Support & Learning Advisory Group Part II

Support & Learning Advisory Group Part II

AFS-USA established the National Council, Advisory Groups, and Committees to create a space where AFS volunteers and staff can work together to address organizational needs and/or challenges from a national perspective. These national volunteer groups are forums where AFS staff and volunteers representing different areas of expertise, knowledge, skills, and talents can review different areas of the organization and develop recommendations for how we can improve the processes, tools, and/or resources needed to effectively deliver and support our AFS programs, volunteers, communities, and participants. The article below introduces one of the groups!

In the first article on the Support & Learning Advisory Group, we focused on their role, support tools, and training. This article will first address mental health, how to determine when a participant needs help, and secondly, our own self-care.

Current Mental Health Trends in AFS-USA

While student mental health cases were on the rise prior to Covid-19, cases continued to rise dramatically for both hosted and sending students in the years following the pandemic.  Mental health cases can include a range of possible concerns including general adjustment disorder, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, self-harm, and suicidal ideation. 

Every year, AFS Support & Learning Staff respond to mental health cases that arise, including cases in which hosted and sending students seek, or are recommended to, forms of professional care. Staff will support a student’s mental, emotional, and physiological well-being by helping to arrange care from professionals outside of AFS, such as Counselors, School Counselors, Psychiatrists, Therapists, and Medical practitioners when appropriate.

On an international scale, we acknowledge how the landscape has changed around mental health and has been a major shift within the AFS network. AFS-USA Support & Learning Staff have participated and co-facilitated various mental health trainings and discussions with our colleagues at AFS International and throughout the network to better understand how AFS approaches mental health, and to create some agreed upon network standards and best practices for assessing mental health cases that occur on program for all participants.  

Strategies & Resources

As volunteers in their AFS role are not trained professionals, we help volunteers to understand the boundaries and distinction between the support that they can provide students, and what must be delegated to professional care. We also focus on assisting volunteers in understanding good practices for supporting host families, reporting to and alerting AFS staff, and assisting in student access to care. 

Support & Learning staff, aided by the Support Advisory Group, have worked diligently to create more resources for volunteers and host families, and work together more effectively to address mental health concerns when they arise.  

The following are resources developed by AFS Support & Learning Staff and the Advisory Group:

  • GMMI One-pagers on mental health
  • Emotional Passport
  • Mental health and support trainings offered to all AFS Staff across the network (Internationally led with AFS-USA Staff co-facilitators)
  • Liaison Monthly Resources Guide: Monthly emails sent to Liaisons, Support Coordinators, Associate Support Coordinators, and Area Team Chairs to address trends during the year and help guide discussions when meeting with a participant. 

The following are resources that are currently in development and soon to be launched:

  • Mental Health Microlearning Video:  resource for Liaisons 
  • Volunteer Self Care and Team Care Microlearning Video:  resource for Liaisons 

Both the Support & Learning Staff and Advisory Group also aim to promote and encourage Self Care for AFS Volunteers so they feel welcome and encouraged to maintain their own well-being and wellness as they perform their role, ask for help when they need it, and feel supported within the support structure they work in. 

Volunteers who have experience in the mental health field, IDEA training, or have been an AFS Participant Support Coordinator are the most sought after skill sets needed for our Advisory Group.  If interested, please complete the following form using this link.

For more information, please visit the Support & Learning Advisory Group in the Help & Learning page.