Self-Assessment Guide Stories: Tennessee's Experience
Tennessee Deaf-Blind Project
Why did your project decide to complete the Self-Assessment Guide?
In 2012, NCDB asked whether we would be willing to participate in a field test of the guide. We could not turn down an opportunity to go through the process of completing the guide and providing feedback on how to make it better.
What was the experience of completing the guide like for you?
We felt we already had a good handle on our early identification and referral efforts prior to participating in the field test. Going through the process and providing detailed feedback added an extra layer of work to our project activities. It took a lot of time and effort.
What did you focus on in your Action Plan?
Tennessee is divided into nine early intervention districts, the Tennessee Early Intervention System (TEIS). As we went through the guide, we realized that it was useful for us to look at our birth-to-three child count data from a regional perspective and identify areas where we were and were not getting referrals. In doing so, we realized that most of our referrals came from the EI district where we were located. We were not getting referrals from the state’s Western District. As a result, we designed our action plan to focus on replicating and broadening our successful local efforts statewide.
Building Rapport and Credibility
At the time we developed our action plan, there was a new TEIS executive director. This was a great time for us to talk with her about what we do and meet the Part C Coordinators. They were receptive and had many ideas about how we could work together.
These statewide and local opportunities allowed our staff and Part C providers across the state to get to know each other, put names to faces, and start a conversation about how to improve early identification and referral of children with deaf-blindness. These initial discussions led to an opening up of the lines communication between our project and the TEIS system.
Focusing on meeting the needs of Part C
The TEIS Director asked us to speak at their annual statewide early intervention conference. They also wanted us to collaborate with them to develop a training on severe and multiple disabilities for a birth-to-three service provider training statewide. This served as an opening to do more trainings. In addition to the statewide conference, we conducted two-day trainings in middle, East, and West Tennessee. We brought in experienced providers and parents to talk about early intervention and deaf-blindness.
We continue to collaborate with TEIS and frequently ask them how we can best support early intervention providers. I think these efforts have been instrumental in helping us get referrals.
Presenting to Part C Directors and Providers
We are still invited to the TEIS statewide conference each year and to the TEIS district administrators’ meeting in January. At the January meeting, we hand out census forms to each administrator. It is very helpful to have one-on-one time with them to go over the census forms and respond to any questions they have. In addition, because of our encouragement, the Part C Coordinator sent a signed letter to the district administrators asking for their cooperation with our census. We have been very fortunate in that these individuals have remained the same over time.
We also do smaller, regional trainings with Part C providers and make sure they know how the strategies we are sharing address the needs of all children with significant complex needs, not just those who are deaf-blind. When we receive a new referral we try to arrange the first visit with the early intervention provider. This helps build a bridge of support between the families and our project. Because of high staff turnover, we know that we will need to continually provide training on an ongoing basis, work on developing relationships, and keep channels of communication open so we can stay aware of what they need.
What difference has your use of the Self-Assessment Guide made in your state?
When we first went through the guide, we had 19 infants and toddlers on our census. The number has increased each year and we are now up to 44.
It's been helpful for us to have gone through this process. We continue to see the need to target specific regions. I know one of the questions is, “How do you know when you've done enough?” I don't think we've ever done enough. There are always children to be found, especially in rural areas.