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The role of the welfare officer

August 30, 2008

Hello again,

Schools that arrange homestays or local accommodation for their students need the services of a welfare and accommodation officer to coordinate that aspect of the student’s experience. The role is a challenging one and the welfare ...

...officer can easily feel somewhat isolated, belonging neither to the academic team nor the administrative
section. Yet the welfare officer need to liaise closely with both groups in order to be effective in the role.

The ability of students to learn effectively is deeply influenced by their sense of well-being outside the school: is their accommodation comfortable; do they enjoy the food provided; are they getting enough sleep; do they have a private area for study; do they feel welcome in their host family? If the welfare officer does transmit any concerns to the teachers, then the reasons why one student does not thrive while others do so, may remain a mystery. I have known students from cultures that do not have family pets be very distressed by the presence of a cat or dog in the home. The welfare officer, by getting to know the cultural idiosyncracies of different groups, should be able to match students to the most appropriate hosts. But sometimes people slip through the net. Good communications between teachers, admin and welfare officers can mean that problems get picked up and dealt with.

Welfare officers have to deal with an aspect of the school’s work that other don’t meet. Both students and hosts can be difficult: what if a student floods the bathroom, raids the fridge, uses all the hot water, forgets to turn off lights and appliances, comes in late at night disturbing people? These, and many other points can cause hosts to be exasperated and maybe take it out on the welfare officer.

Then there are legal aspects: health and safety at school is one thing, but what regulations govern taking a paying guest into the home. What about the situation of minors? What responsibilities does the host have to the student and school?

In the UK at least a training course for welfare officers is run by English UK, formerly ARELS. I should know, I devised and ran the first ones. But even if no formal training is available where you are, the school should ensure that the welfare officer is properly supported in his or her work and that good channels of communication exist between the other staff and the welfare officer.

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