Fort Lewis Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP).
With the large Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), Fort Lewis has developed a unique partnership to meet the needs of families. Fort Lewis established a contract with Washington PAVE, a statewide disability organization, to provide the services of an EFMP Coordinator at Army Community Service (ACS). It soon became apparent that with the needs of the families, more support was needed. To address this need, the Fort Lewis ACS Director designated a full-time staff person as the EFMP Manager to work in concert with the EFMP Coordinator. This dynamic team has become the model of efficiency and support upon which families can depend.
Within the community surrounding Fort Lewis, families will find a variety of resources and services. The installation is surrounded by 13 school districts of varying sizes and scopes. Tacoma School District is the second largest school district in Washington State, while Fife School District is one of the smallest. Clover Park School District, which is the school district that provides services to families living on the installation, has a special education population of approximately 1,500 students from pre-school to high school. Almost 50 percent are military affiliated children. "The military has both a positive impact and is also challenging for the district," comments Mrs. Ann Almlie, Director of Special Education Services in the district. "There are a really high number of children with autism so we are working with the autism program at the University of Washington and developing innovative and exciting programs to meet the needs of our students."
Mrs. Almlie also emphasized the positive role the soldiers have. "It is a wonderful experience working with the soldiers." She also recognized the challenges with deploying soldiers, stating, "Many of our staff members are married to military personnel and the impact on moves in the middle of the year is greater. When their spouses are deployed, many of them choose to go back home so we have worked to ensure we have a good pool of quality staff available to address these situations."
Mrs. Almlie stated that the district has established strong programs to work with students with disabilities. "The only population of students that we contract out is students who are deaf." She pointed out that so much more is possible because of the relationship with the Fort Lewis EFMP and PAVE to help parents become involved within the community. She said that these connections have greatly enhanced the district's ability to support families. She indicated that these programs have helped families understand the differences they encounter in Washington State. "The one thing parents are not used to is that they may not live on post and be in Clover Park School District. EFMP has helped get information to us early. If we get the records soon enough, we can work with the families regarding appropriate placement in our district or another in the area, before they even get to Fort Lewis. Getting the records early is critical."
Adults with disabilities have found support and resources for many of their needs through the network of support available through TACID (Tacoma Area Coalition for Individuals with Disabilities), the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). TACID programs include both social and work-related support. The challenge, however, is the long waiting lists for resources for adults. This can leave the families with a sense of frustration. The EFMP staff has developed close contacts with the various community resources to keep them aware of the families and to ensure that they stay current regarding these potential difficulties.
Known for the community supports available for individuals with disabilities, Pierce County has become a location where families look to retire. The resources have been diminishing, and families now find themselves turning to the EFMP for far more than they might have in the past. Families work with Mary Herrera, the EFMP Manager, and Nancy Dozier, the EFMP Coordinator. "The families and professional staff are very comfortable working with both of us," stated Mary. "We work as a tandem team to ensure that families can get the support they need." Nancy added, "We try to keep each other really aware of the various requests. We work together with the families and do a lot of brainstorming."
The EFMP has worked hard to get programs and supports in place. They have monthly support group meetings open to all families as well as a quarterly support group specifically established for families with members who have autism. "We do a monthly newsletter, offer recreational activities, and have a terrific annual family camp in conjunction with Camp Prime Time up in the Cascade Mountains," stated Nancy. Mary also emphasized that they have the newsletter on a number of installation websites, as well as having a regular EFMP piece in the ACS newsletter. "We try to find as many ways as possible to get information to our soldiers," stated Mary.
Both of these dynamic ladies emphasized that they couldn't do it without the collaboration among the various programs and resources on the installation. "There are no turf issues. We are all working together to help the families," stated Mary. "We have good links with Child Youth Services, Army Public Health Nursing, Madigan EFMP, and the School Liaison Office," Nancy said. "They are involved and willing to work together to help our families. It is really terrific."
Both Mary and Nancy commented on their concern for the families with the ongoing high level of deployment. "Some of the moms have disappeared who were active last year. They've lost their gusto. It is just too much for them. They need 100 percent of what they have to take care of their families," Nancy stated. Fort Lewis is hoping to be one of the Army installations that will be receiving an influx of funding to give these families a break by providing aid for respite care. Additionally, Washington PAVE has acquired funding that the EFMP will use to enhance recreational opportunities for the support groups.
Mary stated, "We really love working with the families. We may not have all the answers, but we will turn over every rock to find information." They both emphasized that they love it when families who have learned about a resource or program come back and tell them about it so they can share it with other families. "Knowledge is power, and we love to empower them," Nancy said.