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Working Together for Families Collaboration

Collaboration is characterized by thorough communication based on mutual trust—organizations have established processes that drive and organize shared work and consensus is reached on decisions related to all joint activities (Frey et al., 2006). The strategies below illustrate examples occurring between state deaf-blind projects and parent centers that are consistent with this level.

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Work together on activities to accomplish mutual goals

Working together on mutual goals involves first identifying shared goals and values. Examples of common goals include:
  • The family is the center of the team
  • Parents should be empowered to advocate for their children at state and local levels
[The MI parent center and state deaf-blind project] both believe supporting parents is the most important service we can provide. We also have a "we are better together" working agreement. —Michigan
Collaboration has enabled both [the parent center and the state deaf-blind project] to reach a wider range of local families and, therefore, engage more families in training and recreational opportunities. It has also increased the ability of families to network with each other. —Maryland

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Involve other stakeholders

True long-term change in child outcomes requires collaboration among multiple organizations. Recognizing this, a number of parent center-state project pairs expand their collaboration to include other partners who share their goals and responsibilities to families. These other stakeholders might be early intervention, education, or community agencies also charged with meeting the needs of families. By identifying workscope commonalities, these organizations can collectively leverage their resources to have a greater impact.

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Work together on state systems change activities 

Many states work together, typically with additional stakeholders, to influence service systems in their states related to such things as early intervention, transition, or health care.

Example: In North Dakota the state deaf-blind project, the parent center, and the PEPNET 2 Transition Team have worked together on numerous projects focusing on transitioning youth. These include participation in a transition community of practice, the development of a transition guide, and work on "Teen Night Out" activities in the Fargo, ND-Moorhead, MN area. A representative from the parent center spoke at the 2014 Transition Summit, a collaborative effort among the state deaf-blind project, the School for the Deaf, and the PEPNET 2 Team.

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Develop a formal working agreement

Some SDBP-parent center pairs find it helpful to have a formal working agreement such as a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that outlines each project’s roles, commitments, and a plan for evaluating the collaborative relationship. 

Before we had the written MOU, we had challenges related to lack of clarity about the expectations of each other. We handled it by developing the MOU! —New Jersey

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Develop strong professional and personal relationships

Literature on collaboration clearly shows that personal relationships are the cornerstone of successful partnerships (Gadja, 2004). Good relationships involve knowing each other’s strengths and getting to know each other as people.

We have a strong collaboration that is considered a friendship based on years of working together. We all know who to call or email. Our collaboration is successful because of a long-term relationship built on trust . . . Everyone is on first name basis. —Nebraska 

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Serve on each other’s boards or other committees

Many state deaf-blind project and parent center pairs have representatives on each other's boards or other committees. These representatives are typically staff members, but may also be other individuals who can bring the specific project’s perspective to the group (e.g., a state deaf-blind project might identify parent leaders of children who are deaf-blind to serve on a parent center’s board).

The Ohio parent center is on the state deaf-blind project’s advisory board and on its Technical Assistance Design and Deployment (TADD) Team. This provides additional opportunities for planning and implementation of activities that meet the needs of parents and families in Ohio.
We have the desire to serve on each other's committees because it increases awareness of both agencies’ programs and activities. This provides better outcomes for families. —Utah

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Develop materials together

Some projects work together to co-create materials such as fact sheets and slide presentations. 

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Collaborate on family training events

Parent centers and state deaf-blind projects often jointly develop and offer onsite and online trainings. Often these collaborations focus on leadership training, but some projects have collaborated on other topics such as the IEP process. 

Some states also give joint presentations at other venues. For example, in 2012 the New York parent center and state project gave a presentation at an OSEP Leadership Meeting about their work promoting family leadership.

We collaborate on quarterly parent online trainings during the school year based on topics of interest to families (solicited via a survey). The deaf-blind project helps host the sessions, and assists with recruiting speakers. The number one topic requested by parents has been behavioral challenges, a topic in which state deaf-blind projects have expertise. —South Dakota
Example: The Florida and Virgin Islands deaf-blind project and the Florida parent center work together to host several family forum sessions (a Mom’s Group, a Dad’s Group, and a Spanish Family Group) at an annual statewide parent conference.

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Work together on data collection

Work together on data collection (e.g., focus groups, needs assessment surveys) to support the development of materials and activities.

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Share financial resources

A very small number of states have a formal financial arrangement that involves funding from one project to the other and, occasionally, projects share financial resources in other ways. For example, parent centers or state projects will sometimes pay for families to attend events sponsored by the other agency.

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Share and/or connect parent leaders

One very powerful way that parent centers and state deaf-blind projects can enhance their services is to train and connect parent leaders who are associated with each of their projects. This allows them to take advantage of family leaders’ specific skill sets, especially skills that aren’t disability specific and are likely to have value for both projects (e.g., grief counseling, navigating Medicaid, navigating the IEP process). 

Examples:
  • In Michigan, the parent center and the state deaf-blind project are working to link the parent center’s Parent Mentors with the deaf-blind project’s Family Leaders in their local communities. 
  • In Arkansas, a parent of a child who is deaf-blind became employed as a parent educator for the parent center. This has assisted the state deaf-blind project in raising awareness of deaf-blindness and enhancing positive relationships with the parent center.
  • Through collaboration with their parent center, the North Carolina state deaf-blind project added a family specialist.

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Evaluate collaboration outcomes

Evaluating outcomes of collaboration means that the state project-parent center pairs work together to determine the impact of their collaboration. At this point in time, most projects are not doing this. However, many do evaluate the outcomes of specific activities or events they co-sponsor.

Parent/family surveys and interviews are a part of our program evaluation. We conduct such surveys and interviews during and at the conclusion of many of our activities and training opportunities, and also during non-activity-related times (at least once a grant cycle, we gather feedback from families). —Maryland

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