Ready for Work: Vocational Rehabilitation Provides Guidance and Tools

A Brief Overview

  • Vocational rehabilitation (VR) is a federal right that has not been waived during school and office closures related to COVID-19. Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) are one way to get support. Another is through 1:1 counseling and an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE).
  • The best way to seek DVR services for a student still working toward graduation is to contact the DVR counselor assigned to the student’s school. DSHS maintains an interactive map, Find a School Transition Counselor.
  • Families and students also can reach out to regional DVR staff for information about how to access services, including summer camps and programs.
  • Individuals with vision impairment and blindness are served through a separate vocational rehabilitation agency in Washington State, the Department of Services for the Blind (DSB).
  • Graduating seniors can seek DVR and DSB services now!

Full Article

Teenagers and young adults with disabilities have additional considerations when deciding what life looks like after high school. The transition planning process, which begins in middle school and continues through high-school graduation and beyond, is extra challenging with social distancing measures and uncertainty about how jobs and higher education are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Washington State, young people can get help from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), which is housed within the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). DVR staff are working remotely and creatively to continue providing services to adults and students during office and school closures, says Chelsie Gillum, a Regional Transition Consultant (RTC) in Pierce County.

DVR services are a civil right

The right to vocational rehabilitation (VR) services is an aspect of Title 1 of the amended Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In 2014, the Rehabilitation Act, which guarantees equitable access to public spaces and programs, was further amended to include the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) were already an aspect of the Rehabilitation Act, but WIOA further defines Pre-ETS and requires that VR agencies set aside 15 percent of their funding to provide or arrange for the provision of Pre-ETS.

Note that Section 504 is also a feature of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 guarantees the right to accommodations for equitable access in public facilities and programs and is the basis for a student’s “504 Plan” that provides accommodations, modifications, and anti-discrimination measures for educational access. Section 504 protections aren’t limited to school: Like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 protect a person in higher education, work, and elsewhere throughout the lifespan.

None of these federal rights have been waived during COVID-19.

Pre-ETS may include summer options

Gillum is among DVR staff who support groups of students with Pre-ETS. Generally, programs include job exploration, work-based learning, counseling about further educational options, workplace readiness and self-advocacy training. Some programs are being offered online or through other distance delivery methods in Summer 2020.

For example, a Youth Leadership Forum is being organized as a weeklong virtual camp in July 2020. A Facebook page for YLF is one way to learn more. Junior Achievement: Finance Park is another summer option for students statewide who want to learn more about personal finance and business. Families and students can reach out to regional DVR staff for specific information about these and other options for summer and beyond.

“Just because you cannot attend a camp in-person does not mean you have to miss out on valuable work readiness training and work-based learning experiences,” Gillum says.

Gillum says virtual job fairs, recorded informational interviews and virtual tours of job sites are options during social distancing. “Agencies and businesses are still hiring,” she says. “DVR applications are being processed, and intake meetings are being conducted.”

Gillum encourages 2020 graduating seniors to seek services right away: “I want to make sure our graduating students are as connected as possible, especially given how uncertain the world is right now,” she says.

Pre-ETS can start at ages 14-16 or later

Students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) can receive Pre-ETS as young as age 14, if the IEP includes a Transition Plan. An IEP team can write a Transition Plan into the IEP whenever the student, family and school staff are ready to begin that process. DVR staff can support that work, Gillum says, and families can initiate those contacts.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal law that governs special education process and protects the rights of eligible student, requires that an IEP include a Transition Plan by the school year in which the student turns 16. PAVE provides an article and a video about the high-school transition process in general. In addition, PAVE has an article about graduation and life-planning impacts of the shutdown: High School Halt.

Students 16 and older can receive Pre-ETS from DVR if they have an IEP, a Section 504 Plan and/or a documented disability and a family caregiver and school staff sign a DVR consent form. If the student is 18 or older (educational age of majority in Washington), the student and school staff sign the DVR form.

Families and students can contact DVR directly

Gillum says the best way to access the 2-page consent form and begin services is to contact the DVR counselor assigned to the student’s school. DSHS maintains an interactive map on a page called, Find a School Transition Counselor. By entering the county, school district, and name of the school, families can get a name and phone number for the DVR staff member assigned to their specific school.

Families also can look on DVR’s Pre-Employment Transition Services website page and scroll down to the chart that lists Regional Transition Consultants by area/county and includes phone numbers.

Families, schools, and students will need to work collaboratively to provide the required signatures for consent forms during the pandemic. Scanned versions may suffice in the short term, although mailed copies may eventually be required. A DVR counselor can provide guidance about the best methods for submitting the required forms to begin services.

Services for the blind are managed separately

Individuals with vision impairment and blindness are served through a separate vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency in Washington State. The Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) provides Pre-ETS and VR for clients statewide and maintains an Orientation and Training Center (OTC), to help individuals learn to navigate the world with limited or no vision, in Seattle.

DSB continues to serve clients during school and facility closures, says Michael MacKillop, Acting Executive Director. In early spring, 2020, MacKillop noted that DSB had been able to serve all clients who qualified for services, clearing a waitlist that is part of the state’s Order of Selection to serve clients within its budget.

Order of Selection impacts access to 1:1 DVR support

DVR also operates with Order of Selection when clients apply for individualized vocational rehabilitation (VR) counseling. The Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) is a DVR program that is separate from Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS). The IPE is supported 1:1, whereas pre-employment services are generally provided to groups of students.

Through Order of Selection, individuals with the highest needs for support are prioritized for 1:1 support from a DVR counselor. When developing an IPE, the client and counselor establish a goal for employment; the counselor provides coaching, logistical and sometimes financial support to help make that happen. The case remains open until the employment goal is met if the client remains meaningfully engaged in the process. IPE services might include educational support if further education is needed to achieve a job goal.

Can a student get Pre-ETS and 1:1 help?

A student might receive services through both programs—Pre-ETS and the Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE). However, families should be aware that there are some specific rules related to Order of Selection.

  • If a student is already participating in Pre-ETS, the student can apply for an IPE and Order of Selection will not impact the student’s ongoing engagement in Pre-ETS.
  • If the student applies for an IPE first and is put on a waiting list, then the student also will have to wait to begin Pre-ETS.
  • A student will have more access to DVR services by engaging with the Pre-ETS first and then considering whether to also apply for individualized support.

Signing a consent form with DVR is the first step

The family and school need to work together to complete DVR’s consent form before services can begin. Some programs, including summer camps, require a student to be officially enrolled in Pre-ETS. Completing the consent form is a first step.

Services from DVR expand work underway at school

Note that all students in Washington work with counselors and other school staff on a High School and Beyond Plan, which includes interest surveys and career cruising, encourages volunteer work, and provides an organizational method to ensure that a student’s work in school strengthens a pathway toward adult goals. The state requires this planning to begin in Middle School, by 7th– 8th grade, for all students.

Summary of Tools for Transition

To summarize, a student with a disability has a set of possible tools to support the high-school transition and plans for higher education, work, and independent living:

  1. High School and Beyond Plan (HSBP)—described on the website of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). The HSBP is a tool for all Washington students and required to begin by 8th
  2. IEP Transition Plan—described by OSPI in a booklet, Guidelines for Aligning High School & Beyond Plans (HSBP) and IEP Transition Plans. A Transition Plan is an IEP requirement by age 16.
  3. Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) from DVR, for students with a documented disability who may have an IEP, a Section 504 Plan or no plan. A student does not need to be eligible for DVR case management to receive Pre-ETS.
  4. An Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE), if eligible, with 1:1 DVR support
  5. Person Centered Planning is another tool: PAVE provides an article about PCP, with reminders that sessions can happen in person or virtually.

Key elements of Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS)

Pre-ETS include five required services. Each service in this list is linked to a resource for further investigation. DVR counselors can provide additional resources to suit an individual’s unique circumstances:

  1. Job exploration counseling: career speakers, interest and ability inventories, investigation of labor market statistics and trends, and more
  2. Work-based learning experiences: in-school or after school opportunities, including internships, provided in an integrated environment to the maximum extent possible. According to the Brookings Institution, work-based learning is predictive of future job quality.
  3. Counseling on opportunities for further education: How to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid(FAFSA®) and how to locate disability resource centers at colleges and universities are part of college readiness.
  4. Workplace readiness training to develop social skills and independent living
  5. Instruction in self-advocacy, which may include peer mentoring, training in disability disclosure, and more

Work-based learning and work readiness programs are generally provided by agencies that contract with DVR, says Gillum from DVR in Tacoma. “Transition consultants oversee those contracts and help connect students and agencies to develop a service plan.”

Why VR is worth the work and where to go for more information

Research shows that access to an array of collaborative services during high school improves post-secondary outcomes, especially when school staff and service providers get to know one another and there are “warm hand-offs” between individuals who develop trusted relationships with the young person, according to data shared by the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT). Another place for data and detail about WIOA is the Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center (WINTAC).

Engagement with vocational rehabilitation services is supported by initiatives endorsed by the U.S. Department of Labor and its Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). These federal agencies promote the concept of Employment First, a framework for systems change centered on the premise that all citizens, including individuals with significant disabilities, are capable of full participation in integrated employment and community life. 

The PACER Center, a Minnesota-based agency founded in 1977 to promote a “parents helping parents” philosophy, supports the National Parent Center on Transition and Employment, which offers a collection of materials with more information about vocational rehabilitation and how to benefit from pre-employment and employment services. Included in the PACER Center’s materials is a booklet for parents to help young people prepare for college and careers.

Washington’s DVR program provides a video about the school-to-work transition with young people talking about their experiences with the agency and how it helped.

Chelsie Gillum from the Pierce County region of DVR encourages young people and families to contact DVR despite the pandemic. “Even if vocational rehabilitation services are not what you need immediately,” she says, “our team can help connect you with other resources to help you during the pandemic. We appreciate your patience and flexibility as we all adjust to meet people’s needs in this ever-changing landscape. We cannot wait to hear from you!”

 

Relatives Raising Children Face Unique Challenges

Imagine a knock on the front door at night. Outside is a police officer, bringing a child to the safe-haven of a grandparent’s home. A grandparent might experience fear and confusion, trying to reconcile what has happened in the family and how to support the child. This is how a journey toward kinship care can begin.

May is Kinship Awareness Month, an opportunity to acknowledge relatives other than parents raising children. Nearly 50,000 family members in Washington are kinship caregivers. Many of the children in their care have experienced trauma and need special education or uniquely designed physical- or mental-health services.

Relatives who provide kinship care can qualify for state support. The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) provides a resource guide about kinship care that includes information about benefits and services, health care, legal issues and more. DSHS manages the kinship program as part of its Aging and Long-Term Support Administration (ALTSA).

Reasons that relatives other than parents raise children vary. Some family members are granted custody by courts involved in the child welfare system. In other circumstances, law enforcement places children with relatives after finding parents unfit. Parents may have died, or a relative may have intervened because of issues related to addiction or abuse. Some kinship caregivers are meeting a grandchild, niece, or nephew for the first time when that child needs a new home.

A child might arrive without any possessions. The financial cost and life disruption can significantly impact the relative providing kinship care. In Washington, the Kinship Navigator program can help. This program was adopted by the state in 2003.  

A Kinship Navigator can direct family caregivers to a variety of community resources related to healthcare, finances, legal services, support groups, training, child care and emergency funds. Kinship Navigators also can explain how to apply for federal and state benefits. The Kinship Navigator helps families establish or maintain greater self-sufficiency and long-term stability, often with a goal to keep children out of foster care.

A navigator can help family caregivers get involved with support groups and learn to balance the needs of the child with a potentially complicated relationship with the child’s parents. Daycare options can be located, and children might gain access to recreational and social activities to help them find belonging in a new life circumstance.

In spring 2019, Governor Jay Inslee signed into law Senate Bill 5641 to create a statewide kinship care legal aid coordinator. The state budget was expanded to include $500,000 for growth of the Kinship Care Support Program and $468,000 to fund Tribal Navigators for Native American families. One of the bill’s supporters was Rep. Eric Pettigrew, who in 2002 helped create a statewide Kinship Care Oversight Committee that led to development of the state’s kinship programming.

The Seattle Times published an article Dec. 28, 2018, about kinship care and reimbursement rates in comparison to foster care. According to the Times, about 43,000 relatives other than parents are raising children in Washington State. More than 90 percent of those caregivers are grandparents. The article includes data that most families choose not to become legal foster parents because of state scrutiny over the welfare system. Informal kinship-care arrangements are four times more common than formal foster care.

Generations United, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, collects data about government costs and savings related to kinship care. The agency coordinates projects to strengthen intergenerational connections and offers ways for families to advocate for system improvements to benefit children, youth and older adults.

The Military Parent Technical Assistance Center, The Branch, provides specific guidance about benefits and other issues that impact short- and long-term kinship caregivers in military families.

Washington State Offers a New Option for Employment and Housing Support

Employment and housing can be critical to good health, and the State of Washington has recognized that more supports are needed in these key areas. In January 2018, the state launched a new program to support individuals with complex care needs because of physical or mental impairments by helping them to find and keep jobs and homes. 

The pilot project provides housing and employment supports to individuals who qualify to receive them. The program doesn’t pay the rent or subsidize a job but rather offers counseling and resource navigation help so that individuals can maintain relationships and stabilize in their work and home circumstances. The program is available to persons 16 and older, who are Medicaid eligible and meet the criteria for the program. This may include students transitioning from high school into adulthood. 

“This program is open to a new population,” says Krystal Baumann, an employment program manager for Region 2 in the northwestern part of the state. Bauman says the new initiative may share referrals with the state’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) and the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) but is a separate program that offers unique services for individuals who may not qualify for supports through DDA or DVR. These new services cannot duplicate other state and federal programs, so individuals already receiving supports may need to choose which service or agency best suits their needs. 

The pilot program is part of the Healthier Washington Medicaid Transformation led by the Washington Health Care Authority (HCA) in conjunction with the Aging and Long-Term Support Administration (ALTSA) and Behavioral Health Administration (BHA). A multi-tiered effort to transform Medicaid services to address social factors that contribute to lifelong health challenges, Healthier Washington includes multiple phases being introduced over a five-year period in what has been called the Medicaid Transformation Demonstration. 

“The purpose of transforming Medicaid is to build an integrated, whole-person health care delivery system,” the HCA states. “The success of this effort will provide Washington State with definitive evidence that better health, better care, and lower costs are possible, now and in the future.” 

The new project that targets housing and employment comprises Foundational Community Supports (FCS)—also called Initiative 3.   “FCS providers can play a critical role in achieving better health, better care and stronger communities,” organizers conclude in an HCA FAQ sheet released in December.  

Supported housing services are designed for people who experience: 

  • Chronic homelessness 
  • Frequent or lengthy institutional contacts 
  • Frequent or lengthy stays in adult residential care 
  • Frequent turn-over of in-home caregivers 
  • PRISM (Predictive Risk Information SysteM) score 1.5 or higher 

Housing supports are ongoing to help people find and maintain stable, independent living. Services include: 

  • Housing assessments 
  • Identifying housing resources 
  • Support for obtaining a lease 
  • Independent living skills development 
  • Crisis management 

Supported employment services target: 

Employment supports can help people find jobs (in competitive, customized or self-employment settings) and gain the skills to succeed. Services include: 

  • Vocational/job-related discovery or assessment 
  • Planning for employment 
  • Job placement, development, coaching 
  • Skill-building for negotiating with prospective employers 

Eligibility is determined using a variety of tools and factors. DSHS recommends that families and individuals reach out with their questions to determine whether they might qualify and benefit from this new program.  

Families and individuals can reach out directly to Amerigroup Washington, the Foundational Community Services Third-Party Administrator by calling 844-451-2828 or emailing FCSTPA@amerigroup.com. 

If you are a customer of Home and Community Services (HCS) or the Area Agency on Aging (AAA), you may qualify for Supported Employment services under FCS. ALTSA has designated Supported Employment staff positioned throughout the state that are assisting with ALTSA specific referrals.  

Region 1 (Eastern Washington) Jim Bischoff: 509-585-8073, BISCHJ@dshs.wa.gov 

Region 2 (Northwest) Krystal Baumann: 360-522-2363, SmithKA1@dshs.wa.gov 

Region 3: (Southwest) Vicki Gilleg: 360-870-4918, GILLEV@dshs.wa.gov 

ALTSA HQ: Mike Corcoran: 360-725-2561, Michael.Corcoran@dshs.wa.gov 

 Amerigroup.com 

Amerigroup – Washington Foundation Community Supports