By Stephen C. Schultz
The smell of roasted turkey filled the room with just a hint of sage. Sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie lined the counter. I was sitting on the couch having a conversation with my brother Dr. Jared Schultz. He and his family were visiting for our annual Thanksgiving Day Dinner.
My brother is a professor and assistant dean at a local university. His specialty is in rehabilitation counseling. My career has consisted of close to 30 years working in the field of addiction counseling and mental health services. My other brother Scott Schultz is an estate planning attorney in Eugene, Oregon. He has spent years advising and counseling with families on the best ways to facilitate caring for dependents and family members who struggle with failure to launch, substance abuse and other physical disabilities. As parents begin to move through retirement, this process of planning is crucial for managing family financial resources and protecting the family legacy. My oldest daughter Stephanie has a unique duel degree in Elementary Education and Special Education. Stephanie is currently heading up a special education classroom of 12-14 year old students with mild to moderate disabilities. She made an interesting observation just this last weekend when she said,
“You know, I’m working with the same population in my classroom, just at a slightly younger age.”
I mentioned to Jared at dinner that there were some common parental concerns. These included helping their teens and young adults make the transition to a self-supporting, responsible, productive member of society. Often this is a subtle struggle after receiving substance abuse or mental health services that grows in severity over time. While in the process of dealing with clinically complicated concerns, they have no opportunity to focus on career and educational aspirations. When the treatment interventions are no longer the focus, they then feel behind in their social and career development and get discouraged. Many young adults in the “Failure to Launch” population fall into this category.
Historically, there have been two competing avenues for receiving career and vocational services. They each come with government bureaucracy and generally poor customer service; leaving families feeling overwhelmed and uncared for. Here is a little more information about government services.
General overview of State Services (USA)
State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is a program that is available to anyone with a disability provided that they;
1. Meet State criteria and have a disability
2. The disability is an impediment to employment
3. They can benefit from services.
The vocational evaluations provided by the State consist of testing to assess the interests and abilities of the client. Sometimes the work and family values of the client are tested, but this is infrequent and varies from State to State and case worker to case worker. Case managers generally don’t make recommendations of support or train families on how best to support the client. You may have a local case manager say they do, but families expecting a moderate level of “customer service” will be disappointed.
By Federal Law, VR Services are available if a student meets the above requirements. However, in practice, parents find themselves being passed between the local VR agency and the school district. This is because Federal Law also regulates how Special Education services are provided through each school district. By law, special education accommodations and Individual Education Plans (IEP) must be provided up to the age of 22 based on severity of the disability.
For those students who are between the age of 18 and 22 this situation tends to be very frustrating. Families find themselves caught in the middle of school districts and VR services; with each saying the other agency is responsible for funding the services. Consequently, most families simply give up seeking services.
Because Public Rehab is a government run agency, there are some cultural and bureaucratic issues each family should be aware of:
1. Delays in services. VR counselors have caseloads of 150 to 300. While they do the best they can, they simply can't provide customized and individualized service.
2. Vended services. Because of heavy caseloads, VR counselors don't generally provide services directly. They vend with service providers in the field. The qualifications of those service providers are much lower, especially in providing employment services (most have a HS diploma, or possibly a BS). Additionally, they will be limited to the services available in the local area.
3. The family may have limited involvement in the process. The public VR process is very focused on the individual, and they do not have much experience working with families per se. It really depends on the capabilities of the rehab counselor assigned to the case. (Families aren't able to “choose” their rehab counselor; the counselor is assigned…luck of the draw.)
4. The family will have to go through the eligibility process. Students are required to wait until 1 year before high school graduation to apply for State VR services. Often, if the agency budget is limited, they go to what is called, "order of selection" which requires them by law to serve the more significant disabilities first.
A Solution for Families
If your son or daughter has struggled with a disability of some kind or suffered with emotional, mental health or substance abuse concerns, then a private and personalized career evaluation is something that you may want to consider. You can also learn more about the pathway to career evaluations here.