Updated Defense Department (DoD) guidance will result in better consistency and support for military families with special needs under the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), The Military Times reported.
Previously, Exceptional Family Member Programs – all military branches offer one – had their own guidelines per branch and even per installation. This DoD policy – it came in the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act – standardizes program criteria and elaborates on enrollment processes.
“This is exciting news for families enrolled in EFMP,” said Patricia Montes Barron, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy. “These enhancements demonstrate that we are listening and focusing on ways to help families thrive in military life.”
But the updated policy is not without its critics.
“While we had hoped standardization would minimize program variability, this instruction still puts many important decisions back in the hands of individual service branches,” said Michelle Norman, founder of military children in special education and disability nonprofit Partners in Promise.
One of the policy’s strengths is its “warm hand-offs” requirement for permanent change of station moves, meaning one installation’s EFMP family support office hands off the family to the new one, Norman said. The hope is that this leads to shorter wait times.
“However, we are disappointed to see the lack of standardization of special education support and resources that vary greatly between the military services,” Norman said. “Military children in special education face delays in identification, eligibility and receipt of special education support and services. EFMP parents face inconsistent support during every PCS.”
Other changes in the policy include laying out responsibilities and processes of those involved; providing a consistent number of respite care hours across the branches; allowing respite care for adult dependents; and giving EFMP families at least one annual personal contact from their respective provider.
“While we had hoped standardization would minimize military service variability, we are hopeful that each military service takes to the opportunity to offer much needed clarification as they write their own instructions,” Norman said.