In line with all forms of preparedness we ask that all volunteer teams have emergency families identified who understand that they might be asked to temporarily host a student going through support-related challenges, and who agree at the beginning of the year to be available to host students on a temporary basis.
Emergency placement families should be aware that they may be asked to host a participant possibly on very short notice. Emergency families are usually prompted to host in response to a student emergency or mid-to-high level support situation prompting an immediate or expedited move. Note, as we continue to navigate current COVID-19 realities, emergency families should also be aware of any related state, territorial, tribal, an/or local safety guidance as it pertains to hosting a student in the current COVID-19 landscape.
Department of State (DoS) regulations require all participants be hosted by fully vetted host families. 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 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 vetted as a host family or event host family.
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 and Learning 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.
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.
- A pre-screened Host Family must be fully vetted (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.
- Pre-screened host parents 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 pre-screened host family commits to taking in a student on an emergency basis for up to several days or weeks, depending on the situation.
- A pre-screened family helps assess any concerns at hand by talking and reflecting with the participant and sometimes observing the participant. Ideally, a Team should have 1 or 2 pre-screened families for every 20 participants.
- A pre-screened family may also help the participant prepare for a new permanent placement or, in a few cases, an Early Return.
Suggested Approaches to Securing Pre-screened Families
- Option 1: Early in the hosting cycle, register pre-screened 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. Continuing to place participants spread out 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 pre-screened 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 as needed. Implementing this “Best Practice” will help promote quality support of our participants and compliance.
If your team does not currently have a pre-screened 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 or Hosting Coordinator may nominate possible pre-screened families. The Hosting Coordinator would be responsible for the Host Family Application process.
This H&L article called "Best Practices for Support and Temporary Host Families" recommends that pre-screened temporary host families be fully vetted trained to help participants resolve serious issues that threaten the host family placement or might lead to an early return. a volunteer liaison, unless also a fully vetted host family, cannot take a student into their home overnight to provide support counseling. Fully vetting all liaisons as support host families and training all liaisons to provide support counseling is not considered feasible. Instead, it is recommended that the local team have one support host family for each 20 hosted participants and one additional support host family as backup. Either the husband or wife in the support host family should also be an AFS support volunteer, ideally the local team support coordinator.