CFLE in Context: Military Family Service Centers

by Jon-Eric Garcia, M.A., CFLE
Content Area
Families and Individuals in Societal Contexts
Family Resource Management

Some of the most well-suited and rewarding employment opportunities for CFLEs are those available at military family service centers. CFLEs unfamiliar with the military may not have considered the possibility of working in one of these centers. This article is intended to provide an overview of the programs and services offered in these centers, the employment opportunities for CFLEs, and tips on how to apply for these positions.

Military families face all the same challenges as non-military families, but because of frequent relocation, deployments, and other factors related to military service, these issues can be more frequent and sometimes exacerbated. They also face some unique challenges, and having a family service delivery system designed to address these challenges is essetial. In an effort to mitigate these factors, and maintain the highest possible level of mission readiness, all of the uniformed services provide a wide range of support programs for their members and families.

The family service centers for each service have somewhat different names, but the same basic programs are generally supported. The Navy has Fleet and Family Support Centers. The Marine Corps has Marine Corps Community Service Centers. The Air Force has Airman and Family Readiness Centers. The Army has Army Community Service Centers. The Coast Guard has Work-Life Field Offices. The National Guard has Family Assistance Centers. The entire range of CFLE practice applies directly to the services provided at these centers. Whether you are a CFLE just out of college with an undergraduate degree, or an experienced CFLE with an advanced degree and perhaps a clinical license, these centers can present a full range of employment opportunities to fit your level of experience, training, and education.

While the individual program names can vary to some degree, the general programs provided through these centers are:

  • Transition Assistance Programs

These programs provide information and assistance to all separating and retiring members to help them make an effective transition from military to civilian life. An integral aspect of this goal is to ensure that members leaving the service are made aware of, and have access to, the numerous programs and services available to assist them in the transition process. Services may include profession guidance and counseling, job search training and assistance, resume writing and interview skills workshops, hosting of job fairs, publications, information resources, automated resources, and more.

  • Relocation Assistance Programs

These programs assist members and families transferring to new duty stations become familiar with their new communities and the resources available. Services generally include pre-departure assistance, destination area information, preparation assistance, and relocation counseling by trained counselors. Relocation counseling will cover transfer circumstances and needs, to include the assignment of a sponsor at the new location, moving costs and entitlements, housing, child care, local medical and school-related information, spouse employment assistance, cultural and community orientation, relocation stress management, and other such services.

  • Financial Education & Counseling Programs

These programs help military personnel and family members develop sound financial skills. The programs focus on financial education, training, and counseling, to promote sound personal financial management and freedom of choice for members and their families. Counseling areas and training/education include topics such as the legal, moral and ethical aspects of personal financial management, military pay and entitlements, budgeting and establishing personal spending plans, banking and financial management services, the proper use of credit, consumer awareness, car buying, insurance, investments and retirement planning, military retirement programs, compound interest, government travel card use, deployment financial planning, and legal documents.

  • New Parent Support Programs

These programs are designed to enhance parent and infant attachment, increase knowledge of child development, and provide connections to the support services that allow parents to become nurturing and capable caregivers. Staff members provide in-home parenting education, support, and resource linkage.

  • Exceptional Family Member Programs /Special Needs Programs

These programs are designed to assist members by addressing the special needs of their exceptional family members 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. The goal is to ensure the special needs can be met at a new assignment location. Enrollment information enables the services to proactively consider a family member's special need requirements during the assignment process and to pinpoint the assignment to a location with appropriate resources that address the special needs. Successful implementation requires up-to-date enrollment information and extensive coordination among the personnel, medical, and educational communities.

  • Family Advocacy Programs

These programs identify, treat, and monitor personnel engaging in spouse or child abuse/neglect (physical or psychological), and sexual abuse. Program elements generally include prevention and education, safety measures, offender accountability, rehabilitation and counseling, victim advocacy, and community accountability and responsibility.

  • Individual & Family Counseling Programs

These programs for adults may be offered in the in the form of individual, marital, and family counseling. Group counseling for adults may also be offered for issues such as deployment adjustment, parenting, marital and family stress, trauma support, and other life adjustment issues. Individual and group counseling may also be provided for children and youth.

  • Employee Assistance Programs

Employee assistance programs provide confidential professional assessment and short term counseling and referral services to help employees with their personal, job, or family problems. Programs may also provide financial, legal, and supervisory consultations. While most EAP-related services are contracted out to third party vendors, and accessed via toll-free numbers, some center staffs may have EAP representatives or program coordinators on site.

  • Sexual Assault Prevention and response Programs

These programs establish and ensure standardized procedures for responding to sexual assault victims, to include reporting requirements, initiation and continuity of care. Information and advocacy services are provided to promote proper medical support, referrals to local crisis centers, training for victim advocates, annual prevention training for all members, and focused training for unit commanders.

  • Deployment Readiness Programs

Programs provide training and support to assist leadership, civilians, service members, and families to successfully manage the challenges of all phases of mobilization and deployment. Offerings may include trainings, workshops, and briefings, covering issues such as pre-deployment, deployment, reunion & reintegration. Retreats for individuals, families, and units may also be offered.

  • Life Skills Programs

Life skills programs offer activities designed to promote family strength and well being. Classes and workshops may be offered for issues such as stress management, relationship enhancement, communication, parenting, career development, etc.

  • Health and Wellness Promotion Programs

Health and wellness promotion programs are designed to strengthen and enhance mission performance by providing policies, promoting positive health habits, these program help to ensure that members and their families and have a variety of tools available to maintain fitness and wellness. Service may include clinical screenings, dietary assistance, physical training assistance, tobacco cessation programs, and weight loss assistance.

The various positions within these programs and centers will have a variety of job titles. Some of the more common are:

  • Work and Family Life Consultant
  • Work Life Specialist or Work Life Consultant
  • Social Science Program Specialist
  • Family Advocacy Program Specialist
  • Outreach Coordinator
  • Employment Readiness Program Manager
  • Soldier and Family Assistance Center Coordinator
  • Information, Referral, and Follow-up Program Manager
  • Financial Readiness Specialist
  • Administrative Support Assistant
  • Educational Technician
  • Exceptional Family Member Program Coordinator
  • Family Readiness Programs Assistant
  • Transition Assistance Program Manager
  • Relocation Program Manager
  • Instructor or Education Technician
  • Victim Advocate Coordinator
  • Victim Advocate
  • Victim and Witness Assistance Specialist
  • Suicide Prevention Program Manager
  • Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program Manager
  • Social Worker
  • Spouse Employment Partnership Manager
  • Health Promotion Specialist
  • Children and Youth Program Specialist

Positions within these family centers will range from entry level all the way up to supervisory and managerial positions. Some will require 4-year degrees, and some will require graduate degrees, specific training/certification, and/or clinical licensure. Most federal positions in these centers will fall into the “GS” category of federal pay classification. Most of the positions will be at the GS-5 through GS-11 grade levels. Highly specialized, supervisory, or managerial positions may be the GS-9 through GS-14 levels. Accordingly, salaries may range from $27,000 to over $110,000. These base salaries may also be adjusted upward by up to 35% based on the costs of living for specific localities. Federal position also comes with a wide range of benefits. You can find more information about federal pay and benefits at the website. For contractor- staffed positions, pay and benefits can vary considerably based on many factors. You will have to consult each specific contractor regarding their pay and benefits for a particular position.

For the CFLE considering employment at a military family service center, there are several ways to get started. If you have little or no familiarity with the military—things such as where the installations are located, military rank structure, organizational hierarchies, military customs and courtesies, military terminology, etc., you should probably do some research in these areas before applying. This will not only help you better understand the organization and the programs, but help you in the interview process, and in being more effective when you get hired to work in a center. Most hiring agencies, whether federal agencies or contractors, will provide all new hires with some form of indoctrination, but the more knowledge you have going in, the better.

In performing your research, job searches, and also in applying for positions, you will definitely need to use the internet. Each of the military service branches, and each specific military installation, will generally have a website with links to their family service program or center. Here you will find information on the various programs, and perhaps also some contact information. Once you have some contact information, you might want to call—or better yet, if there is a military installation near you, arranges to visit one of these centers, talk to the employees there, and get a tour through the center. You can ask the people there about each position, and whether it is filled by a federal employee or a contractor employee. Some centers have a mix of both. One thing you will need to remember is that the recruitment and hiring will generally not be done by the center staff or management. These functions are almost always handled by a regional or national human resources office of the agency, or by the human resources office of the contractor if it is a contracted position. For actual vacancy announcements and applications, you will generally need to apply through either the OPM website or the contractor’s HR website or office. There can be significant differences between federal positions and contractor-staffed positions with regard to the application process, qualification requirements, pay, benefits, and work rules. These differences may influence your decisions about which jobs to apply for. While federal positions are generally considered more sought after, many people prefer working in contractor positions, for a variety of reasons.

If you are interested in applying for a contractor-staffed position at one of these centers, you will need to know the name of the company that holds the contract for staffing the center where you want to work. You can ask the employees at the center, and they should be glad to tell you, and perhaps even supply you with contact information for the company’s HR department and/or job application website. Applying for these positions is generally the same as applying for any job in the private sector. Working for a contractor is in itself an opportunity, but also a great way to gain some of the work experience you may need to qualify for a similar or related federal job position. Performing well in a contracted position will definitely make you more competitive when competing for a federal position.

For federal positions, the usual way to begin searching for and applying for positions is through the official Office of Personnel Management (OPM) job application website ( This is where most all federal jobs are advertised. For each position, a specific job vacancy announcement is generated. You can do job vacancy searches by job title, key words, job series, agency, pay range, and geographical location. If you are willing to relocate, your opportunities and chances of landing a job will increase.

One of the benefits of working for the military in any capacity are the opportunities presented to live and work abroad. In addition to military bases in the continental United States, there are bases with family service centers located in Alaska, Hawaii, England, Germany, Italy, Greece, Spain, Japan, Korea, Guam, and other countries. Taking a job abroad or in a remote location like Alaska can be a great way to get started. After serving a couple of years at one of these locations, you will almost certainly have opportunities to transfer to other locations abroad, or back to a position in the continental U.S. Another key element of federal employment is career tenure. You accrue career tenure gradually over your first 3 years of federal service. Generally speaking, after 3 years of successful federal service, you are considered a “permanent” employee, and are positioned to apply for vacancy announcements which require this status. More information on career tenure can be found at the OPM website (

The job search and application processes can be somewhat daunting to the first timer. There are some tricks to doing it effectively and having some knowledge of the processes and terminology, or someone well-versed in these to assist you, may save you a lot of time and effort. There are some books and federal employment workshops available which can be helpful. There is a “First Time Visitors” link on the website which can help you get started.

Some key things you will need to pay attention to with regard to any federal job announcement, are the specific requirements of education, experience, licensure, citizenship status, veteran status, etc. Some announcements are open to all U.S citizens, while others are restricted to what are called “status candidates,” which can limit applications to current federal employees, employees of that specific agency, veterans, spouses of handicapped veterans, the handicapped, and a variety of other factors. Some announcement will restrict applications to persons residing within a specific geographical area. Some jobs are announced via separate announcements for open and status candidates, so you may be able to apply via one or the other announcement, or both.

One of the things you will want to do is create a personal account on the website, where you can build and store your resumes and additional supporting documents. Having one or more resumes on file in the system will save you time whenever you apply. You will probably also need to scan and upload your education transcripts and other supporting documents, so knowing how to do this will be important. Once you have uploaded them once, you can often re-use them for subsequent applications. As you get familiar with the processes and have completed a few applications, you will get the hang of it. Many agencies now use the OPM website to process their applications, but other agencies have their own application websites. So, while you will still use the OPM website to search the vacancy announcements, when you click on the “Apply” button of an announcement, you may be redirected to that agency’s own website to enter your application. If the website doesn’t populate the application questionnaire with information from the OPM website, you may have to re-enter your entire resume. Having a copy of your resume stored on your computer so you can “cut and paste” as needed is a great time saver.

Working at a military family service center is a great way to apply your CFLE education and experience, support the efforts of our military services, and help military members and their families live happier lives. The opportunities are many, and they can also lead to other opportunities serving families within other federal agencies, and also with contractors providing these services for the government. Opportunities are there for the CFLE at any stage of his or her career, and are certainly worth considering as you formulate your career path.

Where to Get More Information

OPM Job Application Website

Important Information on How to Apply

General Information About Federal Employment

Navy Fleet and Family Support Program (FFSP)

Army Community Services (ACS)

Each installation has its own ACS website. Do an internet search that includes “ACS” and the name of the installation.

Air Force Airman and Family Readiness

Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS)

Coast Guard Work-Life

Jon-Eric Garcia, M.A., CFLE, is a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. He has worked within military family service programs for the past 12 years, in positions with Marine Corps Community Services, Navy Fleet and Family Support, and Coast Guard Work Life programs. He resides in Miami, Florida, where he currently serves as an Employee Assistance Program Coordinator for the U.S. Coast Guard.