Vocational Rehabilitation Needs of Individuals with Disabilities: Findings and Next Steps of the DARS Comprehensive Statewide Needs Assessment
By Tania Jordanova
As a Research Coordinator at the Child and Family Research Institute, I am currently working on a project to understand the post-school transition needs of youth and students with disabilities. A few days ago, as I was preparing my presentation for the Rehabilitation Council of Texas, I came across the following quote, which describes secondary transition as: “a period of floundering that occurs for at least the first several years after leaving school as adolescents attempt to assume a variety of adult roles in their communities,” (Halpern, 1992). I liked this quote, because the word “floundering” perfectly summarizes the chaotic, uncertain, and challenging time period we experience after high school ends. It is a time when most of us leave a familiar education system we have spent 12 or more years in, and embark on a journey into the scary and exciting world of becoming an independent adult.
This time period can be longer and more complicated for students and youth with disabilities. The Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) is one agency in Texas that can help youth prepare for independence and employment during the transition process.
Ideally, the services provided by agencies like DARS will meet the needs of their consumers. However, with tight budgets and limited resources, that is not always possible. In order to improve services, an agency must identify which needs are not adequately being met. DARS contracted with the Child and Family Research Institute (CFRI) at UT-Austin to conduct a series of needs assessments to identify underserved populations, barriers to successful outcomes, and areas for improvement in services.
Last year, CFRI completed the first of three needs assessment. The findings indicated that youth transitioning from high school and individuals with a mental illness were two underserved populations; the primary barriers to maintaining and obtaining employment appeared to be transportation and housing; and areas for improvement included increased quality customer service, streamlining eligibility and increasing knowledge on benefits and work.
Based on these findings, the research team decided to investigate the specific needs of one underserved population: youth and students with disabilities transitioning from school to employment. We are currently in the middle of our data collection process for this second study. So far we have conducted nine interviews with key informants from state agencies and non-profit organizations, as well as eight focus groups with young adults with disabilities, parents and family members, community stakeholders, educators, and transition counselors. In a couple of weeks we will be releasing an online survey to gather information from stakeholders across the state. Stay tuned for the final report, which will be posted to our website this fall.
The good news is that the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), signed into law last year, has an increased focus and funding on transition services to provide youth with disabilities the support they need to be successful in competitive, integrated employment. WIOA requires state vocational rehabilitation agencies to set aside at least 15 % of their funding to provide transition services to youth with disabilities. Thus, we hope that recommendations from the findings of the needs assessment will have a chance to be implemented.
You can read more about this year’s study and the full report from last year, at: www.DARSneedsassessment.org.
Tania is also working on program evaluation for Project HOPES, a child maltreatment prevention program, for the Department of Family and Protective Services. Tania has a passion for research on social and public health issues, with previous work in evaluation and data analysis for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Nicaragua, RTI International, the North Carolina Institute for Public Health, and Data Center: Research for Justice.