Local EI System Management, Practical Strategies

Local System Managers: Master Jugglers!

A typical day as a local early intervention system manager might involve shutterstock_82832023reviewing contracts with service provider agencies, attending meetings to build networks, supervising staff, conducting record reviews, reviewing the budget for an upcoming report to the state office, squeezing in an intervention visit or two (if you also wear the hat of a service coordinator or provider), answering emails, talking with families who have questions or concerns…and on and on and on.

We always say that the work of an early interventionist is so complex, but what about those important people who run the show and coordinate the local EI system?

Master Jugglers

In Virginia, local early intervention programs are coordinated by local system managers (LSMs) who juggle many, many duties. In some systems, LSMs exercise primarily an administrative role and in others, provide a combination of administrative and direct service, meaning that some LSMs also work directly with families as service coordinators, assessment team members, or service providers. There are some LSMs who juggle both system management and staff supervision and others who primarily focus on system management with other support staff who act as supervisors. Some LSMs also supervise other programs, wearing multiple administrative hats at once. How each system works depends on many factors and, while we have the state procedures we all follow, how each system works looks a little different in each locality.

No One Does YOUR Job

When you are an LSM, this level of autonomy can be a real challenge because there really is no other person in the state who does the exact same job that you do. That’s why it’s so important for LSMs to support each other, share strategies for system coordination and management, and lean on each other when needed. The reality is that much rides on the LSM’s ability to monitor the system, know what’s happening with service delivery, keep up with billing and budgets, supervise and train staff, and make sure that early intervention services are provided so that they are meeting child and family outcomes and needs.

LSM Strategies – My Top Four

I worked as a local system manager several years ago and when I think back, these are probably my top strategies that helped me juggle the duties of that role:

1. Don’t try to do it all by yourself – Surround yourself with others who can help rather than trying to be a one-man show. For example, if you have people in your fiscal department who are experts in budget management, seek them out. You are still responsible for your system’s budget but they may have the expertise to help you learn.

2. Organize yourself and your system – Find a system of monitoring and organization that works for you. Good monitoring also allows you to keep up with what’s going on so that when it comes time for state monitoring, you’ll know what to expect. Keep timelines organized and start early when you can (on activities like contract negotiations).

4. Keep your staff in the loop – Share local and state updates, results of local system monitoring, family survey data, etc. with your staff and providers in your system. Share celebrations when things go well, even simple things like a compliment from a family. Problem-solve together when an issue arises. Conduct regular staff training to encourage shared learning. Find time to enjoy and get to know each other too.

3. Go out and see families once in a while – I think this one is really important. It’s hard to squeeze this in if you aren’t a service provider, but get out of the office, breathe some fresh air, and remember why you juggle all of those balls. When I felt weighed down by reports, there was no cure like watching a baby take his first steps. There was also no better way to keep up with how services are implemented then by going out on visits, seeing providers and service coordinators in action, seeing how documentation is conducted, how IFSPs are written, etc.

Let’s use this blog as a place to start capturing strategies for local system management. I hope to post future blogs by those currently in this role so stay tuned! But for now:

What is your top strategy for managing an early intervention system? If you were talking with a new LSM, what would be your best piece of advice?

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Be sure to visit the VA Early Intervention Professional Development Center’s topic page for LSMs: Local Systems Oversight & Management for more resources and info!

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11 Comments to “Local System Managers: Master Jugglers!”

  1. Very timely! All the Local System Managers (LSMs) were gathered together on Tuesday in Charlottesville to receive updates, share information and network. I always appreciate hearing the great ideas and insight LSMs have regarding our system of services in Virginia. We have a lot of talent here! Thanks to each of you for your dedication to our little ones!

  2. I appreciate this article and concur with Dana’s strategies.

    Upon reflecting on this I will offer some of my thoughts about advice to a new LSM.

    1. Be future oriented. There are many component,rules,procedures, monitoring, budget etc. These are the business of a Part C System that can distract you from what you want to have happen for your program. Thinking about the future can keep you focused and grounded.
    It is a journey.

    2. Be passionate. Babies are the future and the early years are the most important. The evidence, research and your personal experience validates this all the time. Our kids who need our services have to have the opportunity to change the trajectory of their life path. Be passionate about this fact.

    3. Be a partner. Partner with everyone. Babies universally touch all of us. Clearly we partner with staff, contractors, other agencies, our local government and our families. But there are many others out there. I have shared developmental and parenting information with staff who have had a recent newborn, from budget and other areas who I work with indirectly and infrequently and they have always been appreciative of the information and became much more interested in my program and what we are doing.I get a lot more support when I reach out to them.

    4. Tell stories. All families who come to us have a story and many are very poignant. Staff also have stories through their work with families. Ask for stories,listen to stories and share stories.

    Enjoy the journey!

    Allan

    • Thank you, Allan, for adding your voice to this discussion. It is so easy to get lost in all of the procedures, rules, budgets, etc. I think that your advice would help keep a system manager grounded in what is really important. I love your suggestion about telling stories. Story-telling can be a great way to learn about how people work, what they think about what they do, what they expect, about how the program is working, and about others perceptions of the system. Do you ever catalog or share the stories you hear – maybe with others across your system? A good story needs to be shared, don’t you think? I know of another state that captures EI stories and shares them online and I’ve wondered if we should do the same thing here in VA. Thoughts?

    • I love your comments, Allan!

      Each of us, directly or indirectly, plays a part in the lives of the families we serve. Being passionate about the purpose of our work and partnering up with others along the way adds meaning to the journey!

      Love the idea of sharing stories. It inspires.

      Terri

  3. I LOVE the idea of a story sharing “corner” or some way to capture these recollections. On a hard day, they could easily ground all of us in why we do what we do!

  4. I’ve been reading a good bit about a framework for community change called “Collective Impact.” In reviewing efforts that have been successful in communities in the US and Canada, one of the key elements of success is the presence of a passionate leader. In fact, the literature often describes this person as a charismatic leader, due to the nature of the role the person plays in motivating, engaging, encouraging, and supporting partners in solving a community need. So here’s to all of the passionate leaders at the local level in Virginia!

    • Interesting! You and Allan both talk about being passionate about this work. Being a good leader is so key to the role of the system manager, whether the staff size is large or small. I’d love to find some good leadership sites for resources. Any suggestions?

  5. I think an excellent article is Family Centered Early Intervention, Clarifying Our Values for the New Millenium by Mary Beth Bruder in Topics in Early Childhood Special Education.
    She traces the history, thinking and practice of the early intervention field and proposes where we go from here.

    Well worth reading. Leadership is a very relevant topic for discussion for all of us. There is a good deal of study on leadership and what is interesting is that leaders can be extroverted and charismatic but don’t have to be. You can be introverted and quiet.
    It also does not have to be only the head of a program or agency
    although that person does need to demonstrate leadership. It can and should come from within any part of an organization.

    A few years ago my staff presented to me their concern that we were serving a number of children with severe feeding problems and they wanted to be better able to address those needs for the families.

    Instead of making suggestions to them about we should do I just asked them what do they want to happen. They had been discussing the concern amongst themselves and told me they want to bring in consultants who specialize in feeding issues for a three day training on feeding so all the staff can develop more skills in addressing this issue for future families. My role was only to commit to get it approved and funded.

    The leadership came from the direct service staff. They know our mission, the needs of our families and what they needed to make a change in our system to better assist the families.

    They knew their work, felt passionate about it, looked to the future and comfortable bringing their ideas forward!

    Their efforts and ideas were right on target. Leadership.

    • The article you mention is available free online here: http://www.uconnucedd.org/pdfs/FamCtrEIClarValMil-2000.pdf

      Thanks for sharing an example of how leadership works through the staff too. It’s wonderful how you recognized your staff’s need and your role in supporting them. When I think about it, this mirrors how we can support families. Rather than making suggestions about what we think they should do, we can step back and ask what they want to happen. Funny how leadership and support seem very similar across both contexts!

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