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Support For Families and Employees Before, During, and After an Unaccompanied Tour


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Supporting Employees and Family Members Before, During, and After and Unaccompanied Tour

The Department currently provides a number of services for employees preparing for, serving, or returning from an assignment to an unaccompanied post. To help support the growing number of employees and families affected by unaccompanied tours (UT), the Family Liaison Office (FLO) has established an Unaccompanied Tour Support Program staffed by a support officer and program assistant. We encourage all employees to share this message with their family, which outlines support services currently available. Employees and family members can contact us through FLOaskUT@state.gov to take full advantage of these services.

FLO provides support to both employees and family members (broadly defined to include: spouses, partners, parents, siblings, or children of all ages) on unaccompanied tours. This message categorizes the support available in terms of preparing for an unaccompanied tour, serving in and returning from an unaccompanied tour, children's support, and other FLO resources and a summary of online resources.

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Preparing for an Unaccompanied Tour
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FLO's Unaccompanied Tour Support Officer will answer questions, clarify options, and offer information and guidance for employees and family members considering an assignment to any of the fully or partially unaccompanied posts. Please contact FLOaskUT@state.gov if you are considering an unaccompanied tour and want information on how to manage the practical and emotional issues involved.

The FLO publication, "A Decision Tree: To Help You Decide Where to Live during an Unaccompanied Tour," can assist employees in evaluating the pros and cons of decisions related to how the assignment is structured (TDY or PSC) and where the family will live during an unaccompanied tour. This document can be found at: http://www.state.gov/m/dghr/flo/c23112.htm.

FLO's internet and intranet websites have articles and links on many topics related to UTs. On the internet, go to www.state.gov/m/dghr/flo/c14521.htm for information on upcoming UT programs and events, resources to get you through a UT, support for families with children, regulations and allowances, and first-hand accounts from UT "alumni." FLO's intranet site "Unaccompanied Tours" (http://hrweb.hr.state.gov/prd/hrweb/flo/index.cfm ) contains information on contingency planning (insurance, wills, benefits), support for employees and family members, and links to Service Recognition Packages, Assignment~Iraq, and Assignment~Afghanistan., the Office of Casualty Assistance, IQ:Information Quest, and MHN support packages. Other topics can be found under "Resources" on the website.

"Managing your Unaccompanied Tour Successfully," a DVD and companion CD, covers pre-departure planning, communication, contingency planning, Department support services, mental health issues, family member employment, and family reunification. Copies of the DVD have been sent to each CLO at post and are available at the Overseas Briefing Center at FSI, in FLO, or by request through FLOaskUT@state.gov.

FSI Training: The FLO UT Support Officer briefs all employees going to Iraq during FSI's course FT610 - "FACT Area Studies/Language Overview - Iraq and the RS415 - Afghanistan Familiarization Area Studies. During the briefing, the UT Support Officer informs on FLO resources, stresses the need for open and frequent communication, discusses how to maintain bonds with children and other family members, and highlights some of the challenges associated with reunion after the separation.

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B. Serving In, or Returning From, an Unaccompanied Tour
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MED Support: FLO works closely with the Office of Medical Services (MED) to provide mental health support to UT employees and families. MED will provide details in a separate ALDAC, but the Deployment Stress Management Program (DSMP) was established to educate, prevent, screen, diagnose, and treat PTSD. The DSMP's short term treatment program should suffice for most with PTSD. However, for those requiring long term treatment, MED will arrange referrals and assist with Workmen's Compensation Program along with HR.

MED Mental Health Services (MHS) is the first line mental health counseling resource for UT employees and families. The services of the Regional Medical Officer/Psychiatrists (RMO/Ps) are available at all unaccompanied posts, and there are socials workers and/or psychologists posted in Baghdad and Kabul. The Employee Consultative Services (ECS) in MED provides short term counseling for both employees and families, and provide referral for those requiring longer term treatment. Any serious problems identified by the contracted MHN below will be referred to ECS for further evaluation and referral.

Contracted Counseling and Support: FLO has a contract with MHN, a comprehensive mental and behavioral health services company with extensive experience with Department of Defense employees, to provide confidential web-based, telephonic, and in-person resources to employees and family members throughout an unaccompanied tour. The MHN web portal - available in English and Spanish – contains articles and links to information on mental health, physical health and fitness, and work life issues. There are interactive self-assessments, self-help tools, and exercises to assist in managing stress, depression, insomnia, and other common reactions employees and family members have experienced in regards to an unaccompanied tour. In addition, the toll free telephonic "hotline" service allows DOS and USAID family members to talk to a trained, experienced counselor at any time of day or night, in up to 167 languages, for immediate assessment and referral if appropriate. FLO has expanded this contract to include person to person counseling, up to three sessions per person per presenting problem, for DOS EFMs and MOHs in the United States. Please contact FLOaskUT@state.gov for information on how to access these supplemental support services or go to http://members.mhn.com/ and use 'unaccompaniedtour' (one word, lowercase) as the company code. MHN also provides tailored training and orientation sessions to FLO UT clients. Previous sessions include Parenting in a Time of Crisis, Fighting Fair, and Coping with the Stress of Change.

FLO Counseling and Support: The FLO Unaccompanied Tour Support Officer provides ongoing and confidential outreach, emotional support, and administrative guidance to employees and family members, through emails, phone calls, and in-person contact. FLO fields questions on a broad array of topics that range from "What Department allowances am I eligible for?" to "How do I find out if my SMA application has been processed?" Many questions are specific to an individual situation: "What if my flight home is delayed and we do not have the mandatory 72 hours from the time of getting our marriage license to when we are due in church?" Some want a safe place to "vent" and express their distress. Others want information on how to deal with children or anxious in-laws. The FLO UT Support Officer handles all of these questions in confidence and will not reveal names without permission.

Monthly FLO/MHN e-newsletters and broadcast messages are sent to employees and family members throughout the assignment. FLO provides a monthly column answering questions from employees and family members and ensures that news of policy changes, upcoming FLO events, and other items are passed along to employees and family members in a timely manner.

DC-based support: FLO holds gatherings in the Washington DC area including an annual Pizza Party (in partnership with the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) and Foreign Service Youth Foundation (FSYF).

Virtual support: Family members of employees from any USG agency or department serving a separated tour are eligible to join HomeFrontUS, a closed Yahoo! group for persons in similar situations. Several 'alumni' have remained active and are willing to share their experiences with those facing problems or posting questions. To subscribe, email HomefrontUS-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Overseas support: The UT Support Officer will soon visit Baghdad, Kabul, and neighboring accompanied posts to meet with employees and family members. She will also be in Houston for a conference in March and will host a gathering for families in the area.

CLO Overseas support: Community Liaison Office (CLO) Coordinators provide support at post as follows: At present, CLOs are providing services and support at eleven unaccompanied posts. Four other CLO positions are not currently filled and FLO is urging the remaining seven UT posts to establish a CLO position. Resources for assisting UT families are available to CLOs from the CLO Program Officer in FLO and on FLO's Intranet site.

CLO Coordinators at post are asked to provide support to families considering an unaccompanied tour and facilitate participation in worldwide conference calls, web casts and other events for the UT 'virtual' community.

CLO Coordinators are encouraged to be aware of employees leaving to or transferring from unaccompanied posts and to reach out to them and their families. An increasing number of employees assigned to Iraq and Afghanistan are opting for a 12-month TDY tour, allowing their families to remain at the previous post (approved on a case by case basis). CLOs are instrumental in offering support and information to these families. CLOs are also encouraged to reach out to families who elect to live on their own in a foreign location (usually if the spouse is originally from that country).

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Children's Support
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FLO coordinates a program that provides Certificates and Medals of Recognition to children of Foreign Affairs Agency (Department of State, Commerce, Agriculture, USAID, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors) employees assigned to unaccompanied posts to recognize the sacrifices the children have made while their parent has served a UT. These medals have been uniformly appreciated by the children and their families and recipients are invited to be recognized as part of the annual Foreign Service Youth Awards Ceremony in the summer. FLO is also happy to honor requests year round and encourages post participation to present the medals to the children, if requested by parents.

With a generous grant from the Cox Foundation, FLO developed age-appropriate handbooks for Foreign Affairs Agency children and parents that provide a wealth of activities and coping strategies to help each family member understand and document the year. The accompanying CD for the parent at post and the parent/guardian 'at home' are also included. The order form and content of the handbooks is available for download on the FLO intranet site: http://hrweb.hr.state.gov/prd/hrweb/flo/Unaccompanied_Tours/index.cfm under Support for Employees and Family Members. For further information on any of the above initiatives, please contact FLOaskUT@state.gov.

FLO is available to assist families in navigating the complex educational options for children and to provide information on allowances and benefits related to those options. For those families opting for boarding school, FLO offers consultation on appropriate placement. Long- term separation from parents, especially if coupled with high anxiety, culture shock, or re-entry problems, can have both immediate and delayed consequences for children. FLO's Education and Youth Officer offers guidance and referral on these topics. In addition, FLO will contact the Employee Consultation Services, MED, for assistance in the arrangement of assessments for a child with special educational difficulties and for their follow-up services.
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Other FLO Support
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FLO's Crisis Management and Support Officer supplies information, resources, and guidance on work/life issues such as eldercare, adoption, and separation/divorce.
Please contact FLOaskSupportServices@state.gov.

FLO's employment team provides family member employment assistance for family members before, during and after an unaccompanied post assignment. FLO also provides information on distance learning, career development, and functional training options to family members. Please contact FLOaskEmployment@state.gov.

FLO joins other offices in proposing and advocating for changes to policy, regulations, and allowances, etc., based on reports and feedback from employees and family members. As a result, qualified Eligible Family Members can now receive travel to their home leave address and then their ISMA location when the employee is transitioning from an accompanied post to an unaccompanied post.

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Online Resources Summary
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Below is a summary of all online resources to assist employees and their family members contemplating an unaccompanied tour:

Contact information: FLOaskUT@state.gov;
Internet: http://www.state.gov/m/dghr/flo/index.htm
Intranet:http://hrweb.hr.state.gov/prd/hrweb/flo/index.cfm
Upcoming Programs: www.state.gov/m/dghr/flo/c14521.htm
MHN counseling and support: http://members.mhn.com/
Subscription to "HomeFrontUS" Yahoo!Group Newsletter: HomefrontUS-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Download age appropriate handbooks for kids at: http://hrweb.hr.state.gov/prd/hrweb/flo/Unaccompanied_Tours/index.cfm. Family member employment assistance: FLOaskEmployment@state.gov



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