The expression, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is never more true than when talking about a child with a disability. Young people with disabilities need a support system that recognizes their individual strengths, interests, fears, and dreams and allows them to take charge of their future. Parents, teachers, family members, and friends in the community who offer informal guidance, support, and love can create the “village” for every child. Yet when young adults with disabilities are preparing to make the transition from high school to work or postsecondary school, their “village” may be forgotten in the rush to secure new services from programs and systems that provide support for adults with disabilities.
These crucial supports may include vocational rehabilitation, day training programs, Social Security, Medicaid waivers, housing, and transportation support. In contrast to a young person’s informal support network, systems tend to use relatively impersonal and formal methods of assessment. Case managers, vocational rehabilitation counselors, and county social workers often have large caseloads as well as a limited amount of time to know the individual needs and abilities of each student on their caseload.
Responsibility for maintaining the “village” is usually left to the family or parents of the student who is graduating. However, parents have little time to become experts on the range of supports available to their child after high school. It is not surprising that the invaluable, informal supports available from a young person’s “village” often remain untapped or underdeveloped while families focus on accessing adult services.
This does not need to be the case. Use of a person-centered planning process with young adults with disabilities as they go through transition can unite formal and informal systems of support. By combining resources and working intentionally toward a common goal, families and professionals can achieve more positive outcomes for youth with disabilities, while at the same time putting long-term community supports in place.