School-to-Work Transitions for Youth with Disabilities: The case for a central coordinating agent

By Susanne M. Beier

“I can’t wait till I get out of here [residential treatment facility] and move back home with my mom, get a job and save up for a car.” That was Jenna’s fervent wish as she was about to graduate high school. Jenna did graduate that June, but did not “leave” the facility. At the last minute, Jenna’s mother refused to allow her to move back home, leaving her with nowhere to go. She remained on “campus” for 3 months unable to participate in the educational programs at the facility because she had already graduated – and, being 18, she was considered emancipated. She was informed by her Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) case manager that she had to have a job in order to live independently and continue receiving any monetary supplemental support. Finally, she was also told that she could not receive her state’s Division of Rehabilitation’s supported employment services because she did not have a permanent address which was necessary to determine which local DVR office would be providing job assistance services. None of the agencies involved were able to budge on the their agency’s requirements (some federally mandated) to be eligible to receive their services.

Jenna’s experience demonstrates what can happen when a lack of effective communication and collaboration occurs. Often the stated needs or requirements of the agency mandated to provide transitioning services, supercede the needs of person that the services are designed to meet…the transitioning student. However, students aren’t the only ones who feel overwhelmed and confused when embarking upon the final-year school-to-career transition process. Parents, teachers, and outside case managers have also expressed a lack of clarity with respect to who should play what role in the school-to-work transition team. Consider some of these statements from the parties involved:

    From a Student
    “When I turned 18, I was told that I was now responsible for signing all my paperwork, although I didn’t understand half of it. I followed the instructions but they were never clear. So I got stuck without a program or place to go. All I know is that a lot of people were planning where I would by staying after I left here. And then, after graduation, I ended up staying at the Center without a program.”

    From a Parent
    “I should have been more included. It appeared to us that Family Services had their own plan, the Department of Education their plan and the treatment center had a plan all it’s [sic] own. It was a confusing time. Although everyone was helpful to us, I feel that it all was somehow disjointed and I kept having to check with different people to find out what was happening."

    From a Teacher
    “I participated in all of my students’ IEPs. Transition goals were addressed at that time, but mostly in a general or vague way such as “student will be referred to DVR for follow up. During weekly treatment team meetings, the primary discussion centered on the behavior of all the students in my class, not necessarily on the one that was graduating. Often meetings about residential changes or postsecondary living plans that affected my classroom were posted on the daily e-mail system, which I did not have a chance to look at until late in the afternoon. My role in the transitional process was basically to make sure that the student met IEP educational goals and credit requirements. Other departments dealt with residential and clinical concerns respectively.”

    From an agency case manager:
    “I was only one of the people in the transition process, there were also a case manager from the residential treatment center, a teacher, the administration, residential and medical staff involved. However, to my knowledge and experience, we did not all meet at the same time to come up with a fully comprehensive postsecondary school-to-career plan. Each of us had our own guidelines to follow. I, for example, had to make sure that I was mindful of Family Services requirements and regulations as they related to clinical case management.”

The statements above would suggest a lack of communication and successful negotiation among the parties involved with school-to-work transitioning for students with disabilities. This is not to assume that a lack of coordination exists nationwide. Systematically researching this issue would reveal whether or not that was the case. However, Jenna’s experience does provide one example of a lack of school-to-career preparation and a fragmentation of transitional services provided.

Suggested Actions for working with Disabled Graduating Students

    1.Make sure that a school or career counselor is included as an integral part of the Master Treatment Team for students with disabilities.
    2.Advocate for individualized school-to-career transition plans for each student and focus these on the necessary factors required for students with disabilities to achieve success and independence as adults.
    3.Identify a central agent to coordinate services and systems among these different parties.

Early school-to-career transition planning is crucial, and in Jenna’s case, would have likely yielded a more positive outcome. Having a central agent, the career counselor or someone equally qualified, to coordinate the school-to-career transition for students with disabilities could enhance the transition from student to worker.


Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997. (20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(16). Retrieved May 14, 2003 from IDEA Practices.


Dr. Susanne Beier is president of Parente Associates. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor(LPC) in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, a Master Career Counselor (MCC) and a Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC). Additionally she is a Diplomate of Clinical Forensic Counseling and a Senior Disability Analyst and Diplomate. She is also a faculty member of the University of Phoenix On-line Campus. She consults to schools, parents and private agencies on issues related to school-to-career development programs for the disabled. In her private practice she assists individuals, families, educational facilities and corporations on how to effectively navigate a handicapped child through the milieu of transition services provided to them. She can be reached at (570) 251-8980. Email: sueb@nep.net

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