Supporting Families of Individuals with Disabilities

A Community of Practice

In 2013, Tennessee was selected to join a group of six states charged with identifying ways to better support and strengthen families that have members with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  This “Supporting Families of Individuals with Disabilities” initiative, which is funded by the federal Administration on Community Living, is led in Tennessee by the Council and the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

These states are working to share best policies and strategies to support families in addressing the physical, social, emotional and material well-being of their entire family, including the member with a disability. Participating states include Connecticut, Washington, District of Columbia, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Missouri, which serves as the “mentor state”. In 2016, 11 more participating states joined this national movement.

The Supporting Families initiative estimates that nationally only about 25% of individuals with disabilities receive disability services, and that families are providing the vast majority of care for individuals who have intellectual or developmental disabilities. With this national initiative, states are exploring ways to expand support across the lifespan, especially to families who are not receiving support services from government programs.

  • "The Life Course Framework" is a foundational concept of this initiative - it simply represents a mindset of considering a person's needs and a family's needs across the lifespan and various parts of their life, thinking about what truly represents a "good" quality life (outside of just access to disability services), and highlighting the value of having individuals and families have a "voice" when states are developing programs and policies that will affect those individuals and families' lives.

Outcomes of the Tennessee Supporting Families team's work include :

National Resources

The website for this national Supporting Families initiative, including updates from all six participating states, is

The national initiative continues to develop tools to help families navigate the "Life Course" throughout the lifespan of the family member with a disability. These tools help families think about the variety of services and supports that their family needs or might need in the future, plan for the next stage of life and consider how to best achieve a meaningful, quality life in the community for their loved one with a disability. 

  • You can view and download (they are free, but require your email addres) these tools in the "Life Course toolkit" at

For more information about TN's activities around the Supporting Families of Individuals with Disabilities initiative or to schedule a presentation about the Supporting Families initiative or training on the LifeCourse toolkit, contact Emma Shouse, Director of Communications for the Council, at or 615-253-5368.