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Working Together for Families



An increased level of collaboration is often a specific requirement for groups and agencies involved in complementary grant program activities (Frey et al., 2006, pp. 383-384). This ensures that programs with a common funding source are as efficient and effective as possible in areas where their missions converge. In this report, we highlight collaborative activities among two types of programs funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)—state deaf-blind projects and parent centers.

What is collaboration? 

Collaboration has a variety of definitions but is generally viewed as "the cooperative way that two or more entities work together toward a shared goal" (Frey et al., 2006, p. 384). A variety of models have been proposed that show collaboration as a series of levels. The model used in this report, which has four levels—networking, cooperation, coordination, and collaboration—is based on a framework developed by Hogue (1993) and later adapted by Frey and colleagues (2006).  It has been adopted by other organizations that focus on early intervention and education issues (Resnick et al., 2015), including the National Center on Educational Outcomes (Meuller et al., 2014).

Although state deaf-blind projects and parent centers have very different work scopes and objectives, they share the goal of helping families partner effectively with early intervention and educational systems. This shared goal is so important that OSEP has encouraged state deaf-blind projects to collaborate with parent centers to “provide training and supports to families of children who are deaf-blind so they can successfully advocate on behalf of their children and help ensure that their children are better positioned for independent living” (Department of Education, 2013).

State Deaf-Blind Projects

In concert with NCDB, state deaf-blind projects provide technical assistance to help ensure that family members, early intervention providers, special and general education teachers, and related services personnel have access to the specialized training and tools needed to address the early intervention, educational, related services, and secondary transition needs of children who are deaf-blind.

Parent Centers

The mission of the parent centers is to serve families of any child with a disability who receives early intervention or special education services in their state. Their training and support for families is centered on helping families to become true partners with their child’s team to create a set of services to provide a child or youth with a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Parent centers are available in each state.

How was information for this report collected?

As state deaf-blind projects and parent centers carry out their collaborative work, NCDB is working with them to help them share their experiences.  With the assistance of a family engagement technical work group comprised of representatives from regional parent centers, state deaf-blind projects, the National Family Association for Deaf-Blind, CADRE, and the CHARGE Syndrome Foundation, NCDB disseminated a form that the state projects and parent centers could complete together to describe their current collaboration strategies. This form was disseminated in June 2015 and by the end of the summer NCDB had received 21 completed forms.

These forms were carefully reviewed to identify specific collaborative strategies and activities. The strategies and activities were then sorted into categories consistent with the collaboration literature as described above.

How can this information be used by state deaf-blind projects and parent centers?

Collaboration is at the heart of the work conducted by the deaf-blind technical assistance network. The purpose of using a levels-of-collaboration model to think about partnerships between state deaf-blind projects and parent centers is not to evaluate the level of their collaboration, but rather to conceptualize the types of activities in which states are engaged and provide ideas for ways they can use their combined knowledge, expertise, and resources to strengthen specific aspects of their services. The desired type and level of collaboration will depend on their program goals and characteristics of their states (Frey et al., 2006).

The ultimate purpose of this work is to create a system of collaboration between parent centers and state projects that can be sustained over time and promote a more equitable distribution of services to families across states.  We believe that one of the best ways to achieve these goals is for parent centers and state projects to share their resources, knowledge, and skills with each other.

What have we learned?

The clearest message gleaned from the collective input submitted by SDBP-parent center pairs is that there is no one prescribed method of collaboration that suits all states. While working toward higher levels of collaboration, it is important to keep in mind that different strategies work for different states depending on their characteristics and resources. The respondents reported a broad range of collaborative strategies and activities that take into consideration their states’ characteristics and their projects’ levels of resources. For examples of three states (Maryland, Montana, and West Virginia) see "State Stories."

We also learned that state deaf-blind projects and parent centers face a number of challenges to forming and maintaining collaborative relationships. Many relate to the fact that as grant-funded projects they are time-limited and have finite resources.

Challenges include:

  • Changes in the sponsoring agency at the time of new grant awards
  • New personnel, including administrators (requires starting over to build relationships)
  • Reallocation of personnel (e.g., the same staff are retained, but their hours are cut)
  • Changes in representation on advisory boards or other committees
  • Loss of, or decrease in, funding for either agency
  • Numerous competing demands on staff member time

These types of challenges impede collaborative initiatives, potentially causing delays in positive outcomes for families. States who have encountered these types of challenges have dealt with them in a variety of ways, including increasing communication and planning to accommodate new personnel and use of technology to cut costs associated with meetings and information dissemination.

We realize that there is not one way of doing things that works for everyone and that states have varying levels of resources to devote to this work. Hopefully, the information will provide a variety of practical strategies that meet different state needs and enable state deaf-blind project-parent center partnerships to evolve in ways that increase the quality and scope of their services to families.


Department of Education. (2013). Applications for new awards: Technical assistance and dissemination to improve services and results for children with disabilities--state technical assistance projects to improve services and results for children who are deaf-blind and national technical assistance and dissemination center for children who are deaf-blind. Federal Register, 78(126), 39260-39271.

Frey, B. B., Lohmeier, J. H., Lee, S. W., & Tollefson, N. (2006). Measuring collaboration among grant partners. American Journal of Evaluation, 27(3), 383-392.

Hogue, T. (1993). Community based collaboration: Community wellness multiplied. Bend, OR: Chandler Center for Community Leadership. 

Mueller, P., Lee, J., Merves, D., Christensen, L., & Shyyan, V. (2014, October). Evaluating outcomes of federal grantee collaborations. Panel presentation at the American Evaluation Association Conference, Denver, CO. 

Resnick, G., Broadstone, M., Rosenberg, H., & Kim, S. (2015). A national snapshot of state-level collaboration for early care and education. Waltham, MA: Education Development Center, Inc.