Wry Exchange

Thanks, Aspect & Bob Casey
05-28-09, 9:34 pm
Filed under: Exchange Program, hosting, Inbounds Inbounds | Tags: , ,

  Dear Aspect Foundation and Senator Bob Casey,  

Thanks for making all of our jobs a little tougher today.

Do we think it’s a coincidence that Bob is from Scranton?

Dear Secretary Clinton,
I am writing you today out of concern for foreign exchange students who were placed in unsanitary homes in Pennsylvania and what it means for the welfare of our nation’s youth exchange programs.  It has recently come to my attention that nine foreign exchange students between the ages of 15 and 18 are now in the care of the Department of Human Services in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania because they were placed with unsuitable host families.  According to Lackawanna County officials, some children were in need of medical attention due to malnutrition and dehydration while others were living in unsanitary conditions and in a home recently condemned. 
The stories from these children are disturbing.  One story was of a 15 year-old girl from Nigeria who was living in a house surrounded by dog feces.   According to news reports, this exchange student was living with the Area Coordinator of the sponsoring organization, the same person responsible for ensuring that other host families were living up to their obligations. The investigative reporter visited the house and confirmed the exchange student’s allegations and found dirt and feces throughout the house.  The situation this student found herself in is simply unacceptable.
It is my understanding that both the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), under the Department of Homeland Security, share responsibility for overseeing and implementing youth exchange programs.  Through an independent third party – the Council on Standards for International Education Travel – the State Department provides accreditation and audits for private and non-profit international educational travel and youth exchange programs (also referred to as sponsors) on an annual basis.  The USCIS Student and Exchange Visitor Program is responsible for tracking and monitoring foreign exchange students, schools and programs as long as they reside in America.  When allegations of abuse arise, according to the secondary school student guidelines issued by the State Department, it is the sponsor’s responsibility to report and notify the incidents directly to the Department of State.
I am concerned that the current oversight system is reactive not proactive and permits the ongoing abuse of foreign students without any effective intervention until the situation is dire.  The situation these students found themselves in only came to attention once teachers voiced their concerns.  Therefore, I request answers to the following questions:
•           The Council on Standards for International Education Travel (CSIET) is the independent nonprofit organization that reviews sponsors on an annual basis and provides a public list of those who have received accreditation.  How does the Department of State determine whether the audits performed by CSIET meet agency regulations?  How often, if at all, does the Department of State perform checks on the various sponsors approved by CSIET?
•           Sponsors are required to “exercise due diligence” to ensure that the host families are screened properly and are found satisfactory. The Department of State has previously stated that “a mere superficial compliance with this regulatory requirement will not be tolerated.”  If it is determined that an approved sponsor has failed to demonstrate due diligence in their host family selection process, what are the consequences for that sponsor?
•           How much contact, if any, does the State Department have with sponsors?  With CSIET?
•           Are sponsors required to make home visits with students and their host families?  If so, how many times must a sponsor visit the home during a student’s stay? 
•           If a sponsor loses its accreditation, is the sponsor allowed to reapply for accreditation the following year, if at all?  If so, what steps must a sponsor take to have its accreditation restored?
•           How many Department of State employees work on youth exchange programs?
I am supportive of the cultural and educational exchange programs the Department of State promotes and funds.  Such exchange opportunities assist in dispelling negative images of the United States and helps convey our nation’s best attributes.  It is for these reasons that I am deeply concerned about allegations of abuse and mistreatment of foreign exchange students.  Stories like those emanating from Lackawanna County tarnish our reputation and undermine the mission of youth exchange programs.  I look forward to hearing your responses and working with you on guaranteeing the safety and welfare of foreign exchange students in the United States.

                                                                        Robert P. Casey, Jr.


14 Comments so far
Leave a comment

This is just… bad.

Comment by Ann, CTC

wow !

Comment by Anonymous

With only surface inspection, it appears that Aspect dropped the ball on this one. Bad coordinators will happen, but there should always be sufficient oversight at all levels to prevent situations from escalating to this degree.

Comment by onelifelog

Six years ago, my family had a similar experience with this exchange program. This same coordinator did not have a home for a young boy from Denmark and I agreed that he could spend two weeks with our family until she found a host family for him. When he was finally placed, the home was filthy, reeked of cat urine and was overcrowded. I felt sorry for the boy who was very upset and frightened and ended up keeping him for the entire year. The other students who came with him returned home because of the conditions they were forced to live in. During the year, there was no contact with the coordinator who never visited our home or did a background check. All of this was reported to Aspect both by me and the student’s family and they apparently did nothing to investigate the local program or how it was being run. When they say that they had no idea, they are lying! I feel that the program is at fault and showed no concern other than getting a great deal of money from these poor kids.

Comment by Margaret Marshall

What is the coincidence? What does it matter that Casey is in Pennsylvania? Exchange students have been abused or neglected probably in every state. Aspect Foundation is like a majority of the rest of these placement agencies; operating out of sloppiness and greed; constantly accepting more students than there are host families available.

Comment by Joyce

My family had a similarly bad experience with Aspect – in Washington State. During the 2005-06 school year, we invited a family friend from Denmark to live with us and go to high school. Her family chose Aspect because in her country it was less expensive than Rotary and AFS. Throughout the year we encountered problems from both the local or the national coordinators. There seemed to be NO organization. We also experienced Aspect “desperately” trying to find homes for students- it was apparent that they had signed up students and had no homes for them! If you investigated WA you would probably find the same problems. I hate to say this, but here it is: When we attended the few organized get-togethers, the Aspect families seemed trashy, not like folks who would host exchange students. Some of the host parents looked like they had criminal records! I know that is stereotyping, but me, my husband, and our exchange student all felt that way. It was an ongoing comment about the program. We had nothing but hassle and no help from Aspect when it came to health insurance problems, etc. After our student completed her year, Aspect continued to send us “bios” and desperate emails trying to place students. They were not professional appeals to place students. They smacked of desperation.

Comment by Suzanne Scuderi

I am replying to your comment as I was one of the host families in the same group as you in 2005-2006 and as such have been designated by you as being a criminal and trashy along with the other host families that year. I happen to have a roster of those families Ms. Scuderi and they include, a school librarian, a retired pastor, a cruise line coordinator a dentist, Lt. Col. in military family, a Bank Senior VP , two state workers,a school principal, two self-employed business owners, a construction worker, state prison worker a Dr and her EMT husband, a high school teacher and his wife who works for DSHS,an engineer for Boeing, a family of two retired Army Sargent s and my husband and myself who are dairy farmers. Sounds like a very scary bunch wouldn’t you say? I suppose since your husband is a lawyer you may feel you are above all of these people in status. Or maybe I am stereotyping you as well? I continue to host through Aspect, that year and the following 3 years we have had activities almost every month, that you can choose to attend or not to attend, maybe you chose not to? I understand how hard it is to open up your home to a stranger for a year, something you would not since you knew your students family previous to her arrival. I understand the need for them to find families, qualified families, that will for the sake of world diplomacy and a child’s dream take the chance and open their hearts and homes to a stranger. If this sounds like desperation to you Ms Scuderi then so be it, that is your opinion. I choose to see it as some wonderful people trying very hard to change the world by doing something productive not sitting home making judgments about others without truth or justification.

Comment by Shirley Shotack

What I find most disturbing is that this company:Aspect IS OWNED BY KAPLAN INC, THE TEST PREPARATION COMPANY headquartered in NY. This is a public embarrassment for international education!

Comment by anonymous

I’ve tried to verify your claim about Kaplan, Inc. but was unable to substantiate your information. Can you provide further information or a web site to prove your claim?

Comment by Kathie

Dear Anonymous: Can you elaborate? This is very interesting; I’ve also heard that Aspect Foundation is allegedly owned by the Washington Post? What do you know about this?

Comment by Joyce

I truly understand that this whole situation is outrageous and that the US department of state should be doing something to prevent it from happening again.
What they did was cancel all the 77 students who were taken in charge of by ASPECT just threee days before their trip !!
Now This is outrageous as well, because ASPECT is the one to blame Not The kids who worked so hard to earn the scholarships !!
We also didn’t chose to be with ASPECT !!!

Please help us to make all the effort we made throughout this year worth it !!!

Comment by a canceled YES scholar

Cancelled YES Scholar, Tell me more about your situation. Your trip was cancelled? Are you going out of the US, or coming in?

Comment by Wry

As a mother i understand that your concern is the walfare of exclange students,but shouldn’t you stop the progam before it is launched? why cause terrible break down to 77 exchalge sts 5 days before their due departure for the states?

Comment by rabia

Hi everybody, I have been an Aspect exchange student and I had a wonderful year in the US! But that was certainly not because of Aspect! Many thanks to my great host dad!

Comment by Max

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