by Kelli Jones, ERDT/SHARE! President
Myself and the rest of the SHARE! National Team recently attended the 32nd Annual CSIET conference in Huntington Beach, CA. CSIET (Council on Standards for International and Educational Travel) provides leadership and support for exchange programs like SHARE! to ensure that students are provided with safe and valuable international and cultural exchange experiences.
Each year, SHARE!, along with other exchange programs, high school administrators and even overseas “sending organizations” participate in the CSIET conference where ideas and the industry’s best practices are shared and discussed. The topic threaded through most of the conference learning sessions is Student Safety. How can we make the programs safer, what are we doing now that we can do better, and how can we make a student’s exchange experience the best it can be?
Here’s a list of just some of the ways we can make sure the SHARE! students, families and our local coordinators are all part of keeping the high school program safe:
- We require each SHARE! coordinator to take part in the Student Safety Workshop through Darkness to Light (d2l.org), a leading child and teen advocacy group who’s objective it is to educate adults about the steps they can take to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to the reality of child sexual abuse.
- All SHARE! coordinators undergo an annual criminal background check, the same that we require of each host family.
- SHARE! carefully vets each prospective host family member via a thorough home visit, reference checks, a lengthy application, and criminal background testing.
- A SHARE! Exchange Program Assistant makes a second visit to the host family’s home after the student’s arrival to check specifically on the condition of the home, making sure it safe and that it still fits the detailed description given in the host family application earlier in the placement season. (Smoke detectors and windows with a viable escape route required)
- SHARE! requires our international partners to share and discuss all aspects of "keeping safe" with the students during their orientation prior to departing their home countries.
- Students and host families are given the "5 Steps for Recognizing, Preventing, and Reporting Sexual Abuse" tool and discuss the topic openly at the host family and student orientations.
- SHARE! representatives have mandatory monthly reporting on each student, giving assurance that regular contact is being made with each student and that they have the opportunity to talk freely with their local representative.
- Both students and families are given the phone numbers of their local SHARE! support team members that they can call in the case of an emergency, including the SHARE! National office’s 24/7 on-call emergency line.
- The SHARE! program maintains full compliance with the Department of State regulations and completes, with flying colors, a bi-annual compliance audit conducted by a third party auditor.
- SHARE! ‘s membership with CSIET demonstrates our commitment to the educational value of youth exchange and our promise to each participant that their safety on our program is top priority. SHARE! is proud to say we have been active members of CSIET for 31 years, since their second year in operation.
The SHARE! program welcomes new team members to work side-by-side with us welcoming youth from abroad and seeing that their educational and cultural experience here is safe, comfortable and wholesome. Contact your local SHARE! representative and ask how you can get involved, too. You can make a difference in an international student’s life. Start now!