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Breaking Ground 101 - What You Need to Know about TN’s Early Intervention System, Katie Beckett Program

By Lauren LeGate, Public Information Officer, Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

As we welcome the fresh air and new growth of spring, the TN Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) is also preparing for a big change.  We are working to welcome the families and employees of the Tennessee Early Intervention System (TEIS).

Gov. Bill Lee issued an Executive Order last December that transfers TEIS from the Department of Education to DIDD. The move will be effective July 1.

DIDD has more than three decades of experience in providing and coordinating services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live the lives they envision for themselves.  Because of our shared mission with TEIS, we think the move will be a great fit for families and employees. We are truly excited!  It’s an opportunity for our dedicated and knowledgeable staff to improve the lives of more people in Tennessee.

TEIS is a voluntary program that provides services to children from, in some cases, the moment they are born until their third birthday.  Children born prematurely, diagnosed with a disability, or who may have a developmental delay will be offered support and services through a therapy plan designed to meet their needs. They may receive one or a combination of therapies: developmental, occupational, speech, or physical therapy. Their plan will provide what it takes to help the child reach their goals.

TEIS is governed by Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and is provided at no cost to the family.  DIDD’s Commissioner Brad Turner has firsthand knowledge of the important work that TEIS provides.

“Before I was commissioner, I was a parent of a daughter with both intellectual and developmental disabilities.  The support she received through the program and the guidance that was given to me and my wife changed our outlook,” Commissioner Turner said.  “The mission of this program is personal to me, and we will do everything we can to set up all children for success.”

As you might imagine, shifting services for thousands of children and hundreds of employees is a big job.  In the months since the announcement, DIDD staff members have been busy getting to know the daily operations of TEIS. Most importantly, they have been learning how they can make positive changes that will help staff members.  Commissioner Turner and members of his executive team are using this time to visit TEIS offices across the state.  They are asking questions about how to improve support to families and providing information about what will change when July gets here.

We are busy behind the scenes so that once the change happens, our families will not be affected.  The services TEIS provides are not changing – just the department that coordinates the services.  We are hopeful we can improve the great work being provided. We think the children enrolled in TEIS will come to expect great things from DIDD staff and providers.

Around the same time DIDD is welcoming TEIS, another exciting program will be kicking off.  The Katie Beckett Waiver Program is also expected to begin in 2020.  This new program will provide support for children under the age of 18 who have disabilities or serious medical needs.  Not all children who receive TEIS services will be eligible for the Katie Beckett Program. However, we hope these two programs will allow children and families to find a home within our department as they grow older and work to meet their goals.

As the transition of TEIS gets closer, we look forward to hearing from families who have been a part of the TEIS program.  Sharing your personal experiences about the benefits and the challenges will help future families that we welcome into the program.  In addition to the dedicated staff already working on behalf of TEIS, the Assistant Commissioner of TEIS, Dr. Gabrielle Madison, and myself have been brought on board. We will be working to increase awareness about the program and support those who work with children and families.

When news of the move made its way through our department, long-time staff members who remember when DIDD played a role in early intervention were thrilled. They have seen the difference the program can make in the lives of babies.   DIDD is invested in helping each person live their most fulfilling life.  We are very excited about this chance to welcome babies and toddlers that we can support to blossom into their best selves.

For more information on the TEIS transition and DIDD, please visit our website; https://www.tn.gov/didd/teis.

Author bio: Lauren LeGate is the Public Information Officer for the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.  Lauren is a native of East Tennessee and a graduate of the University of Tennessee. She will be primarily focusing on the Tennessee Early Intervention System (TEIS) program.  Lauren comes to DIDD with 16 years of TV news experience and is looking forward to sharing the great stories happening within TEIS.