Anyone home?

A SHORTAGE of foster parents has gained wide publicity across the United States. Now come reports of a shortage of host families for exchange students, mostly high-schoolers who come from abroad for a year to live with an American family and attend an American school. The bonds formed from such visits may last for years; the young people are not only much enriched themselves from their experience, but they contribute much to the American communities of their sojourn.

Now, however, a number of exchange programs - such as the American Institute for Foreign Study, AFS Intercultural, and Ayusa International - many of them with decades of experience, are having difficulty finding homes for the young people who want to spend a year in the United States, even as the numbers of applications from students have climbed, and indeed, even as more US organizations are launching their own exchange programs.

Part of the problem is that Ozzie and Harriet don't live here anymore. Organizers of student exchanges want two-parent families as hosts for young people. But if both parents work outside the home - as is more and more the norm - there may be barely enough time for their own children, let alone time to give a young foreigner the support - emotional and otherwise - he or she needs.

School districts hesitate to allow more than a limited number of foreign students, partly because they may need special tutoring, and presumably because of fiscal crunches in schools generally.

Student exchange programs do too much good to be allowed to wither. As the need is known, more housing can be made available.

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