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About the Multiple Systems Navigator


The primary goal of the Navigating Multiple Systems initiative is to provide easily accessible resources, service information and tools to assist youth, parents, family members/caregivers, and front-line staff currently struggling to effectively and efficiently navigate multiple human service systems – creating a web-based, ‘one-stop-shop’ for user-friendly, accurate and up-to-date disability information and tools.

History/Project Background

In 2006, the Children’s Mental Health Act was enacted. This momentous legislation called for the development of a statewide Children’s Plan with recommendations to provide comprehensive, coordinated mental health prevention, early intervention and treatment services for children, through age 18 years. What began as a plan focused on children’s mental health eventually evolved into a broadband, cross-systems document that was committed to and jointly transmitted by the heads of New York’s nine child-serving state agencies to the Governor and State Legislature.

The Children’s Plan: Improving the Social and Emotional Well Being (and Learning) of New York’s Children and Their Families (October, 2008), presented a blueprint, an opportunity to help ensure that services and supports for children, youth and families are collaboratively planned, managed and delivered with family and youth involvement and engagement. The plan challenged government to either continue expending resources in ‘traditional ways’, often leading to late interventions and less than desirable outcomes, or to chart new courses of action.

In 2007, the state’s Council on Children and Families (Council) convened the agency heads of the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS); Office of Mental Health (OMH), Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS); Office for Persons with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), Department of Health (DOH), Office of Probation and Correctional Alternatives (now part of DCJS). Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), and the then Commission on Quality Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities (CQCAPD) to address a myriad of issues related to children and families needing services from or already involved in multiple service systems. Together, they acknowledged their shared responsibility for all New York’s Children and committed to more direct engagement of families and youth; higher levels of collaboration in challenging services situations; investigating new models and approaches for growing quality, continuity and systems of care; and supporting each other’s individual agency goals relative to cross-systems children and youth.

An identified, foundational element of young persons and family members working together across systems and in tandem with state agency service systems was communications. Implementation activities of The Children’s Plan identified the need for better and more frequent, accurate and timely communication between principals and stakeholders at the state, regional and local levels. This repeatedly expressed need achieved a priority ranking for further investigation. As an interim step to a longer view solution, the Council and partners created the ENGAGE Communications Platform: including a web portal page; interactive ENGAGE mailbox, e-newsletter and e-blasts. As a result—interactive communication accelerated, information was disseminated and gathered, while assumptions were tested at a more regular and rigorous pace.

Two separate workgroups charged with studying possible solutions to communications issues identified differing responses. One approach was to focus on direct care and immediate supervisor level professionals and para-professionals with a series of cross-systems educational video spots. The second prioritized the creation of an innovative, cross-systems website and tools giving priority to information to be accessed and utilized by young persons, their parents and family members, caregivers and a range of care providers. The website needed to accommodate vast amounts of information from a multitude of sources and had to be user friendly as to not simply allow, but facilitate youth and family member navigation across multiple systems. Finally, the site and tools would be required to be nimble and portable enough to account for:

  • Users of multiple abilities, recognizing breadth of the ADA
  • Diverse sets of users including those with significant cultural and linguistic differences
  • Predicted major, transformative service landscape changes across numerous systems statewide and nationally
  • Use by a wide age and geographic demographic distribution
  • Mobile reliance as well as PC and desktop purposes.

It felt like a longshot, but principals from the Council and DDPC discussed the concepts and agreed that while it seemed a long way off, the vision may in fact be proposal worthy. This was the beginning of a three-year (two funding cycles) odyssey that brought many trials, errors, moments of despair and frustration. But, the vision was not abandoned and the work plan—oft amended—remained intact. The vision was accordingly named, Navigating Multiple Systems (NMS), a no-frills moniker to convey exactly how the project was aiming to assist families, young persons, caregivers, peers and workers.

The primary goal of the NMS initiative is to provide easily accessible resources, service information and tools to assist parents, family members/caregivers, youth, peer supports and front-line staff currently struggling to effectively and efficiently navigate multiple human service systems – creating a web-based, ‘one-stop-shop’ for user-friendly, accurate and up-to-date information and tools.

In order to ‘set the foundation’ for the construct of the site, its content and functionality, the first funding cycle period was largely devoted to:

  • assembling a cross-systems project advisory council (currently some 60 individuals) including state and community agency representatives, parents and family members, young persons and others living with and supporting persons with various disabilities and
  • gathering information and guidance relying on extensive outreach via focus groups, surveys, community and cohort meetings using direct, telephone and web-based approaches.

About this Site

This website strictly adheres to web accessibility guidelines, cultural diversity considerations, and is built to function well on all mobile devices. The project has collaborated with 2-1-1/3-1-1 and other telephone hotlines and warm lines in order to meet the needs identified through our outreach of being able to talk with someone who has experience with the same issues they are facing. While linguistic diversity continues to be an area for improvement, Google Translate has been built into the site for speakers of other languages. Effort is being placed on locating useful publications available in multiple languages and placing them on the site.

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Developed by the Council on Children and Families and Funded by the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council