Two members of MOAA’s Currently Serving Spouse Advisory Council recently connected on a webinar series to share advice for uniformed families PCSing with special needs children.
Megan Powell, spouse and caregiver of a retired soldier, hosted Michelle Norman, a seasoned Navy spouse and mother of a special needs child, on The Unpack, a series from MILLIE, a concierge service designed to support military families through PCS journeys.
Powell serves as a Dole Caregiver Fellow and a MILLIE Scout – military spouses with years of experience PCSing, buying or renting homes, enduring deployments and investing in their communities. She has volunteered extensively with military nonprofit organizations and unit readiness groups, and has committed countless hours to improving programs and resources for military caregivers.
Norman leads a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the rights of military children in special education. As the executive director of Partners in PROMISE, she provides resources and support to Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) families and continues to work tirelessly to elevate their voices and protect their rights. Last year, MOAA was proud to announce her as one of our 2021 Changemakers.
[RELATED: MOAA's Advisory Councils]
In their webinar episode, Powell and Norman discussed resources and tips for families who PCS with special needs children. Watch the interview below, or click here to view it on YouTube.
Special Needs Resources
First and foremost, there are federal laws – the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act – in place to ensure students with special education needs have access to a free and appropriate public education. Individualized education programs (IEP) fall under the IDEA and allow for necessary accommodations and specifically designed instruction uniquely tailored to the student’s disability, goals, and objectives. These resources and programs exist to serve children with a wide range of needs and may vary between states and school districts.
Research is a must for parents of special needs students, but you don’t have to do it alone. Take advantage of these resources:
- EFMP Coordinators and Liaisons. Coordinators help facilitate the EFMP enrollment process, offer assistance with forms, develop and maintain a list of local special needs resources, and more. Liaisons provide information and referral, help EFMP families identify and access appropriate military, national, and community resources, and assist families in navigating the program.
- School Liaison Officers. Located at each installation, school liaisons are the primary contact for military families, local school systems, and installation leadership for school-related matters from pre-K through 12th grade.
- Partners in PROMISE. From a special education checklist to a resource blog, this nonprofit is a great place to get information to help you become your child’s best advocate.
- Military Spouse Facebook Groups. These groups offer a wealth of knowledge and experience. Connect with others who have navigated similar transitions and learn from their experiences.
According to a recent survey, military families with special needs children face an average delay of 5.75 months when transferring an existing 504 plan or IEP. To reduce or eliminate this delay, find out whether your new state offers advanced enrollment. Start communicating with school officials and the aforementioned resources as early as possible to set both the teachers and student up for success.
MOAA will continue to work with organizations like Partners in PROMISE to advocate for improvements to existing resources and programs designed to support children with special education needs. Continuing these conversations and sharing your experiences through surveys is vital to ensuring our combined efforts in this space are effective.