Employment outcomes for students with disabilities lag behind their non-disabled peers. For students with significant disabilities, employment opportunities and outcomes are even worse. Two University of Kentucky led projects at the Human Development Institute (HDI) – KentuckyWorks and the Community Work Transition Program (CWTP) – with technical assistance support from the YES! Center, are partnering to pilot an approach in two Kentucky school districts (Simpson County and Montgomery County) to enhance services that support youth and young adults with significant disabilities in obtaining competitive integrated employment. The Pilot is working with the schools, employers, local Vocational Rehabilitation counselors, parents and families to create a plan that leads to community work experiences and competitive employment for participating students.
In November 2019, KentuckyWorks worked on-site with both districts to engage parents in conversation about their child’s employment interests, needs, and opportunities. This effort led to school staff having a better understanding of the student’s interests, strengths, and needs, provided a forum to discuss potential employment opportunities, contributed to a shared expectation that competitive employment was a realistic option for their child, and informed the ongoing development of the Student Positive Personal Profile.
In December 2019, KentuckyWorks again worked on-site with both districts to approach employers in their communities to learn about their businesses and employment needs, as well as potential opportunities that may align with the strengths and interests of the participating students. These initial employer interviews will contribute to school staff development of an Employer Proposal Letter specifically outlining how a customized position for the individual student could look in that particular environment.
Staff from both districts have been positive about the initial impact of the Pilot and hope to extend this model to other students in their districts.
While KentuckyWorkswill continue to provide ongoing technical assistance and support to these two pilot districts, they believe that to scale and sustain our improvement efforts, they must effectively leverage our learning from these pilots. This focus will inform how they may best support other Kentucky school districts in their efforts to create meaningful work experiences leading to paid employment outcomes for youth and young adults with significant disabilities.
Toward that goal, KentuckyWorks has established a Sustainability Workgroup which includes leadership from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), the Kentucky Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), staff from the KentuckyWorks and CWTP projects, and representatives from the two pilot districts. The focus of the workgroup includes considerations, such as: selecting, onboarding, and supporting additional pilot sites; coordinating with/aligning to existing projects focused on transition to employment; testing innovations; supporting pilot sites in local systems change; addressing capacity/support needs; considering policy and funding opportunities/implications.
As a value-added approach to Kentucky’s longstanding CWTP – in which the majority of Kentucky school districts participate (currently 105 of 172) – KentuckyWorks will seek to expand the pilot and incorporate effective practices learned in these sites into the CWTP efforts across our state. Thus, the key sustainability strategy for this grant is that, by the end of Year 5, they intend to develop a plan to ultimately incorporate effective practices and other relevant lessons learned from the pilots into all participating CWTP’s districts, with a primary focus on supporting youth and young adults with significant disabilities in obtaining competitive employment.
This blog post was written by the KentuckyWorks Team. For more information about this project, please visit www.kentuckyworks.org.