In your online Hosting & Support Affiliations (HSA) training, you were introduced to the idea of a “Continuum of Issues.” There are four levels introduced; Mild, Moderate, Serious, and Emergency.
While every participant is different, and therefore the issues and challenges they may encounter on program can all be very different, it can help to think of concerns that involve participants as falling along this continuum. This is because, depending on the level of the issue, AFS staff and volunteer response to that situation will vary.
Mild issues are generally within the expected normal adjustment curve and discussed with participants during orientations. Monthly liaison reporting would likely rate the participant’s performance, behavior, or feelings as fair, or possibly as poor. Appropriate responses to Mild issues can include verbal discussion, verbal goal setting, encouragement, brainstorming options, and sometimes, just time.
Click here for helpful information for volunteers on effective communication.
Moderate issues are 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 Support and Learning Staff and local Support Coordinators to follow up on this situation. When Moderate issues arise, it is best to ensure that liaisons and Support Coordinators are in touch with Participant Support and Learning Staff.
When Moderate issues arise, Support Volunteers assist participants to understand the issues, and reflect on the relevant AFS Learning Objectives and program expectations as the basis for developing a plan of action to resolve the situation. The intent is to frame the process as a positive learning experience where problems are viewed and discussed as opportunities to succeed and learn. The purpose is to help the participant focus on what needs to be done, utilizing the applicable AFS Learning Objectives.
A Plan for Success or Support Agreement are common tools used at AFS-USA that can appropriately address Moderate situations, as well as Mild situations that persist over time with no resolution. These written documents are valuable as points of reference for future discussion, as clear and concrete lists of goals and actions for all involved, and as a “metric” for assessing success and adjustment in the year. Both the Plan for Success and the Support Agreement are built to be collaborative, in which the perspectives of all involved are represented. We are more likely to achieve success when achieving participant “buy-in” versus telling a teenager what to do. Please note that, while a plan for success can be developed and issued without the involvement of Participant and Learning Staff, Support Agreements must involve Participant Support and Learning Staff. Please see the above links for more information.
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
Serious issues are 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.” Like Moderate issues, Serious issues are best addressed with the involvement of the Support Coordinator and Participant Support and Learning Staff. 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. A Support Agreement can either be used following a Plan for Success in which a participant’s adjustment goals have still not been met, 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 Sending Parents understand the seriousness of the need for change. If issues 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 demonstrate all the effort taken to support and guide the participant. This is important, in the event that a Program Termination and Early Return Home needs to be discussed at a later date.
Examples of Serious Issues:
- 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
- Demonstrated and repeated resistance by the participant to adapt to certain norms and realities of American family life.
- Participant Involvement in risky behavior
If the Support Agreement does not resolve the issues within a couple of weeks, the next step could be an AFS Warning Letter to inform the participant that unless the issues are resolved and adjustments are made, an Early Return will likely be the next course of action. Warning Letters, if applied, are issued directly to the participant by AFS-USA Participant Support and Learning Staff.
A “Joint Staff Counseling Call” might also be used to ensure that the participant understands the situation and that cultural differences are thoroughly considered. These calls are held and organized directly by Participant Support and Learning Staff.
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 and Learning 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.
Examples of emergency situations include:
- Medical Emergency: Hospitalization and serious medical issues/injuries
- Sexual misconduct: Student victim or perpetrator
- Arrest/Police involvement
- Runaway students
- Suicidal thoughts
- Natural Disasters
- Death in natural family
- Student's physical and psychological safety compromised in any way
- Breaking 3 AFS rules: No driving, No Hitchhiking, No drugs.
- Note: Unplanned or emergency placement changes for a participant must also be considered an urgent matter and be reported right away
Click here for more information on how to report matters according to where they fall on the continuum.