Changes Coming to Exceptional Family Member Program; Opportunity for Parent Centers

A new wide-reaching project will offer military families the same level of access to services across all DoD military branches and locations. Parent Centers can have an impact by sharing information.

New Department of Defense (DoD) instructions highlight the importance of Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) Family Support having good information on State and local resources.  When military members are considered for a duty assignment, and they have a family member enrolled in EFMP, EFMP Family Support coordinates with other segments of EFMP to let them know if the new location will have necessary services and supports for that family member.  Unpacking this further, when a military member’s career or new duty assignment is being considered and they have a child with a disability, registering in the EFMP program offers them additional services and support. At the juncture of career choice, EFMP Family Support will connect with the family and colleagues at the possible new assignment or duty station to assure the services and support for the child or exceptional family member is also at that installation. Parent center staff can help enhance the new duty assignments of military families with a child with a disability. Here’s how:

It’s an ongoing challenge for EFMP staff to get current, accurate information about services based on direct knowledge and family experience. Parent Center staff often have that direct knowledge: for example, a program may look good on paper but lacks providers near an installation or community. Sharing this knowledge with EFMP Family Support staff is an opportunity for Parent Centers to make themselves a valued partner.

Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) Family Support is part of the
Department of Defense (DoD)-wide program that assists military families when
they have a family member with special medical or educational needs. “The primary
role of the EFMP is to prevent special needs military families from being sent to locations
without adequate medical or educational services, according to the
National Military Family Association website.  Another important function is
referring families to communities and statewide services and supports.

How does this work?  Once you’ve shared information with Family Support staff, you and your Parent Center will have increased credibility and be a known entity. Military families tend to look within the military community for assistance, but this can change when an EFMP professional is acquainted with you and knows what your Parent Center can offer. It would be great if the EFMP staff person’s inner dialogue went something like this: “I know [your name] who works at [your parent center], she’s the parent of a child with a disability, let’s call her!” When EFMP staff have information about the services and support for a military family’s child at a new installation, clearly the child, the military family, the duty station assignment, the EFMP staff and the parent center all win. In the end, the military member’s career is at the sole discretion of the military branch of service. It can include assignments that bring choices for military families, and your help with EFMP staff on behalf of their child(ren) is an essential partnership.

A wide-reaching project through the DoD’s Office of Special Needs1 (OSN) makes this a timely opportunity. We discuss the project below and offer a few suggestions on how connect to EFMP Family Support.

Graphic indicating relationship between OSN and local installation EFMP family support: central circle with "OSN Standards Across Military Branches with arrows leading to 4 different circles with text "Local Installation EFMP Family Support. Above left, a callout box with text "DoD Instructions" with arrow leading to circle symbolizing OSN

Fig. 1: Hierarchy of oversight for project plans to standardize EFMP

OSN’s project plans to standardize EFMP from branch to branch and from installation to installation.  An article in the Exceptional Advocate says the goal of the project is that “Families will receive improved and consistent support in identifying services and resources, regardless of location or service affiliation” (emphasis added).  This project, supported by the new DoD instructions, shows that it’s more important than ever for EFMP Family Support staff to have good contacts and up-to-date information.

Easy ideas for connecting with EFMP staff:

  • Invite Family Support staff to a Parent Center-sponsored event. The Parent Center in Washington state hosts an annual autism event at a national-chain bookstore, in a town right next to the installation. Inviting the local EFMP, and sending them event information to share with military families, provided a friendly way for EFMP staff to meet and mingle with Parent Center program staff.
  • Begin by offering a selection of your contacts at agencies and programs that are typically difficult for families to access.
  • Ask if they are currently helping any families that are running into challenges getting civilian services, to see if you can offer specific information.

EFMP Family Support staff are civilians who work on installations. You don’t need to know about military ranks to address them.

How to get in touch:

Use the Branch’s Interactive Maps to get direct phone numbers for the EFMP Family Support Office.  If you prefer a personal introduction to EFMP staff, just contact the Branch—we’ll be happy to arrange a facilitated introduction.

1Full name is the “Office of Community Support for Military Families with Special Needs”. Because it’s such a long name, most people refer to it as “Office of Special Needs” or “OSN”.



Department of Defense. (2017, April 19). The Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) (DOD Instruction 1315.19). Washington, DC: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.

Standardizing the exceptional family member program. (2016, April). The Exceptional Advocate. Retrieved from

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