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Essentials for Navigating Multiple Systems

What do I need to know?

Knowledge, Skills and Language and Communication

When a person knows little about the territory they are entering, it is only natural to feel lost and vulnerable. Once you have some basic facts, you can act and speak with more self-assurance. You can also better understand and weigh what professionals are talking to you about.

What do I need to know?

Good Things to Know

  • For successful navigation, you need a working knowledge of key topics, especially:
    • Disabilities – Symptoms, diagnoses, treatment options
    • Systems of Care – Agencies, jurisdictions, functions. This video produced by the NYS Office of Mental Health gives a history of systems of care, wraparound and the peer movement in New York State. It provides descriptions and examples of many acronyms used in the mental health field and talks about where we started, where we are now and where we are headed.
    • Services – Categories, options, eligibility
    • Legal/Civil Rights/Protective Services – Disability disclosure, decision making, appeals
  • Another important piece of information that will greatly reduce frustration when talking and reading about navigating multiple systems is learning the meaning of commonly used terms and acronyms. The MSNavigator website has a whole section devoted to defining terms and acronyms or type a term or acronym in the site search box above.
  • These days, information is far more plentiful and accessible than in the recent past making it easier to self-educate on fundamentals. That said, be aware that information found online or in the media may not apply to your needs or to the area where you live. Always check what organization has posted the information. You may need to disregard the specifics if the source is not your district, your county, or your state.
  • Different sources of information may not agree on the facts or on the practical implications of those facts. It is a good practice to review what several sources say about a given topic, looking for those with the greatest consistency and credibility.
    • Does the information come from an authoritative source?
    • Is it objective?
    • Is it backed up with data?
    • How current is it?
    • Is it even relevant?

Things You Can Do

  • Be open about what you don't know and what you don't know how to do.
  • Ask questions, no matter how basic they may seem.
  • Organize your thoughts by taking notes for yourself before entering a conversation.
  • Take time to look through the background information found right on the Multiple Systems Navigator website.
  • Read up more. Start with simpler reading material (such as pamphlets from your doctor's office), and then move on to increasingly detailed information available in other forms.
  • Go to the reference desk at your local library and ask for help selecting good information.
  • Participate in a support group and learn what others have learned.
  • Attend relevant informational and instructional sessions that may be offered in your community.
  • And, don't overlook training programs available on the Internet free or at minimal cost.

Things Others Can Do

  • A service professional can pass on information about specialized topics and distill complex information into more common terms for you.
  • Family, friends and peers can accompany you on your search for good information. They can also help you practice new skills like speaking up in a meeting or filling out applications or appeals effectively.
  • If possible, bring someone along to listen and help you recall the details of what happened in a conversation with professionals such as a clinician or social worker.
  • If you have special communication challenges, try to bring an advocate who can interpret for you.

Best Sources for More Guidance

  • is a website maintained by the federal government that connects people with disabilities, their families and caregivers to helpful resources on topics such as how to apply for disability benefits, find a job, get health care or pay for accessible housing. You can also find organizations in your community to help you get the support you need.
  • is maintained by the The Children’s Trust of Massachusetts and aims to support parents by providing them with current, reliable, and practical information on a variety of parenting topics related to raising children from infancy through adolescence. It provides a general overview of topics, drawing from a variety of reputable and reliable sources.
  • Not everything you "learn" on the Internet is true. The Evaluating Web Pages site teaches techniques you can use to decide whether information you find on the Internet is reliable by evaluating the source.
  • Here are a few sites that will help you build better communication skills:

Essentials for Navigating Multiple Systems


In an Emergency, Call 911

Looking for help in
non-emergency situations?

Call 211 or 311 in New York City

Suicide Crisis Hotline
1-800-273-TALK (8255) Toll Free
1-800-799-4889 TTY

Child Abuse & Maltreatment Hotline
1-800-342-3720 Toll Free
1-800-638-5163 TTD/TTY
1-800-342-3720 Video Relay

Some Useful Resources

Here is a list of helpful resources for you to explore

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