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Christine Carruthers, Fort Sill Exceptional Family Member Program manager, works with a youngster during a storytime activity in January at the Graham Resiliency Training Center. In July, the Army's EFMP respite care program began standardizing and streamlining as part of a strategic action plan to improve services and support for families with special needs.

FORT SILL, Okla. -- The Smith family (an alias) of Fort Sill has four children who are enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program. Everyday, the parents must attend to the different needs of each child, some of which are severe chronic medical conditions, as well as prepare them for regular things like school. With so much time and energy expended on the children's care, sometimes the caregiver needs a break.

The Army Community Service EFPM respite care program gives these caregivers time to tend to their own needs a few hours each week, so that they can continue to support and care for their special needs family members. Respite care benefits usually come in the form of a provider coming into the home of the family.

In July, the Army's EFMP respite care program began standardizing and streamlining as part of an action plan to improve services and support for families with special needs.

"(Lieutenant) General (Rick) Lynch (Installation Management Command commander) thinks that respite care is very important even in this new fiscal reality, and the Army will continue to provide the service," said Fort Sill EFMP Manager Christine Carruthers.

The new guidelines involve a standardized paperwork application process, a matrix or conversational questionnaire with applicants, as well as establishment of a four-member respite care panel making their recommendations to the garrison commander, who is the approving authority for respite care.

"The changes are to make sure that we're targeting the families with the greatest need, and that we are evaluating families the same across installations," Carruthers said. "However many hours they qualify for at Fort Sill, they would also get at Fort Hood or Fort Lewis."

EFPM Respite Care Operation Order No. 11-494, signed by Lynch, states that respite care will neither discontinue nor will hours be reduced for anyone currently receiving services.

Fort Sill has 27 families in its respite care program, Carruthers said. Caregivers can receive up to 40 hours per month of respite care per each exceptional family member who is undergoing treatment for a severe chronic medical condition that persists for more than six months, or who has significant medical needs that require extensive coordination of care by health professionals, according to OPORD 11-494.

During the free time that respite care provides, parents can do anything they want except work at a job, Carruthers said.

"It's for them to have a break," she said. "They can get their hair done or have their nails done."

The Fort Sill respite care panel consists of the EFMP manager, a member of Army Community Service, a member of Child and Youth Services and a licensed marriage and family therapist, Carruthers said.

"We have a variety of agencies and experiences that will help us assess the families with the greatest need," she said.

Before there was a panel, an EFMP manager would review the applications and make the determination if a a caregiver qualified for respite care, Carruthers said.

Another change with the Fort Sill program now requires that families give their respite care provider medical power of attorney, Carruthers said. That's in case an exceptional family member who is in the care of a respite care provider needs medical attention immediately.

Page last updated Fri September 2nd, 2011 at 11:31