Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

The Military Family Support 360 Project: The Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN) Is Helping Military Families Facing Their Challenges through Its Military Family Support 360 Project at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. SPAN Is the Federally Designated Parent Training & Information Center (PTI) for NJ, and Has Designated Funds from the PTI to Support the Needs of Military Families

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

The Military Family Support 360 Project: The Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN) Is Helping Military Families Facing Their Challenges through Its Military Family Support 360 Project at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. SPAN Is the Federally Designated Parent Training & Information Center (PTI) for NJ, and Has Designated Funds from the PTI to Support the Needs of Military Families

Article excerpt

Being a family of a child with special needs is hard enough. Add to that being a military family who's frequently on the move, or where one parent is deployed overseas. Having to set up educational and medical supports for your child in each state can be challenging. The Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN) is helping military families facing these challenges through its Military Family Support 360 project at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. SPAN is the federally designated Parent Training & Information Center (PTI) for New Jersey, and has designated funds from the PTI to support the needs of military families.

SPAN was the first state nationally to house the PTI, Family Voices/Family-to-Family, and Parent-to-Parent and Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health chapters in one site. In this way, SPAN provides "one-stop shopping" for education (PTI), health (FV/F2F), mental health (FFCMH), and support (P2P). But SPAN wanted to expand its mission to military families whose needs are unique and often overwhelming.

The project is run by Peg Kinsell, SPAN's Public Policy Director. Peg, herself a veteran and parent, understands the needs of military parents. She helps advocate for military families but also prepares them to advocate for their children. The Military Family 360, named for its comprehensiveness, is a one-stop center helping active duty and retired military and National Guard and Reserve parents who have children with special needs up to age 26. The dedicated staffs of MFS 360 Navigators are military parents and/or military spouses who are intimately familiar with the struggles of supporting military households with children with disabilities.

The Center helps military families through information, one-to-one assistance, trainings, including leadership development, and emotional support. Parents are given information on special education, healthcare, disability specific special needs, family support etc. Military families are also helped with accessing resources and development of a Family Plan. Some of the issues that families bring to the Center include helping families who have moved into New Jersey get school evaluations and develop IEPs; find the right healthcare provider; keep their children safe from restraints and seclusion in a state that allows their use on children with disabilities in school; get their children included in child care or after-school programs; and navigate services through TriCare.

Families report that the project has been an invaluable support. "Thank you for all of your help with my SSI issues. Everything went smoothly. I was prepared thanks to all of the good advice I was given," one parent said. Another parent thanked the center for the IEP support after her child was removed from school without any proper procedural safeguards. "I had nowhere to turn for the support I needed and the 360 center stepped in and saved my son's school year."

The Center also has an advisory council that is comprised of both military and civilian partners but most, important of all, made up of, and led by, military members and their spouses.

In that capacity, the project has been able to lend its support to systems change issues both in and out of "the gate." It has been successful in easing the access to services of children with developmental disabilities for active duty members that were not New Jersey residents, but for the time they were stationed in that state. It also worked with both state and military resources when a provider of multiple therapies shut down without any notice, leaving families with no services and facing a delay and onerous process to secure new providers. …

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