Program Summary: Career Start was a joint project operated by Vermont’s Department of Labor (DOL) and the State’s Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living. The Department of Labor is the administrative arm for Vermont’s Workforce Development Council, the designated State Workforce Investment Board for purposes of administering the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). The Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living, which houses the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), was responsible for the management of the project, including the project director who was housed in DVR. This insured a close partnership and working relationship between DVR and DOL. The Department of Education was also a primary partner for this project, as was the Community College of Vermont.
Career Start was developed to improve transition outcomes for youth with disabilities as they move from secondary schools to employment, post-secondary education, and adulthood. The project proposed to improve the effectiveness of special education services to high school-age youth by emphasizing employment, post-secondary education, and training for youth with disabilities. The project’s goal was “To explore model approaches that create a community-wide system of inclusion, support and engagement for school-age youth with disabilities as they transition into their adult roles in the community.” To achieve this goal, the project proposed to:
- Establish the organizational infrastructure for sustained transition-systems change for youth with disabilities through strategic new partnerships with local nonprofit intermediaries, state organizations, and advocacy groups;
- Conduct a strategic assessment (resource mapping) of the current state and local service infrastructure for youth with disabilities, its capacity to meet identified needs, and its ability to respond proactively and effectively to changing conditions;
- Establish a system of small, school-based pilot demonstration sites offering individualized employment and post-secondary supports to youth with disabilities;
- Develop and implement a multi-year, cross-agency state plan that includes financial and programmatic sustainability strategies; and,
- Design and implement a sustainable, comprehensive statewide evaluation of transition outcomes for youth with disabilities.
Vermont addressed these objectives by undertaking a number of state and local activities. It formed a statewide project-oversight team that oversaw the local project activity. It developed a White Paper that articulated a vision for improving transition outcomes for youth with disabilities living in Vermont. Technical assistance was provided to all of the workforce areas in the state in conducting resource mapping and resources were provided to each local workforce area for outreach and marketing. Through a competitive process, grants were awarded to four communities to conduct multi-year demonstration projects. These four demonstration projects and the lead organization were: Bennington County Transition Project (Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union); Lake Champlain Regional Career Start Project (Linking Learning to Life); Randolph Transition Initiative (Orange Southwest Supervisory Union); and, Three River Valley Career Start (Vermont Adult Learning). In addition, six other communities were funded for smaller one-year projects. Technical assistance, primarily through a peer-to-peer learning network, was provided to all the demonstration sites.
Convening Stakeholders. A Project Steering Committee was formed for this project, which included representatives from the Vermont Departments of Education, Labor, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Division of Disability and Aging Services, the Workforce Development Council (the state’s Workforce Investment Council), Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights, Vermont Parent Information Center, and the Disability Law Project. Over time the membership was expanded to include additional representatives from the community college, community agencies, and a local special education administrator.
The Steering Committee provided overall management and advice to the Project Director and the grant recipient (Labor) around implementation issues. It reviewed the data from the local sites and helped with the dissemination of information about the Career Start project. Considerable effort was directed to developing a report of recommendations that came out of what was learned from the Career Start, as well as the expertise of the individuals on the Committee. This report, issued in September 2006, contains a series of recommendations around improving transition outcomes for youth with disabilities. These recommendations are organized into categories that apply to 1) state agencies and statewide organizations and 2) local communities. The report was widely disseminated and there are plans to begin implementing the recommendations. The report is a living document that will be reviewed annually.
The preparation of this report dovetailed with other activities in Vermont around transition of vulnerable youth. The Vermont legislature enacted a law (ACT 159) that directed the state agencies to specifically address issues around youth transitioning from foster care and other vulnerable youth. In June 2006, the Secretary of Human Resources (the parent agency for DVR) submitted a report to the legislature with its response to the mandates in the Act. The Career Start project report was included as an attachment to this report, insuring that the project report was disseminated throughout the Vermont State Legislature. The Steering Committee continued beyond the life of the grant as the Career Start Committee, which advises on matters related to successfully transitioning youth with disabilities from high school to post-secondary training and/or employment.
A Governor’s Summit on the Employment of People with Disabilities: Transitioning Youth was held in June 2006. The audience of more than 300 people included youth and their families, employers, service providers, special educators, and other interested parties. Recommendations that came out of the Summit were shared with the Governor.
Resource Mapping. In 2004, the Career Start project sponsored a series of resource mapping sessions throughout the state. Each of the then 11 existing local workforce boards (now there are 12) was provided a small amount of resources to host the community mapping sessions. Note that for Federal Workforce Investment Act purposes Vermont is a single state workforce area; the 12 local boards were created by state statute. Local community representatives attending these sessions included mental health, education, vocational rehabilitation, parents, and other community representatives. Each of the sessions focused on four areas:
- What helps ensure school successes and reduces dropout rates?
- What interventions/services are needed to enable youth with disabilities to make successful transitions?
- How (and who) are youth succeeding in post-secondary education and/or employment?
- How are young adults with disabilities maintaining careers?
Through these sessions, gaps in services were identified. The resource mapping sessions publicized the Career Start project, and also brought interested members of the community together in preparation for the state grant competition for the selection of local demonstration sites. These sessions were also a way of focusing on transition issues with respect to youth with disabilities and engaging the local workforce system in discussion about addressing these issues. The findings from these sessions were compiled and presented to the State Workforce Development Council.
Technical Assistance. A considerable level of effort and energy was directed at helping the local demonstration sites succeed, including the six sites that were funded for one-year of activity. The centerpiece of the technical assistance efforts was the peer-to-peer learning network, established under this project. The peer learning network was viewed as a forum for the members of the local community oversight teams to learn from each other and to assist with project development over time. These meetings provided an opportunity for projects to report on their progress, share promising approaches, ask for feedback, and review gaps/challenges. Meetings of the peer-to-peer learning network were held quarterly throughout the life of the project. The first one was held in February 2005, which included representatives for the four demonstration sites and the six short-term projects. In addition, representatives from the other local workforce areas that were not funded were invited to participate in the meeting.
Leveraging Resources. The Project Director used her position to leverage participation in a number of state-level efforts to improve transition outcomes for youth with disabilities. For example, the Project Director worked with the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) transition counselors to re-invigorate the Core Transition Teams. There are now 15 Core Transition Teams throughout the state. These Core Teams provide a forum for regular contact between special educators, local state agency staff, and community partners. At these meetings the team focuses on difficult cases, connecting of resources, and assessing local system services.
Marketing Campaign. In 2005, the Career Start project launched a major marketing campaign. Each of the 11 local workforce areas received funding to conduct a School Transition Awareness marketing campaign. Communities were required to develop a website accessible through the state website. Additionally, a statewide video, PowerPoint presentation, and brochure were developed as tools for the local communities. The campaign started in April of 2005, and continued for the remainder of the year and beyond. Each community designed their own campaign. However, across the state, the campaign included presentations to business organizations, local media events, conferences, and events designed specifically for parents, youth, and teachers. The statewide marketing campaign was completed in mid-2006.
States of Operation: VT
ODEP Funded: Yes
Profile Year: 2009
Career Preparation and Work-Based Learning Experiences: The Bennington County Transition Project implemented a Transition Academy within an existing program that serves students with severe cognitive and physical disabilities who do not attend regular high school. These students attend what is called the IDEALS program, which is located in a self-contained building on a high school campus. The program was completely restructured to focus more on vocational training and work. Students were assigned to one of four levels based upon their ability and progress. The program represented a fundamental restructuring of the school day for each of the four classroom levels. Vocational activities and work-based learning were built into each of the levels. In level one (the youth with the most severe disabilities), work is performed within and is typically generated from the high school. Level two students have the opportunity to perform work on campus while level three students do work within the community. Students in level four are competitively employed.
Connecting Activities: The Community College of Vermont offered free “Introduction to College” courses to youth with disabilities. This helped them gain exposure to possible next steps following high school.In Washington Central/Montpelier the Community Practice Lab (an off-campus apartment for 16 youth with diverse challenges) incorporated activities such as the following to assist in the transition to adult life:
- Internet access enabling youth to explore job opportunities, community resources, and events.
- Experience planning, budgeting, and arranging transportation for evening social events.
- Participation in adaptive skiing.
EVIDENCE OF SUCCESS (INFORMATION AND ANALYSIS)
Systems Change: Improving transition services for youth with disabilities continues to be a priority in Vermont. Having a state level project director whose sole focus was on convening partners, collaboration, and coordination was essential to the effort. The legacy of the Career Start project is apparent across several agencies and organizations in the state.
With the assistance of the Career Start project director, local core transition teams were expanded and reinvigorated over the life of the project. DVR committed to sustaining 16 transition counselor positions that cover almost every high school within the state. The local core transition teams involving special educators and local service providers continue to function in 15 areas of the state. The peer learning network, which was developed under this project, has been instituted as an annual event for bringing together local core transition teams. In addition, the Department of Developmental Disability Services continues to hold regular meetings for staff and community partners focusing on transition issues.Vermont’s DOL established a career development site for parents, students, adults, and professionals (www.VTcareergateway.org). Specific information about and for youth with disabilities is included under the pages for each audience on the web site. For example, the student page on planning for college has a section on supports for students with disabilities that includes both resources and information.
The University of Vermont’s College of Education and Social Services maintains a web site called Training and Resources for Interdisciplinary Professionals Serving Children and Youth (TRIPSCY) (http://www.uvm.edu/~cdci/tripscy/?Page=about.html). Its purpose is to enhance outcomes for children with disabilities through professional development and information sharing of evidence-based resources for professionals that work with children with disabilities. One section of the web site is the Secondary Transition Resource Center. Its intended audiences are special educators, students, and parents. There are transition planning resources on the web site for parents and students.
Organization Name: Vermont Department of Labor
Organization Director: Patricia Moulton Powden, Commissioner
Program Name: Career Start
Street Address: 5 Green Mountain Drive
Contact Person: Greg Voorheis
Contact E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org