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Changing Systems: Moving Beyond Child-Specific Technical Assistance



“System” refers to a collection of agencies and individuals and the regulatory structure and processes that guide how they function. Examples include Part C, school-age special education, developmental disabilities services, and vocational rehabilitation services.

In this guide, “systems change" is a bit of a catch-all term for activities conducted by state deaf-blind projects that go beyond child-specific TA and are intended to address the needs of numerous children and families and create sustainable deaf-blind services. 

Systems-change activities can range from fairly simple (e.g., working on implementing an instructional practice in a school district) to quite complex (e.g., developing an intervener-training program). Examples of systemic needs identified in the 2017 National Deaf-Blind Needs Assessment include:

  • Insufficient connections among and lack of support for families
  • Limited funding and opportunities for professional development for a range of service providers
  • Lack of recognition and a limited supply of qualified interveners
  • Lack of a sustainable system of personnel preparation for teachers of the deaf-blind

Guide Organization

The recommendations and resources in this guide cover three main topics common to systems-change efforts:

  1. Exploration –  assessing needs, evaluating your project’s capacity, defining the problem, proposing solutions, and identifying outcomes
  2. Building partnerships – figuring out which entities to work with and establishing relationships
  3. Implementing appropriate strategies – TA activities to help you achieve your systems-change goals

The first two topics will be covered in documents tailored to specific initiatives—early identification, family engagement, interveners and qualified personnel, and transition. While there are similarities in how systems-change is approached in all of these, each has unique details about relevant systems, available resources, and potential partners.

The third topic is about implementation teams and strategies and is not initiative-specific. Activities in this section are aligned with activities listed in Measuring and Tracking the Systems Change Common Project Measure: Explanation and Checklist (must be logged in to the state deaf-blind project Basecamp group to access).