The following rules apply to every AFS Participant hosted in the United States at ALL times:
- No Drugs
- No Driving
- No Hitchhiking
All AFS Participants and their parent(s)/guardian(s) have been made aware of these rules and are responsible for knowing them. Related text can be found in the Participation Agreement, a legal document signed by all participants and their parents/guardians. The agreement is an international document used by all AFS Partner countries. A sample copy can be found here.
Always notify the AFS Liaison (or, if the liaison is not available, AFS Staff or another volunteer) in a timely manner if your hosted participant breaks any of these rules. Violation of ANY one of these rules is cause for an early return home and an end to your hosted participant’s participation on the program. The decision to send a hosted participant home is made by AFS Staff in the National Office in consultation with the local AFS Volunteers.
Read on for a detailed account of each of the three rules:
Possession and use of drugs is not allowed by AFS unless medically prescribed. Furthermore, participants are NOT allowed in the company of individuals using drugs or drug paraphernalia or involved in the transport or distribution of drugs. Both illegal drug use and association with those involved with illegal drugs are cause for program termination. We know there are different views about non-medicinal drug usage from country to country or even within the same country. Because this is an issue that could have serious consequences for the safety of participants, AFS maintains a universal policy on how to manage situations involving participant non-medicinal drug usage.
When confronted with non-medicinal drug usage or involvement, these questions are most commonly raised:
Why does AFS terminate program participation for individuals who use or are involved with non-medicinal drugs?
- AFS maintains this universal policy for the protection of participants. Our policies are for the benefit of participants' health and safety, not as punishment for rule breaking. Immediate removal of participants from situations that hold personal risk reflect AFS’s commitment to protecting participant safety and well-being.
What about countries where there are few legal consequences for drug usage? Does this policy apply?
- This is a policy of AFS worldwide. It is not subject to individual Partner interpretation to reflect local or national views or laws on the topic. At the center of this policy is the importance of participant safety. Consistency in application of policies is an important factor in AFS’s approach towards risk management and the protection of participants. The universal application of the policy provides a reliable framework so that AFS support structures in all countries can manage, in a timely and appropriate manner, any drug related situations that could potentially result in personal risk and serious safety concern for the participant.
What about incidents involving marijuana in states where it has been legalized?
- Laws related to marijuana vary from state to state. In some states, it is legal for individuals 21 years of age and older to use marijuana for medicinal and/or recreational purposes. However, federal law prohibits the possession/use/sale of marijuana, and all participants coming to the U.S. are expected to abstain from having, using, or selling marijuana, or products that contain marijuana derivatives, including any product containing THC, while on program.
- AFS Participants are informed that using marijuana under any circumstances is cause for dismissal from the program and immediate return to their home country. AFS advises participants that should anyone offer them marijuana, even in a state where it has been legalized, they should not accept it and should tell their host parents and/or liaison immediately.
What if the hosted participant is not actually using drugs?
- Program participation can be cancelled if an AFS Participant is in the company of individuals using drugs or drug paraphernalia or if a participant is in any way involved in the transport or distribution of illegal drugs. Drug enforcement laws can be extremely severe, and safety of the participant is of primary concern. The police can arrest or detain an individual on suspicion of drug involvement simply by association or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Consequences can result in arrest, jail time, and criminal charges necessitating court proceedings. In some cases, a participant’s personal safety may also be at risk due to their association with people involved with illegal drug use. If a participant is arrested, neither AFS nor the participant’s country of citizenship or family can influence the legal process.
Why doesn’t AFS depend on a drug test to prove whether the Participant used drugs and should be returned home?
- AFS does not depend on drug testing since the process is often unreliable. Should a participant become involved in any way with the illegal use of drugs, AFS will be sensitive to and concerned for the impact of the situation on the host family and the community.
AFS does NOT allow participants to operate any moving vehicle that requires a license to operate. This means that all AFS Participants are forbidden from driving cars (this rule applies to driving anywhere, including on private land, in driveways, and in parking lots). This is a restriction from our insurance company and failure to comply with this rule is cause for termination from the program and the participant’s early return to their home country. Unfortunately, there have been cases in which host parents have allowed their hosted participant to drive. In these cases, the participants have been terminated from the program. This is a very sad situation for all involved, so please do NOT allow your hosted participant to drive.
Also, please ensure that your hosted participant knows that taking the wheel when a friend or classmate is unable to drive is also NOT permissible and is grounds for an Early Return. In such a situation, your hosted participant should know how to obtain an alternate mode of transportation by calling you, their liaison, a local AFS Volunteer or 911 in case of an emergency.
If you currently have a teenager that possesses a driver's permit or driver's license, you will need to contact your Division of Motor Vehicles to determine whether your hosted participant is considered a family member by your state. Many states have restrictions on the number and type (family member/non- family member, under/over a certain age) of passengers that teens may transport. In some cases, written proof of your hosted child's status as a family member may be required.
Please note, in addition to the no driving rule, the Participant Agreement specifies:
It is understood that while on the program, Participants will not drive a car or any other vehicle requiring a license, nor will Participants initiate actions in order to acquire a license. It is understood that failure to comply is cause for termination from the program and early return to the home country.
As such, it is NOT permissible for hosted participants to take a driver’s education course while on an AFS Program.
Experienced Host Family Advice: Most kids from European countries are used to having more independence because of public transportation systems, which do not exist in most of the U.S. They will not understand how difficult it is to juggle your schedule to drive them places, so remember that they are likely just as frustrated as you are with transportation difficulties.
While hitchhiking may be a common form of traveling in some countries, it is considered a potentially dangerous activity in the U.S. and is therefore NOT allowed. Several other considerations have led to the No Hitchhiking rule: • Hitchhiking is against the law in some states.
- U.S. American families generally do NOT allow their minor children to hitchhike. Therefore, if the hosted participant hitchhikes, it could put the placement at risk.
- The hosted participant’s ability to judge the driver’s motivation to stop to give a ride or to offer a ride can be impaired due to limited understanding of host country cultural norms.
- Limited knowledge of the locale where the ride is offered, and the route taken can also increase the risk when the decision is made to get into a vehicle driven by someone unknown.
The AFS definition of Hitchhiking:
“To seek transportation by asking strangers for a ride or accepting a ride offered by strangers in their private motor vehicle.”
Key words in the definition are:
- To seek transportation: AFS does not consider hitchhiking an acceptable form of transportation for travel in the local community and most certainly not outside of the community, which would be Unauthorized Independent Travel.
- Asking or accepting rides: Asking for or accepting rides at or near the roadway or elsewhere within the community. An example of “near the roadway” is using the typical sign of arm out with thumb up. An example of “out in the community” is at a party asking for or accepting a ride home or to another party from strangers, as defined below.
- Stranger: Defined as someone the participant does not know, at first meeting or someone that does NOT have a recommendation, reference or referral by someone the participant does know and trusts such as a host family member, good friends or AFS Volunteers.
*Asking for or accepting rides from known schoolmates would NOT be considered hitchhiking. However, host parents must be given the chance to approve rides by schoolmates to ensure the participants’ safety in riding with drivers who might have a new driver license, restrictions or are considered at-risk drivers.