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JUNE 2016


Supporting FS Families with Special Needs




idding is never easy. But for

the Foreign Service families of

some 1,400 children with special

education needs, there are extra


Parents know their children and

what their needs are best, so every time

bidding season begins, a new round of

scouring international school and State

Department websites, contacting posts

and exchanging emails with the Bureau

of Medical Services (MED) and other

department offices begins.

All of this takes place in an effort to

find a post that can meet the educational

and therapy needs of a child while also,

hopefully, meeting career assignment

aspirations. It requires patience, persis-

tence and, in many cases, just plain luck.

In theory all the elements exist to facili-

tate overseas assignments when children

with special needs are part of the equation,

including necessary financial support. In

the United States, children with learning

disabilities receive, by law, educational and

therapeutic support in accordance with

the Individuals with Disabilities Education

Improvement Act (known as IDEIA).

When posted overseas, the State

Department provides a larger education

allowance (the Special Needs Education

Allowance, or SNEA) to families with

Maureen Danzot is a financial management officer who joined the Foreign Service in 2001. She

has served in Bahrain, Botswana and South Africa, as well as inWashington, D.C. She and her

tandem husband, Miguel, have two daughters.

Mark Evans is a political officer who joined the Foreign Service in 1995. He is currently posted in

Stockholm, having served previously in Beijing, Tokyo, Baghdad, Oslo andWashington, D.C. His

wife Kristen is a speech and language pathologist, and they have four sons.


children who would receive special needs

support, by law, in the United States. The

allowance is intended for use in obtaining

the same type of assistance and support

that would otherwise be required under

IDEIA from a U.S. public school district.

Various offices in the State Department

assist parents of children with special

needs to obtain services for their child’s

education commensurate with the

requirements of IDEIA.

In the best-case scenario, both required

funding and needed services are avail-

able, and an overseas assignment comes

together seamlessly, with a willing over-

seas school and qualified therapists meet-

ing a child’s needs. At best this occurs in

ways that check the boxes necessary to get

clearance for the assignment and authori-

zation from State for financial support to

cover associated expenses.

More often than not, however, there are

delays, rejections by international schools

that only pay online lip service to support-

ing children with learning differences,

and bureaucratic tussles over regulatory

interpretation. Flexibility has been para-

mount inmaking it all work—on the part of

parents, relevant State Department offices

and overseas service providers.

Yet today, when the rate of diagnosis of

various types of special needs in American

children is rising dramatically, for some

unclear reason State Department autho-

rization for funding to support members

of the Foreign Service with special needs

children is becoming increasingly difficult

to access.

Since each application for support

via SNEA is handled individually by the

employee and department authorizers,

it is impossible to quantify the trend for

successful and unsuccessful applications.

However, based on the growing chorus

of frustrations being shared within the

community of Foreign Service parents of

children with special needs, it is clear that

new bureaucratic barriers have arisen.

At its worst, the result is to seriously

limit overseas assignment opportunities

for a broad cross-section of the Foreign

Service, inmany cases preventing officers

or specialists with advantageous skill and

knowledge sets from serving in loca-

tions that would directly benefit the State

Department and promote the foreign

policy interests of the United States.

Such policies may ultimately drive

employees to leave the Service because

they are unable to reconcile career inter-

ests with the needs of their children. Or

they may prevent promising candidates

with valuable skills from entering the

Foreign Service in the first place, due to

concerns about the ability tomeet a child’s

individual needs.

SNEA 101

Learning differences don’t discrimi-

nate; they affect families of all backgrounds

equally. To both support Foreign Service