DESE/DDS Frequently Asked Questions

These FAQs will help to facilitate effective transition from school to more independent life within the community for students who are also DDS eligible.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) have partnered to create a program of wraparound services for students ages 6-21.

If you have any questions, please forward them to:

Table of Contents

Program Requirements

Q: If a student is in the DESE/DDS Program, do they have to have skills trainers and therapists in the home?

A: Yes. The skills trainer component is the cornerstone of the Program. The goal is to help individuals build their skills in a variety of areas in order to remain a member of their home community now and in the future. Skills trainers and therapists generally work in the family home on skills with the participant and family, but some participants also receive community integration skills where they travel into the community to practice safety and interactions skills they will need in their lives.

Q: Can someone apply for the DESE/DDS Program if the student is not DDS already eligible?

A: Yes! You can apply to the DESE/DDS Program while also simultaneously applying for DDS Child Eligibility. Eligibility would have to be established prior to assessment and enrollment in the DESE/DDS Program. Please contact your local area office for details on Intake and Eligibility. 

Q: What ages does the DESE/DDS Program support?

The DESE/DDS Program is for students ages 6-21 years old.

Q: Does the student have to have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to be in the program?

A: Yes. A requirement of the program is for all participants to be eligible for and receiving special education services from their local educational agency.

Q: Can a student in a residential school enroll in the DESE/DDS Program?

A: No, a requirement of the program is for all participants to live outside a residential facility. However, students leaving a residential school setting and returning to a home setting and day school setting are prioritized for enrollment in the DESE/DDS Program. If you and your student’s school are discussing a possible residential return for your student, please contact your Children’s Service Provider to include them in the transition planning for the return.

Q: Can a student who attends a private school or is homeschooled be enrolled in the DESE/DDS Program?

A: Usually, yes. A requirement of the Program is for all participants to be eligible for and receiving special education services from their local educational agency. Many eligible students in a private school or homeschool access services through the local school. Please contact your Children’s Service Coordinator for more information.

Funding and Spending

Q: What are the general guidelines for the DESE/DDS Program Funding and Spending?

A: There are two categories of expenses within the DESE/DDS Program:  Services and Supports, and Ancillary Goods and Services.

All participants must spend a minimum of 55% of their annual budget on Services and Supports (in-home/community staffing), but they can certainly spend more than that. Up to 45% of the funding can be used to purchase Ancillary Goods and Services, but reimbursement of the Ancillary Goods and Services is secondary to the Services and Supports.

Q: What can the goods and services funding be used for?

A: There are a number of Ancillary Goods and Services that qualify for reimbursement through the DESE/DDS Program. All reimbursements are processed by the Family Navigator working with the family.

There are annual caps for each category of reimbursement. The categories are:

  • Community Integration Activities
  • Community Outing Costs
  • Intermittent Participant Care and Peer Mentors
  • Family Training
  • Educational Materials and Reinforcers
  • Adaptive/Replacement Clothing
  • Specialty Nutritional Supplements prescribed by a medical professional
  • Chore Services
  • Safety Equipment
  • Uncovered Medical Supplies and Services

Please consult with your Children’s Service Coordinator for more information on what are allowable expenses under each category. All Ancillary Goods and Services are to be purchased in connection with a skill that the student is working on developing. Funds can not be used to purchase anything that would add value to a participant’s home (e.g. a home addition, a backyard pool, etc.).

Q: How is the funding amount determined?

A: During the enrollment process, and at regular intervals during participation in the program, potential participants will be administered a standardized assessment to determine levels of need. Based on this assessment, the available funds for the fiscal year, and the prior utilization of funds for returning participants, a budget is developed that includes hours to be spent with skills trainers and therapists, as well as Ancillary Goods and Services. If the participant is to be enrolled for less than a full year (either starting or exiting the program), the amount is prorated to only cover the time the participant will be enrolled.

Q: Does a family member have to get permission for all purchases they make using DESE/DDS Program funds?

A: All purchases using the Program funds must be approved prior to purchase.

Q: Does the DESE/DDS Program pay for home modifications?

A: No. DESE/DDS Program funding can not be used to modify homes. Family Navigators can work with families to identify other sources for funding of home modifications.

Q: What happens if money is not spent out by the end of the fiscal year?

A: All funds not used by families by the end of the fiscal year (June 30th) is reverted to the issuing agency. Funds can not be rolled over from year to year.

Q: Can families use their own money to supplement a cost that is above the cap of a Program line item?

A: No, families are not permitted to supplement a cost above the Program allowances. Rates for services are established by State Regulations.


Q: Who can be hired as skills trainers and therapists?

A: Family Navigators will recruit potential staff and work with families to identify and hire qualified skills trainers and therapists. There are established criteria for each of the positions, and many families are able to hire people they already know from their communities to be skills trainers and work with their student.

School and Program Collaboration and Intersection

Q: Do the DESE/DDS Program services take the place of my student’s school services?

A: No. Schools are required to provide special education services for students as indicated in the student’s IEP. The DESE/DDS Program is designed to support school services, not supplant them. Schools are encouraged to collaborate with families who are enrolled, and families are encouraged to invite DDS staff and navigators to school meetings to further support collaboration for the student’s progress.

Q: Can DDS pay for residential placement?

A: No, the Department of Developmental Services does not provide residential placement for people under the age of 22 years old.

Q: Does the program pay for one- to-ones in school or other school supports?

No, the DESE/DDS Program can not be used to supplant school services.

Family Navigator

Q: What is a Family Navigator?

A: A Family Navigator is a professional staff from an agency that has applied to and been approved to provide services in the DESE/DDS Program. There are currently over 40 approved Family Navigators throughout the Commonwealth. Families can choose any Family Navigator approved for in their DDS area.

Q: What does the Family Navigator do?

A: The Family Navigator that works with the family is the primary point of contact for families about all aspects of the DESE/DDS Program. Family Navigators develop annual budgets; help families select, hire and compensate staff; process reimbursement claims; assist the family with completing administrative aspects of the program; assist families in accessing other community resources, problem solving and serve as a liaison between the family and DDS.

Application Process

Q: How long can a person stay on the open interest list/wait list for the program (and who to contact for information on student’s place in line)?

A: There is no “wait list” for the DESE/DDS Program. A family who expresses interest remains on the open interest list until they are assessed and found to qualify or not; or until a new open interest period is announced. Families who continue to be interested will need to complete a new open interest form to continue to be considered.

Q: Can participant apply to be in the program again if they are not qualified the first time?

A: Yes. Circumstances for every family change, and if the student has experienced a significant increase in their residential placement risk since the last assessment, they should speak with their Children’s Service Coordinator about completing the open interest form.

Q: Where can I find an open interest list form?

A: Open interest forms are available at DDS Area and Regional Offices, at Family Support Centers, and through Family Navigators.

Q: How do openings occur and how many can be expected per year?

A: The DESE/DDS Program serves approximately 800 students ages 6-21 at any given time. Participants leave the program for a variety of reasons at a variety of times, so there is no way to know how many openings will happen each year.

Q: How does the start up process of a new enrollee work?

A: Once a participant has expressed interest, been assessed and found eligible, and been enrolled in the program, it generally takes 6-8 weeks to get the program up and running

The family selects a Family Navigator to work with from the approved Family Navigators in that area

Annual budgeting is developed (and usually prorated for the first year)

The Family Navigator helps the family to identify senior level therapists and skills trainers to work with the student

The Family Navigator runs reference and background checks on the individuals identified, and completes new hire paperwork

The family, senior level therapist, and skills trainer collaborate to develop written goals for the student to work on with the skills trainer

The family and skills trainer agree on a schedule for the skills trainer to work with the student

Leaving the Program

Q: Can a family opt out of the DESE/DDS Program and what happens if so?

A: Families are under no obligation to participate in or remain a part of the DESE/DDS Program. If a family decides that the Program isn’t working for them, they can let their Children’s Service Coordinator know. Their funding will be ended and allocated to another student. If the family later decides they would like to rejoin the program, they will have to complete an open interest form during the next open interest period and wait for another opening.

Q: What is the transition process from the DESE program at 22?

A: The transition process will begin long before the student turns 22 years old. The student will be assigned a transition coordinator who will help the family and student make decisions about what their adult eligibility and service coordination will look like.

Please see the DDS Publication Important Transition Information Every Family Should Know for more information on the transition process


Q: Can a family still access other DDS services if they are enrolled in the DESE program?

A: Families can access Family Support Centers for information and referrals. However, enrollment in the DESE/DDS Program limits a family’s access to other programs such as IFFS, Medically Complex, or a Family Support Allocation. Please contact your Children’s Service Coordinator for more details on how current services may be impacted by enrollment in the DESE/DDS Program.

Q: How are a student’s goals created?

A: The DESE/DDS Program is a self-directed program and the student’s needs are the center of the Program. Families drive the development of goals. Family Navigators work with the in-home staff and family to document goals to work on with the student. The team collaborates and develops SMART (strategic, measurable, actionable, realistic, timed) goals to support the student in learning and reinforcing skills in a variety of areas.

Q: What happens if a student is not making progress in the program?

A: The Department of Developmental Services is committed to supporting Program participants and their families. Annual goals are developed for each student in the Program with input from senior level therapists and the family, and the family and therapists together should decide whether the student is making progress. New goals and skills can be developed and worked on as needed by the student. Assuming available funding, skills training hours can be increased with agreement by the family, trainer, Navigator and Program Coordinator. Family Navigators can work with families to identify new skills trainers, if necessary

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