Continuum of Issues:
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.
Mild issues that have been noted, but are likely to be resolved by the participant or with minimal intervention by the Liaison or host family are usually addressed by verbal discussion with guidance given in the Liaison and Host Family handbooks.
Emergency issues such 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 require immediate reporting. Depending on the circumstances these situation might involve a Joint Staff Counseling Call or Warning Letter by Support Staff.
Why the Plan for Success?
The Plan for Success was developed by the National Council’s Support Advisory Group, to supplement efforts of Volunteer Support Coordinators and/or Liaisons in supporting students by proactively de-escalating conflicts or tense relationships, and working to constructively guide students through adjustment issues. The Plan for Success is developed by the participant through a volunteer led support counseling session. 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 Plan for Success should be the participant’s proposed solution to the problems identified. It is a written plan signed by the participant, support volunteer and, at times, the host family to resolve the issues. It is not a list of requirements that needs to be met to avoid an early return. A Plan for Success should be used before resorting to a more formal Support Agreement.”
What is the difference between the Plan for Success and a Support Agreement?
The outlines below are to help you determine when it is best to implement a Plan for Success versus a Support Agreement; however, it is a best practice to consult with your Participant Support Staff when you feel implementing either resource is necessary.
Plan for Success – a support counseling format
- Moderate issues (on the Continuum of Issues defined as, “The issue persists and should be escalated to AFS Support Staff or other local volunteer leaders for further inquiry.”)
- When verbal discussion is not effective, develop the Plan before the situation becomes critical
- Intended that both student and host family participates in implementation
- Drafted with the student and host family input
- Does not need natural parents' signatures
- Overuse of the internet and/or excessive communication with home country
- Reluctance or lack of follow through on host family rules. For 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
Support Agreement – a learning tool to help clarify issues and desired improvement (please check with your Participant Support staff for the latest guidelines)
- Serious issues (On the Continuum of issues 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.
- Must be approved by AFS USA, Partner Country, and Natural Parents
- Student, host family, local volunteers, and natural family must sign
- Engagement or association with risky behavior
- Despite Plan for Success counseling, continued lack of effort at school demonstrated by low grades on progress reports or at the end of the semester
- Lack of engagement or effort to integrate with the host family
A Volunteer’s Perspective
Vanessa W., Liaison, Massachusetts Bay Team
“I had an opportunity to create a Plan for Success for the first time last year. I was initially skeptical about how the plan would help my student and her host family, mostly because I wasn’t sure how it would improve the current circumstances. So, I decided to ask more experienced AFS support volunteers for their advice and feedback, and I gathered as much information as I could from the AFS Wiki site. (I am very fortunate to have some remarkable people who are willing to help whenever I have any questions.) I decided to take a collaborative approach and used the development of the Plan to encourage open dialogue, first with the student and then with her and her host parents together. I was pleasantly surprised that everyone wanted to participate in the Plan, so the goals included the student, her host parents and me, and how we would all work together to improve things. I also believe that the host parents were truly amazing, especially considering that it was their first time hosting an AFS student. I learned a lot from them and the student in this process.
I think that focusing on the actionable goals helps to avoid negativity. When problems arise, it is often very emotional for everyone and it’s easy to get all the issues lumped together which isn’t very productive. While it’s important for everyone to feel comfortable so that they can express their feelings, if the conversation can be redirected so that we end up talking about what we can do to improve the situation, then the discussions tend to be more positive. It was also difficult for me to remain neutral at times, but I recognized that my role was to acknowledge what everyone was saying and then keeping us all on track in terms of developing the Plan. This experience taught me that the Plan for Success is a “living” document that needs everyone’s time, attention, energy, participation and hard work in order to create the desired outcome(s). I also think that it creates a framework for communication that allows for positive reinforcement rather than taking a punitive approach with problems that may arise with a student. I followed up with the student and her host parents for a couple of months before I felt confident that things were improving for them.”