Family Service Centers  



The Family Service Center is a community-based facility that provides educational and support programs primarily for adults and families. The support programs offered will vary widely and can include the following:

  • Counseling: Counseling services may include clinical mental heath counseling, marriage or other family counseling, and abuse counseling.

  • Employment support: These services include resume preparation assistance, job search assistance, and interviewing techniques.

  • Financial management: These services include training and counseling for basic personal and family financial management such as balancing a checkbook, managing credit, applying for loans, etc.

  • Community orientation: These services provide information on local community services and recreational opportunities.

Some facilities may include aid- or charity-based services such as a food bank or financial aid. Military Family Service Centers support the programs required by the Department of Defense (DoD) Instruction 1342.22 Family Centers and must meet specific requirements defined in UFC 4-730-01 Family Service Centers and supporting documents.

Most of the facility's programs can be accommodated through three functional space types: classroom and training space, resource rooms (library/computer labs), and program or counseling offices. Additional functional areas include administrative spaces, dedicated storage spaces, and building support spaces.

Building Attributes

A. Space Types and Building Organization

A Family Service Center must accommodate both public spaces and very private spaces. This drives the facility layout and functional space adjacencies.

Sample adjacency diagram for a family service center

Sample adjacency diagram for a family service center.
Developed by DMJM Design, Arlington, VA.

Public spaces are areas that customers need ready access to and may enter unattended by staff. They should typically be located near the main entrance and include the following:

  • Lobby/waiting area
  • Classroom(s)
  • Resource room and
  • Public toilets

Semipublic spaces are areas that customers need access to but will usually only enter accompanied by a staff member. They include the following:

  • Program offices for programs such as community orientation or employment support that do not require a high degree of privacy and

  • Material aid such as a food bank or lending locker

Private spaces are areas that customers will not normally enter or areas that a customer will only enter with a staff member and require a high degree of privacy. They include the following:

  • Clinical counseling offices
  • Group therapy rooms
  • Program offices that require a high degree of privacy such as financial management
  • Staff administrative offices and work areas and
  • Building support spaces such as mechanical and electrical rooms

Design the facility such that the entrances to the public spaces are clearly visible from the main entrance. The resource room shares many characteristics with a library. It should be designed to accommodate multiple computers with Internet access and the storage and easy retrieval of printed reference material. The resource room should also allow for display of informational brochures, such as for community resources and recreational activities.

Staffed program offices are directly adjacent to the resource room so customers using the resources can easily ask questions and interface with staff. Likewise, staff members that are meeting with customers in their offices can easily take the customer into the resource room and set them up for independent research.

The classrooms are configured like typical training facility rooms and should be designed for flexibility of use. Since prime class time is limited to the early evening hours after work, a flexible design will provide facility managers with more options for running multiple classes. If budget allows, consider providing a teaching kitchen as part of or in addition to the classrooms.

The private spaces should not be located in high traffic areas. The counseling spaces are similar to psychiatric facility spaces and should feel safe, confidential, and non-threatening. A beneficial additional space adjacent to counseling offices or group therapy rooms is a waiting and/or decompression room. This room provides a private space for a distraught customer waiting to see a counselor or for a customer to compose him or herself after an emotionally difficult session prior to reentering the public spaces.

B. Design Considerations

Key design goals and considerations for Family Service Centers include the following:

Non-threatening Environment

In order for customers to feel comfortable using the services of a Family Service Center, they must not feel intimidated. They also must feel that the information they share and the emotions they express will remain confidential. Therefore, the following design elements are critical:

  • Physically separate private spaces from public spaces.
  • Provide acoustical privacy. Counseling and therapy spaces should use full-height partitions that extend to the underside of the structure and include materials that reduce sound transmission.
  • Do not place a desk or other furniture between the customer and the staff member (see figure below).
  • Provide a sense of welcome and arrival at the entrance, lobby, and control desk.
  • In the counseling and therapy spaces, use indirect lighting as main ambient lighting, and
  • Avoid "institutional" finishes, textures, and colors.
Sample private counseling office

Sample private counseling office.
Developed by DMJM Design, Arlington, VA.

Include Appropriate Space for Staff

Provide space to assist staff in developing and maintaining the center's programs and business. Outside of normal day-to-day operations, staff must be able to accomplish the following:

  • Think and plan
  • Meet and communicate
  • Host visitors and
  • Store equipment and records. Also review the psychiatric facility page for more information on HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations that address security and privacy of protected health information.

Also see the office space type for more information on staff space.

Maintain a Safe and Healthy Environment

Design the facility to accommodate equipment and operational strategies to both protect staff and customers and maintain a healthy environment. Consider the following critical elements:

  • Prevent unauthorized access by potentially dangerous personnel
  • Provide an internal, silent duress alarm system with activation points at the reception desk and the counseling and therapy areas and the alarm signal at the management areas. This alarm system allows a counselor or staff member to signal for help.
  • Provide easily-cleaned finishes
  • Use nontoxic building materials and improved maintenance practices
  • Ensure good indoor air quality and ample natural light


As with any program-based facility, flexibility is critical since programs will change as the community served evolves and grows:

  • Provide movable partitions and numerous data ports and electrical outlets in the classrooms
  • Orient as many program offices as possible around the resource room
  • Design for the changing nature of work

Emerging Issues

One approach to the management of family service centers encourages staff to spend more time out in the community versus in the facility. If this operational approach is followed, it requires a smaller but more flexible facility design. Staff will normally work in an open office setting rather than private offices since they will spend more time outside of the facility. Staff-customer meetings will be performed in an expanded resource room or in dedicated interview rooms that can be reserved when a private meeting is necessary.

Relevant Codes and Standards

Standard federal and state building codes apply, as appropriate. Also review the codes and standards for the aforementioned related building types: psychiatric facilities, libraries, and training facilities.

Department of Defense

Building Types: