Every year brings new learning and growth to participants, host families, and volunteers. But there are also many support issues: host family changes, adjustment issues, behavioral issues, and academic issues to name a few! The stronger the Team support structure, the less likely these support issues will result in negative experiences for participants, host families, and volunteers.
A strong support structure can help to meet our very important compliance requirements
It is, of course, necessary to fully vet all host families linked to participants at the beginning of the cycle, but it’s equally important to have fully vetted Support and Temporary Host families (also known as Pre-Screened Families in Global Link) available for participants who need a brief separation from their host families to resolve issues or for participants who lose their placements. Past experience has shown that approximately 25% of the participants change Host families for various reasons throughout the year. Department of State (DoS) regulations require that all participants be hosted by fully vetted host families at all times. This also applies when participants are in transition between Permanent host families and even when participants are in AFS volunteers’ homes overnight receiving additional guidance or support. When a participant is in transition between host families the participant must be hosted by a fully vetted Support or Temporary Host Family. When a participant is still in permanent placement but is staying overnight in a registered volunteer’s home for an AFS sponsored activity such as an orientation, other weekend event or support guidance, the volunteer needs to be also registered as an Event or Support Host Family.
A strong support structure helps us to maintain our very important school relationships
In the event of a support move, volunteers should seek to avoid the participant missing school if at all possible. If the student must miss school due to unavoidable circumstances, it should be the highest priority to return them to school or identify a new school placement as quickly as possible. This policy is based on the fact that participants are in the United States on J-1 educational visas that require them to attend school whenever it is in session. Should a student change schools as a result of a host family move, the student’s new school information must be reported to the Team Support Coordinator and the Participant Support Specialist immediately and within enough time so that staff can record the information to the DoS within 10 business days of the change. We want to follow school attendance policy, and not have to ask for special treatment for a student who is absent for an extended period of time. We do not want students to fall behind in their studies, thus lowering their grades and negatively impacting a school’s experience of AFS. Furthermore, AFS has seen the benefit of students having the consistency of school activities during times of transition.
Students remaining in school have the added advantage of the student’s friends and teachers potentially identifying new host families. Lastly, Temporary Host families who work outside the home may be reluctant to host a participant that has to stay home alone during the day but may be willing to host a student that can stay busy with school and school-related activities.
Being in compliance and doing what is best for participants, host families, and schools is no small task! The “Best Practices” outlined below will assist us in our goals of meeting compliance regulations and providing caring support for our participants and host families. It is recommended that volunteer Teams work to identify and register, early in the hosting cycle, a number of fully vetted host families to assist participants who experience significant problems during the year. These families fall into two categories as follows:
Support Host Family
- A Support Host Family must be fully vetted pre-screened host family (including the full host family application, in-home interview, background checks, references, and online Host Family Orientation) and approved before a student is placed in the home or stays in the home overnight for support
- Support Families are often experienced volunteers with support training and hosting background. The Team Support Coordinator is an example of a volunteer that is well-positioned for this
- A Support Family commits to taking in a student on an emergency basis for several days.
- A Support Family helps the student evaluate the issues. The usual result is a written Plan for Success or a Support Agreement (depending on the issues), which is an action plan with the participant going forward, and a report to the Regional
- Ideally, a Team should have 1 or 2 Support Host Families for every 20
Temporary Host Family
- A Temporary Host Family must be fully vetted pre-screened host family (including the full host family application, in-home interview, background checks, references, and online Host Family Orientation) and approved before a participant is placed in the
- Temporary Families are often experienced volunteers and host Team Liaisons and former host families are examples of volunteers that are well-positioned for this role.
- A Temporary Family commits to taking in a participant on short-term basis, not to exceed 8 weeks.
- A Temporary Family helps the participant prepare for a new Permanent placement or, in a few cases, an Early Return and reports on the participant’s
- The number of Temporary Families a Team should have depends on the Team’s geography and Temporary families’ proximity to the schools the students are attending. An ideal ratio is one Temporary Host family for every five students when students are placed close by.
- Option 1: Early in the hosting cycle, register Temporary Host Families to keep participants in school until a Permanent placement is found. Identifying Temporary Families that reside near every school in which students are placed means students will have transportation to school during a transition between permanent host
- Option 2: Early in the hosting cycle, register as many Temporary Host families as possible to cover most participants. Continue to place participants spread out in a number of limited time absent from school for a limited number of participants that change host families is a trade-off to allow more students to participate in the program. A resort to this option will require aggressive recruitment of Temporary/Permanent host families for a few participants during the year. When a registered Temporary Host family within commute distance from the student’s school is not available, recruitment efforts should begin as soon as significant placement problems are identified and should intensify during the time the participant spends with the Support Host family. If local placement options are exhausted, the Team will need to seek assistance from the Participant Support Specialist to develop next steps.
Implementing this “Best Practice” will help promote quality support of our participants and compliance
If your Team does not currently have a Support and Temporary Host Family system in place, AFS strongly recommends incorporating this into your Team’s support structure. Implementing this Best Practice should be a joint Support/Hosting responsibility. Ideally, the Support Coordinator would nominate the Support Host Family. The Hosting and Support volunteers would find Temporary Host Families. The Hosting Coordinator would be responsible for the Host Family Application process.