Monday, 13 May 2013

US Federal Agencies Seek Public Input on Transition Issues for Youth

Disabled American youth and their families, as well as the people who support them, should take advantage of an opportunity to have their voices heard that's being made available until May 27. Several federal American agencies are opening an online dialogue on transition planning issues for disabled youth, and need to hear from as many youth and families/caregivers as possible, as well as educators, support workers, agency staff, and policy and lawmakers. The dialogue focuses specifically on issues relating to the transition from secondary school to work life for disabled youth.

Transition Planning - Why is it Important?

This cause is one that's especially near and dear to my heart, as I did transition planning with intellectually disabled high school students for a number of years. I didn't understand when I first took the job why it was so important. I now understand that the transition from school to adult life is huge for disabled students, arguably even more so in many ways than for non-disabled peers, and that the question of "what comes next" is often hugely stressful for these students and their families. Transition planning needs to start early, and it needs to be thorough, because a myriad of things need consideration:

  • What does the student want to do after graduation? Work? School? Have all her options been explored with her, the way they are with non-disabled students? Does the student understand what diploma track he's  on and how that affects his options? Is her current academic program  giving her both academic and experiential edge that she needs to meet her goals for post-secondary school life? Does the student have input into his educational planning and course selection?  Will the student have a resume and job-hunting skills when she graduates? 

  • Where does the student want to live after graduation? Does she have the skills that she needs to live safely and comfortably in the environment that she desires? If he's supposed to be learning those skills through a school program, is that indeed happening? If additional skill-building is needed, what are these skills and who can teach them? If the student wants to live at home, what kind of supports will the family require to have her keep living there, given her disabilities? If he wants to live away from home, what supports will he need to do so? Does he want to keep living in his home community, or relocate?

  • Who will ensure, that, by the time the student needs them to apply for any needed supports/jobs/a driver's license that the student will have and have some means of effectively keeping track of a birth certificate, health insurance card (in Canada), and Social Insurance Number?

  • What kind of supports does the person need? Can she keep her pediatrician and childhood dentist once she turns 18, or does she have to find new ones? Is she eligible for disability income support? Are medical supports in the home required? Are supports for cooking, cleaning, budgeting, etc, required? Where do people apply for these supports? What do they cost? Is there government funding available to help?

  • Are there consent/capacity issues once the student turns 18? Does the student understand enough about his body and medical conditions to make his own medical decisions, or should parents consider trying to get a Power of Medical attorney?  Should a trustee handle disability income support funds, and who should it be? Do the people around the student understand his rights as a disabled adult?

This is really just a taste of what can be involved with transition planning.

Transition Planning - Rarely a Smooth Process

As you can see, doing good transition planning and constructing a plan that best meets the student's needs can involve a ton of coordination and agencies from a number of different spheres working together.

The transition planning process can hit brick walls in any number of places, and the American government wants to know where these brick walls are.  The joint venture of the the U.S. Departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services and the Social Security Administration wants to hear concerns about the “regulatory and legislative barriers that young people with disabilities are facing in accessing employment, education, Social Security and health and human services.”

Comments can be submitted via Web interface until May 27, and may be used to shape future decisions on policy. It's a unique opportunity of which everyone who's concerned about American youth with disabilities should take advantage - and that we should encourage other countries to offer as well.


  1. Good news and bad news. All entitlements (like special education services end at either 22 or upon receipt if a diploma) in the US. Each state interprets "Turning 22" in a different manner. Massachusetts has a great protocol and process for the severely disabled and a rather crappy process for mild-moderate disabled. The Problem? At least in Masssachusetts, the "Turning 22" funds have not increased in years; so if your getting assistance it continues. The wait list for funding is years long...we are too concerned here with building prisons and placing police in every school. The most progressive state in the US does not take care of those with profound needs.

  2. That's pretty much the same way it's gone in Ontario as well. In the developmental services sector, the funding that allows families to hire support workers, respite services, and purchase hours per week from day support programs has been frozen for years - they're not giving any out to new applicants. Government-run group homes and residential placements are very difficult to get into, so much so that young people in crisis sometimes end up in long-term care homes for seniors (run by a different ministry) - there's just no longer any capacity to even handle youth in crisis. And with healthcare services in general being cut to the done, anyone with profound needs in the province has trouble getting the care that they need unless they can pay for it out of pocket. Transition planning was often more about figuring out how to cut through red tape than anything else...and with the myriad of forms and coordination and advocacy that came along with it, families really needed the help.