Repatriation: Supporting Children All the Way Home
Repatriation can often be an area in which organizations do not have formal relocation policies. Yet with potentially high attrition rates amongst repatriated employees, a comprehensive repatriation policy is key to retaining the very best talent. And this is never more important than when repatriating international assignees with children.
Relocating families around the world every day, we understand just how important it is to ensure children feel fully engaged and supported throughout a move, including once the relocation comes to an end and the family is repatriated back to the home location. Their ability to settle back into their "old life" may influence whether the family as a whole settles in, and whether the overall international assignment is a success. Enter Bennett International Education Consultancy. Our long-standing supplier partner works with relocating families to find the most appropriate education environment and "best-fit" school for each child they serve, anywhere in the world.
Meet the Experts
Recently, I spoke with Elizabeth Sawyer, CEO of Bennett International, to discuss the challenges of repatriating children and the steps that can be taken to overcome these hurdles. Here’s what she had to say:
“Repatriation is often the overlooked chapter in an international assignment, but it's one that can be particularly hard for the children of international assignees as they try to re-assimilate into their home country education system. It’s important for organizations to recognize that repatriation can be more complex for children than an outbound move. In fact, it can sometimes be when a child needs more support, not less. In complex situations, organizations may also consider offering relocating families professional educational support to help them make appropriate plans to avoid road blocks before the family returns home.
Supporting Younger Children
The challenges to overcome depend on the age of the child and how long they’ve been away.
For some children who haven't been ‘home’ in many years, the home country doesn’t actually feel like home. This is especially the case for children who were very young when they relocated, or who were born during the assignment.
These children may also experience a large ‘gap in learning’ when returning to the home country’s school system. Perhaps they don't speak the home country language. Or, more typically, depending on how long they've been away, some children may be able to understand and speak the language, but they certainly can't read and write at the level required.
Maybe a child was in preschool before the assignment, but is now returning to ninth grade, which means essentially, they've never been formally educated in the home country. So they have no familiarity with the school system culture or the curriculum. They've missed all of the ‘basics’ that many local children and parents take for granted, such as the country’s history and geography. Even literature that most kids will have read in school may not have been covered.
To meet these challenges, organizations should review their repatriation policies. Do you provide any benefits to help children maintain their home country language skills whilst on assignment? If so, is it an automatic offering or something parents need to request? Have you ensured your relocation services provider is highlighting such policies to impacted assignees before they go on assignment?
Supporting Older Children
Older children approaching exams may have missed particular exam points, where students are tracked according to their previous academic achievements. This means that they may not be able to automatically step into the local system on a university-bound track. Even more challenging, a child could be entering back into the home country’s school system just before an exam, which puts them at a significant disadvantage, especially if their language skills are not sufficient for the grade they are entering.
There is a risk that some older children may never successfully transition back to the home country’s school system. Consider a policy that could enable older children to attend an international/private school on their return to the home country. It may be crucial to their academic success if they have reached a certain grade level during the assignment. To ensure cost effectiveness, organizations could of course cap the time/cost of this support, e.g. provide financial assistance for the first academic year.
In most instances, however, relatively costly policies like private school tuition may be avoided by providing the right kind of support at the front-end of an assignment. When preparing a child for repatriation—like all other areas of repatriation—it’s important to start the process way ahead of time. And that’s often much earlier than organizations (and parents) would even start to think about the move back home. For example, hiring a tutor whilst still on assignment, to coach the child in the home country curriculum. We would recommend tutoring begins at least three to six months before a long-term assignment ends. Benefits such as these are all worth thinking about when they contribute to safeguarding the best talent at your organization.”
I’d like to thank Elizabeth, and all at Bennett International, Cartus’ Network provider, for their contribution and recommendations in this blog post. Through Cartus’ Educational Counselling and Placement program, delivered by Bennett International, we can assist assignees with their children’s educational needs during repatriation.
As a relocation services provider with 65 years’ experience, one "top tip" from us is that assignees inform their children as early as possible about the repatriation. Parents should be honest when answering any concerns the child may have so that they feel involved in the move back home. This open dialogue should continue throughout the entire repatriation process. It’s also important to remember that children of all ages will be apprehensive about such a big change, so don’t just focus on the youngest ones.