The Foreign Service Journal, December 2023

42 DECEMBER 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL 2023 AFSA AWARD WINNERS FOCUS AFSA AWARDS: HONORING EXCELLENCE AND CONSTRUCTIVE DISSENT Award winner profiles compiled by Associate Editor Donna Scaramastra Gorman. All images are courtesy of the award winners, unless otherwise specified. Christian A. Herter Award for Constructive Dissent by a Senior Foreign Service Officer Mark Evans Changing the Game for Parents of Children with Disabilities For FSO Mark Evans, receiving an AFSA award for constructive dissent represents a somewhat personal victory. Evans and his wife, Kristen, have four sons, two of whom have disabilities. Early in his career, he says, the department was “empathetic and understanding” of the challenges faced by parents like him. But in 2014, he noticed attitudes shifting dramatically. Anticipating a move to Stockholm for an assignment and figuring out how to meet the needs of their youngest son, who has Down syndrome, Evans “started hearing from other parents – CONSTRUCTIVE DISSENT – in the Foreign Service community that they, too, were running into increasing challenges in accessing support and that those charged with administering the Special Needs Education Allowance (SNEA) were no longer working with parents in a supportive, empathetic manner.” Evans was working to put in place the services his son would need in Stockholm to move successfully, and, he says, when he asked for help, some officials in the Bureau of Medical Services (MED) even “went so far as to insinuate that we were being neglectful parents and were just looking for a way to ‘get to Stockholm’.” Because of this experience, and in response to a groundswell of complaints from other FS parents, in 2015 Evans created an official employee organization at the State Department: Foreign Service Families with Disabilities Alliance (FSFDA). Now 500 members strong, FSFDA has two goals: to provide a venue for Foreign Service parents of children with disabilities to support each other, and to enable the affected community to advocate for needed reforms with a common voice. Evans has served as FSFDA board chair since its inception, leading efforts to change State Department approaches to supporting Foreign Service dependents with disabilities. As a result, numerous significant and positive changes have been made, both in the department’s overall attitude to these issues and in the associated regulations. As FSFDA board chair, Evans engaged directly with department leadership to push for reforms in the administration of Mark Evans.