An Update on Foreign Service Families with Children with Disabilities: What We Know — What AAFSW is Doing

There has been change and controversy in how the State Department is handling Foreign Service employees’ children who have disabilities and in particular the Special Needs Education Allowance (SNEA) for these children. Until 2013 the Employee Consultation Service (ECS) handled these cases; each family had a social worker who worked with the family to determine how best the child could be served in an overseas posting. The children were generally classified medically as a Class 2 which means they could go overseas with accommodations. As one family member put it, “We felt we were valued.” The SNEA could be used in whatever way the family and ECS determined was in the best interest of the child. Families could bring in a professional to care for a severely disabled child or send a child to a boarding school which had special programs for the child. The goal was to approximate the care and education the child would receive in the States.

After 2013 the Child and Family Program (CFP) took over the duties of the ECS working closely with MED. There have been problems from the beginning with staffing changes and shortages and staff that weren’t used to working with families with overseas lifestyles. A Washington Post article by Jackie Spinner on October 29 entitled “State Department support for diplomats with children with disabilities is contracting” describes these problems very well. Basically the onus is now on the parent to find an overseas school which can provide all the services needed. If there are extra charges for the services then the SNEA may pay. No longer may a family bring over an aide. Virtual therapy is strictly vetted and Skype services are prohibited. Only therapeutic boarding schools are authorized for SNEA payments. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which ensures education for disabled children in the States is used as a guideline but MED does not have to follow it. Instead they are dictated by DSSR 276.8. As a result the SNEA is being cut to more families and more children are given a medical class 5 which means they cannot go overseas. Families are being split apart and employees are being forced to choose between their careers and their families.

The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) is working with a new FS Alliance, the Foreign Service Families Disabilities Alliance (FSFDA) to try to ameliorate these problems. AAFSW is also supporting these efforts by providing them with HIPAA (An Act designed to protect the privacy of individuals’ medical information) Release forms and steering them to reporters. Together we are trying to get the numbers of SNEAs granted and SNEAs denied to compare them to pre-2013 figures. MED has so far not been forthcoming with these numbers. There has been Congressional support. On November 16, Senators Ben Cardin and Patty Murray sent a letter to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan questioning the “troubling plans to cut support for Foreign Service officers who have children with disabilities.” We will persevere.

Ann La Porta
AAFSW State and AFSA Liaison, AAFSW EFM Employment working Group, AAFSW Evacuee Support