group discussion facilitated by the Liaison to discuss problems and possible solutions. Mild issues are generally within the expected normal adjustment curve as described in the Liaison and Host Family handbooks and discussed with students during orientations. Monthly liaison reporting would likely rate the participant’s performance, behavior or feelings as fair or possibly as poor. Further guidance for resolving issues is provided in the Liaison and Host Family handbooks.
Defined as, “The issue persists and should be escalated to Local AFS Support Coordinators/Associate Support Coordinators and Staff for further inquiry.” Monthly liaison reporting would likely rate the participant’s performance, behavior or feelings on these issues as poor or possibly very poor. That will automatically notify the support staff and the local volunteer support coordinator to follow up on this situation. At this point, it is best to ensure that liaisons and support coordinators are in touch with participant support staff as a written document will likely be needed in order to help the participant resolve the issues.
The Support Coordinator or other designated Support Volunteer assists participants to understand the issues, reflect on their goals and the relevant AFS Learning Objectives as the basis for developing their own plan of action to resolve the situation. The intent is to frame the process as a positive learning experience where problems become opportunities to succeed. The purpose is to help the participant focus on what needs to be done, utilizing the applicable AFS Learning Objectives such as, to analyze the situation and think creatively, resolve conflicts, accept responsibility for oneself and adapt to new environments. The support document that is implemented should be in part the participant’s proposed solution to the problems identified and thus is more likely to achieve participant “buy-in” versus telling a teenager what to do. It is a written plan signed by the participant, volunteer support coordinator and, often the host family when their support is called for or helpful. It is not a list of requirements that needs to be met to avoid an early return and is not part of the Early Return process. Generally at this stage, a Plan for Success or Support Agreement are plausible options.
Examples of Moderate Issues:
- Overuse of the internet and/or excessive communication with the home country
- Reluctance or lack of follow-through on host family rules. Example, not completing assigned chores
- The student and/or host family are struggling to communicate effectively with each other
- After school progress reports show that the student is not receiving good grades at school and/or is resistant to fully engage academically or socially
Defined as, “The issue is affecting the participant’s ability to experience cultural learning, engage in family or school activities, or show the ability or desire to remain with the host family - Recurring behaviors that threaten the relationship with the host family and/or the viability of remaining on the exchange program.” Monthly liaison reporting would likely rate the participant’s performance, or behavior as poor or more likely, very poor. Again this will automatically notify staff and the local Support Coordinator to follow up on this situation.
At this stage, using the Support Agreement is the primary tool to use either following a Plan for Success or to address the first occurrence of a very serious behavior problem that could quickly lead to a host family change or an early return if the behavior continues.
The Support Agreement documents the actions to be taken to resolve the issues. It also documents that the Participant and Natural Parents understand the seriousness of the need for change. If conflicts remain unresolved the Support Agreement documents that support was given and efforts were made by volunteers and staff to resolve the issues, thereby, helping to make the case to the Partner Country and Natural Parents for an Early Return.
Examples of Serious Issues:
- Engagement or association with risky behavior
- Despite Plan for Success counseling, continued lack of effort at school demonstrated by failing grades on progress reports or at the end of the semester
- Continued lack of engagement or effort to integrate with the host family
If the Support Agreement does not resolve the issues within a couple of weeks, the next step could be a “Warning Letter” to inform the participant that unless the issues are resolved an Early Return will likely be the best course of action.
A “Joint Staff Counseling Call” might be used to ensure that the Participant understands the situation and that cultural differences are thoroughly considered.
See “Guidance for using Plan for Success vs Support Agreement”, “Plan for Success” and "Support Agreement” for further details and examples.
Defined as “bodily injury or other serious threat to the health and well-being of the participant, violation of AFS rules for participants, and other legal or medical situations”. Emergency issues must be reported immediately to the National Support Staff Specialist or Duty Officer.
Depending on the circumstances these situations might involve a Joint Staff Counseling Call with the participant to better understand the situation. A Warning Letter might be issued if there are extenuating circumstances to a violation of AFS rules that would warrant a second chance rather than an immediate Early Return.
For further information on using one of the support tools, please see A Volunteer’s Perspective by Vanessa W, from the Massachusetts Bay Team.