Family Support Systems Navigation Model


Traditionally, human service agencies hired case managers to support families and individuals with disabilities. However, research and practice have shown the model to be too passive and often ineffective for families. Therefore, a new model of support is emerging called Systems Navigation, in which families are taught and mentored to become advocates and active brokers of their own unique services and supports. In this new model, parents serve as system navigators or community liaisons for other parents.

What are the Competencies Needed to be an Effective System Navigator/Community Liaison?

Based on an ADD-funded national training program in Family Support, the following knowledge and competencies were found to be important for effective System Navigators/Community Liaisons to demonstrate:

  • The philosophy of family-centered, empowerment Navigation
  • Knowledge of the disability service systems (federal, state, local)
  • Family culture and communication
  • Family-centered needs assessment and planning
  • Family support strategies
  • Family mentoring
  • Fostering family self determination
  • Service system brokering and system use
  • Supports monitoring
  • Facilitating family support activities in local communities
  • Family self assessment

How can a System Navigator/Community Liaison be Funded?

Many community mental health systems are able to fund System Navigators through Medicaid waiver programs. Sometimes the Navigator is called a Community Liaison or peer support. You should check with your State or local mental health agency to determine the funding options in your community.

What do families identify as their highest support needs?

  • Information about specific disabilities and support options
  • Coordination and collaboration among families, providers, and schools
  • High quality and effective intervention supports
  • Education and training for professionals
  • Insurance coverage for services
  • Peer support programs for their children
  • Inclusive education
  • Early diagnosis and referral
  • Transition to adulthood services
  • Recreation programs

Does this New Model of Family Support Work?

Evaluation research conducted by ADD and ADD funded Family Support projects has documented the following findings:

  • Overwhelmingly, families say “YES!” we are better off through Family Support
  • Families report more positive and sustained life outcomes
  • Families report positive connectivity to their communities and services
  • Families report higher sensitivity to their needs and cultures through Navigators than case managers
  • Areas with improved quality of life outcomes include crisis management; home life; school partnerships; stress management; family mental health; family interactions; and future planning

Where can you Learn More About Family Support and Training Opportunities?

Many programs provide Family Support training and the training of System Navigators in particular. Here are some useful websites:

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