Examining Current Challenges in Secondary Education and Transition
September 2004 • Vol. 3, Issue 2
Putting Interagency Agreements into Action
By Kelli Crane, Meredith Gramlich, and Kris Peterson
Issue: Interagency agreements among educational
and noneducational agencies can help maximize resources and services for transitioning
youth. What are the components of successful interagency agreements, and how
can they be implemented?
Defining the Issue
Schools and human services agencies responsible for serving individuals with
disabilities have typically operated in isolation or from uncoordinated agendas.
However, over the past decade, coordinated planning through the use of interagency
agreements has been recognized as an effective method to serve youth with disabilities
in their transition processes (Hadden, Fowler, Fink, & Wischnowski, 1995).
Yet youth with disabilities exiting high school often fail to access the adult
services they need. One of the reasons for this failure is the difficulty in
enforcing interagency agreements because of shared agency responsibility (Hadden
et al., 1995). In many cases, transition stakeholders state that interagency
agreements lack an agency or staff person to promote or enforce them and that
the agreements lack substance. This brief will examine interagency agreements
and the components of successful implementation, and it will showcase implementation
in one state.
What We Know
A major barrier to postschool employment and related outcomes for youth with
disabilities and families is the lack of access to needed adult services (e.g.,
vocational rehabilitation, postsecondary education, residential services, etc.)
and supports (e.g., Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid, waivered programs,
etc.). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 (IDEA)
require a sharing of transition programming responsibilities among special,
vocational, general, and postsecondary education; employment services; vocational
rehabilitation; social services; and mental health services. Yet despite this
mandate, young people with disabilities, their families, and the educational
professionals who support them during transition often fail to receive critical
and timely information and assistance from agency personnel (Johnson, Sharpe,
& Sinclair, 1997).
In addition, many educational and agency personnel have neither access to
outside agency information nor experience in working with other agencies. Therefore,
they cannot assist youth and families in analyzing the interface between benefits,
employment, and reporting and eligibility requirements within and across each
Interagency coordination provides an important solution to this problem. Interagency
collaboration for students with disabilities brings together community agencies
to focus their collective expertise and combined resources to improve the quality
of transition planning and coordinated services. Interagency planning and coordination
may be supported through a variety of mechanisms. These include memoranda of
understanding, interagency agreements, a transition coordinator assigned to
work with other participating agencies, and guidelines for working with other
agencies identified as potential service providers. The purpose of interagency
collaboration, through the use of agreements among various agencies, is to facilitate
smooth and seamless transitions for youth and information sharing among educators,
adult service providers, and families.
Interagency coordination at the state and local levels also reduces the gap
in service delivery, minimizes duplication of services, and decreases unnecessary
expenses. Interagency transition teams not only implement interagency agreements,
but they provide a mechanism for the school to access and share information
and draw on community resources and services. Research shows that sustained
interagency collaboration improves transition outcomes for youth with disabilities
(Hasazi, Furney, & DeStefano, 2000).
An interagency agreement is a commitment of shared responsibility for student
learning and a plan for the school, community, and family to collaborate in
achieving positive adult outcomes for youth with disabilities. These agreements
can be written at the state and/or local level. Legislation requiring state
and local agreements can also promote greater participation.
Although interagency agreements are required by federal regulations under Parts
B and C of IDEA, the contents of interagency agreements vary from state to state
and community to community. Effective interagency agreements include statements
regarding purpose, operating principles and procedures, inventories of existing
services and funding sources, dispute resolution, cross-agency training, and
service coordination (Hadden et al., 1995; Kilburn & Critchlow, 1998). All
agreements recognize the necessity for various agencies to collaborate in order
to assure quality and comprehensive, nonduplicative, and continuous services.
Agreements typically do not add new requirements for agencies. Rather, they
maximize the unique services and mandates of individual agencies for the benefit
of youth and their families.
Interagency collaborative roles, responsibilities, and lines of communication
are clarified in an interagency agreement. The strength of an agreement lies
in the integrity with which collaborators follow through on their responsibilities
as outlined in the agreement, though the agreement usually does not include
punitive measures for lack of follow-through. Table 1 highlights
essential features of effective interagency agreements.
Table 1: Essential Features of Effective
• Responsibility for design,
revision, and implementation of the agreement by participating agency
• Commitment in the development and implementation of the agreement
by participating agency directors
• Input from direct service staff in the design, revision, and implementation
of the agreement
• Regular opportunities to meet, discuss ideas, and develop relationships
• Willingness to learn from each other and see how each can benefit
from the mission of the other organizations
• Active involvement in strategic planning by participating agency
• Utilization of data to determine the impact and outcomes resulting
from the agreement
• Utilization of data for strategic planning and continuous improvement
• Dissemination of the agreement to direct service practitioners
• Technical assistance provided to direct service practitioners
regarding implementation of the agreement
In May 1997, the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE), all 19 school districts
in the state, and the Delaware Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DDVR)
signed an interagency cooperative agreement for the purpose of improving the
quality and coordination of services for youth with disabilities in transition.
At the same time, Delaware had just received a federal transition systems change
grant designed to enhance transition services to provide better outcomes for
Delaware’s youth with disabilities. The timing of these two efforts resulted
in significant changes in outcomes for students with disabilities in the state
(see Table 2). A major reason for this has been the attention
state and local agencies have given to meeting their collective responsibilities
through this interagency cooperative agreement.
First, DDVR and DDOE agency directors made the commitment to improve interagency
collaboration. Both DDVR and DDOE identified staff with transition services
planning as their primary responsibility. At the local level, each school district’s
superintendent signed the agreement. The interagency cooperative agreement served
as the guide for improving coordination among the agencies.
Leaders at the director level enforced the agreement. The success of the agreement
also depended on sharing goodwill, following procedures, and providing all stakeholders
clear information regarding their responsibilities.
Delaware used the cooperative agreement to encourage the hiring of transition
personnel in each district who coordinate school responsibilities within the
agreement. Most districts now have full-time personnel to carry out these responsibilities.
Others have given teachers the responsibility. DDOE annually provides these
individuals with data to help with continuous program improvement. Each district
is required to conduct self-assessments that include transition and to identify
strategies for improvement.
Delaware’s commitment and improved communication led to DDVR counselors
being assigned transition caseloads in all of Delaware high schools. The counselors
hold regular office hours in the schools and meet regularly with local transition
personnel. Results of the interagency cooperative agreement include improved
data collection and sharing; cross-agency training; regular meetings at the
local, regional, and state levels; and significantly improved outcomes for students.
Table 2: Facts about Transition
Services and Outcomes in Delaware
• There has been an increase
in the number of students receiving transition services in FY2003 (from
883 to 966).
• Of the students receiving transition services in 2003, 60% were
students with significant disabilities.
• The number of transitioning students who have achieved successful
employment outcomes increased from 241 in 2002 to 261 in 2003.
• Thirty-one percent (31%) of transition students continued on to
vocational skills training and/or postsecondary education in two- to four-year
colleges or universities after high school in 2003.
• An average of 95% of transitioning students who entered employment
in the community earned at least Delaware’s minimum wage of $6.15
• Among the transitioning students who obtained employment in FY2000,
100% of individuals who responded to the job retention survey were still
working after two years.
• According to data received from DDOE over the past five years,
DDVR’s involvement in School-to-Work Transition has greatly contributed
to the decrease in the dropout rate from 7.9% to 5.2% for students receiving
special education services.
• For the first time in 2002, the dropout rate for special education
students fell below the rate for regular education students (6.3%) and
for minority students (African American—8.9% and Hispanic—11.5%)
in Delaware (Dennison, 2003).
In summary, the establishment of interagency agreements promotes greater collaboration
in agency planning and service provision for youth with disabilities. No single
agency has the fiscal or personnel resources, the knowledge, or the legislative
mandate to plan and deliver the multitude of services essential for effective
transition planning. Interagency agreements implemented by productive, organized,
and resourceful cross-agency teams are the foundation of effective and cohesive
Delaware Transition Initiative
For further information about the Delaware interagency agreement, contact
Mark Chamberlin, Delaware Transition Initiative, at 302-739-4667 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
1998 Amendments to Section
504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973: Interagency Agreements. The
Postsecondary Education Programs Network. http://www.pepnet.org/interagency-1.asp
Butterworth, S., & Metzel, D. (December, 2001). Developing
interagency agreements: Four questions to consider. The Institute Brief,
11(1). Boston, MA: Center on State Systems and Employment (RRTC), Institute
for Community Inclusion. http://www.communityinclusion.org/article.php?article_id=14
Hadden, S., Fowler, S., Fink, D., & Wischnowski, M. (1995). Writing an
interagency agreement on transition: A practical guide. Champaign, IL: FACTS/LRE.
Dennison, H. D. (2003). 2003 Performance Report. Wilmingon: Delaware
Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Hadden, S., Fowler, S., Fink, D., & Wischnowski, M. (1995). Writing
an interagency agreement on transition: A practical guide. Champaign, IL: FACTS/LRE. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. 391328).
Retrieved March 16, 2004, from http://facts.crc.uiuc.edu/facts5/facts5.html
Hasazi, S. B., Furney, K., & DeStephano, L. (2000). Implementing the IDEA
transition mandates. Exceptional Children, 65, 555–566.
Johnson, D. R., Sharpe, M., & Sinclair, M. (1997). Evaluating state
and local efforts to implement the Part B transition service requirements of
the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration.
Kilburn, J., & Critchlow, J. (Eds.). (1998). Best practices for coordinating
transition services: Information for consumers, parents, teachers, and other
service providers. Sacramento: California School-to-Work Interagency Transition
Partnership (SWITP). (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. 460–466).
Authors Kelli Crane and Meredith Gramlich are with TransCen, Inc., and
author Kris Peterson is with InterDependence, Inc.
The authors would like to extend appreciation to Mark Chamberlin, Delaware Transition
Initiative, for his contribution to this article.
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This report was supported in whole or in part by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, (Cooperative Agreement No. H326J000005). The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, and no official endorsement by the Department should be inferred.
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