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Special Family Needs/Family Stress


The course of family life is not always smooth. With challenges come the potential for difficulties as well as opportunities. Family stress can be defined as an imbalance between demands on the family and the family's ability to meet those demands. Examples of stressors include hardships such as a chronically ill child or a normal change in a family member's development, such as a family member becoming a teen. How the family perceives the stressor will have a great effect on its impact. This perception reflects the family values and its previous experience in dealing with change and meeting crises. Lack of personal time may be a major concern of family members caring for someone with a chronic illness. Hospitalization of a child is stressful for a family. Family concerns may also exacerbate work-related stress. Families who do a good job of managing stress have the following characteristics:

special needs brothers
  • They do things as a family and work hard at keeping the family functioning.
  • They build esteem in each other and themselves and show appreciation for each other.
  • They utilize social support networks within the community.
  • They enjoy the lifestyle they have chosen.
  • They develop and use a range of tension-reducing tactics, including exercise, relaxation, a positive outlook, and staying involved in special activities.


The Navy's Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) is designed to assist sailors by addressing the special needs of their exceptional family members (EFM) during the assignment process. Special needs include any special medical, dental, mental health, developmental or educational requirement, wheelchair accessibility, adaptive equipment or assistive technology devices and services.

In the Navy EFM program, the primary task is the Personnel Function. The Navy EFMP Coordinators are located at the medical treatment facility not at the Fleet and Family Support Centers (all Fleet and Family Support Centers have an EFMP liaison). The Navy EFMP Coordinators serve both Personnel and Family Support functions, but with an emphasis on the Personnel function.


There are a number of ways that leaders can be supportive of families with special needs:

  • Understand the impact that illness or a chronic condition has on a family.
  • Encourage open communication with the sailor so he/she feels comfortable discussing the family situation.
  • Periodically ask the active duty family member how the child is doing.
  • Periodically inquire if medical and community support needs are being met.
  • Allow adequate time for medical appointments and other obligations.
  • Ensure dependent care plans Exceptional Family Member Program files are updated as the family member’s condition changes.
  • If possible and when appropriate, link the person with someone who has experienced the same circumstances.
  • Be familiar with community resources, state, and federal departments of health, and other organizations that might be of assistance to the family.


A family's resources for meeting the demands of a stressor will play a large role in how well they handle stress. Resources include the family's ability to solve problems, the goals of the family, relatives and friends, and services in the community. The Navy EFMP Coordinators are located at the MTF. The Navy EMFP Coordinators serve both personnel and family support functions, with an emphasis upon the personnel function.

  • SECNAV 1754.5A, 8 May 2002, Exceptional Family Member Program
  • OPNAV 1754.2B, 16 June 2003, Exceptional Family Member Program
  • BUMEDINST 1300.2 CHANGE 1, 17 Feb 2000, Medical, Dental, and Educational Suitability Screening and Exceptional Family Member Program Enrollment with Change Transmittal 1, 8 Aug 2000.
  • Children with Special Needs Navy Parent Handbook


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