Commentary: Hill’s EFMP program ‘doubles down’ on efforts to serve families during pandemic

Commentary: Hill’s EFMP program ‘doubles down’ on efforts to serve families during pandemic

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Many organizations have been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but none more so than our most vulnerable families. One organization at Hill has worked hard to ensure these families have been able to safely navigate them during this challenging time — the Airman and Family Readiness Center’s Exceptional Family Member Program — Family Support program.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the EFMP-FS team has doubled down on its efforts of safely adapting and improving services to military connected families with special needs by continuing to offer information and resources, conducting multiple virtual events and activities, and providing families with education “to-go” kits.

Exceptional families with severe medical needs, autism, mental health conditions and other diagnoses have been impacted to a greater degree than many of us could imagine. The risk of exposure, lockdowns, no school, virtual school, and limited after-school activities have completely changed routines and cancelled therapies.

The EFMP-FS team at Hill has been thinking outside the box for ways to continue to provide ongoing services with minimal contact to in-need families. Through innovation, meetings, workshops, educational classes, and events have been overhauled to mitigate this new, but substantial risk.

The first step has been leveraging technologies such as Zoom.gov to recreate one-on-one appointments in a virtual world. The congressionally-mandated Family Needs Assessment and Services Plan was offered virtually and by phone with more than 95 families receiving the care they needed during the months the EFMP-FS team was forced to telework.

Modern technology was also used to connect with our families through virtual education classes, fun activities and programs.

Nationally-recognized speakers, Barbara Coloroso, an expert on bullying, and Amy Lang, an expert on “The Talk” and of the “Birds and the Bees,” were brought in virtually to provide talks geared specifically to our special needs population. The Coloroso event was shared with F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming, Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, Malmstrom AFB, Montana, and Buckley AFB, Colorado.

Other team building and education events were accomplished through no-contact pick up education to-go kits, some offering participation via Zoom from the safety of homes, including virtual parent paint night, scented play dough, rock painting, family bowling, musical play time, Halloween bags and STEAM gingerbread activities.

The EFMP-FS team’s social media outreach and referral services have become even more critical to the health and well-being of our Hill AFB Families. Information and training opportunities are posted on the EFMP-FS private group page and sent out through email. The Military Child Education Coalition, Military Family Learning Network, Utah Parent Center, Family to Family Network and others, all offer strategies and materials to deal with COVID and resultant isolation.

The feedback has been amazing.

Families have said they’re grateful we are not only available for information and referral, but still have programs and events. We transformed our most popular event, a trip to Boondocks, into a giant education to-go kit. Blue Star Families and Military One Source joined us for this incredible event with more than 30 stations to choose from.

The team is now working on winter holiday to-go kits and a virtual Zoom with Santa, along with a several projects planned for next year. We will always make sure our EFMP families are taken care of, no matter the obstacles or circumstances.

The pandemic has been arduous and stressful, but our families, and the Hill AFB helping agencies serving them, have shown a resourcefulness that will serve to improve the effectiveness of our programs and services moving forward. Our capabilities have been forever improved. Many of the practices we’ve put in place will be continued even when life goes back to normal. Families Air Force wide will benefit for years to come.

For more information on the EFMP, call the Airman and Family Readiness Center at 801-777-4681.

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