By Stephen C. Schultz
Please allow me to share a brief conversation I had with my Brother Jared Schultz (PhD in Rehabilitation Counseling and Department Head at VCU) that I thought might be helpful.
Jared and I were discussing my transition to Aloft (Integrated residential treatment for young adults) and we were simply having a general conversation. This conversation obviously included helping young adults make the transition to self-supporting, responsible, productive members of society. Often this is a subtle struggle after receiving mental health services and various interventions over time.
While in the process of dealing with clinically complicated concerns, that often include depression, anxiety, ADHD, ASD and other co-occurring developmental issues, these young adults have had limited opportunities to focus on career, educational and independent living aspirations. When the treatment interventions are no longer the focus, they then feel behind in their social and career development and get discouraged, often reverting back to unhealthy patterns.
Historically, there have been two competing avenues for receiving career and vocational services within the local community. Neither of these come with consistent, integrated therapeutic support. They do come with bureaucracy and generally poor customer service, leaving families feeling overwhelmed and uncared for.
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 therapeutic 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 overseen by State and local publicly funded agencies, 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. Continuity of service can be an issue.
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.
My hope is that this information can be helpful when speaking with families. I’m sure many of the families that reach out for help have tried these options in the past. Having this background information can help us, as professionals, be more empathetic with families as they confide in us and seek our assistance.
A Solution for Families
If you know of a young adult who has struggled with mental health and/or developmental concerns, then a private, personalized and integrated program may be the best option. At Aloft Transitions, family involvement is a core piece of treatment, however, there is a process of creating a healthy transition to independence built into the treatment plan. You can also learn more about the pathway to career evaluations and career mentoring on the website.
Families can feel assured that their son or daughter is in very capable hands at Aloft Transitions.