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Welcome! Effectively Engaging Foster Youth with Disabilities in Transition Planning: Cheryl A. Theis , Education Advocate and Director, Foster Youth with Disabilities in Transition (FYDT) at DREDF and Jacob Lesner-Buxton, CSUEB MSW Student and DREDF Intern. About the Presenters.
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Effectively Engaging Foster Youth with Disabilities in Transition Planning:
Cheryl A. Theis, Education Advocate and Director,
Foster Youth with Disabilities in Transition (FYDT) at DREDF andJacob Lesner-Buxton, CSUEB MSW Student and DREDF Intern
Cheryl Theis is an education advocate at DREDF*, a foster and adoptive parent of children with disabilities, and mother of 5. I specialize in working with caregivers and professionals involved with foster youth with disabilities in transition, and have experience in direct service to youth as well, co-developing and running a transition program at a therapeutic high school.
*The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund’s mission is to advance the civil and human rights of people with disabilities through legal advocacy, training, education and public policy and legislative development. We envision a just world where all people, with and without disabilities, live full and independent lives free of discrimination.
Jacob is an MSW student at Ca State University East Bay, a disability rights activisit, and a person with a disabiity. He has participated in the CA Youth Leadership Forum for students with disabilities, and has participated in trainings around disability issues in the United States and abroad.
What is the current situation?
What are the Barriers to more positive outcomes for FFY? Education, Child Welfare, Disability Community
What is the YOUTH perspective?
What services/supports/rights are available and how can we become an access point?
What can stakeholders do to improve outcomes and promote connection and integration
Questions and answers, discussion
“...in order to access services designated specifically for people with disabilities, a person needs to have an acknowledged diagnosis…a person must meet the appropriate pre-determined criteria in order to access publicly funded services…the diagnosis can come from a number of sources: medical professionals, education professionals, social workers, or the person with a disability himself or herself....for many individuals with disabilities, as well as for many social work professionals, there is a reluctance to self-identify or “label” someone as having a disability…”*
* Hill et al, Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, Volume 5, Number 3 (2008)
The average age of functional independence in the US is 26. Parents provide an essential safety net from 18-26 (and on!).
Youth in foster care face extraordinary challenges in the areas of mental health, education, employment and finances without that safety net.
AB 12 offers a chance to level the playing field around this issue by providing critical supports
Almost 80% of adults formerly in foster care have significant mental health disabilities.
25% experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) within the previous 12 months. (Higher rates than returning Iraq Veterans)
No more than 45% of emancipated youth reporting earnings in any one quarter over a 13-quarter period.
33% have incomes at or below the federal poverty level.
High numbers of former foster youth experience multiple school changes from elementary through high school, complete high school via GED, not regular diploma, or drop out altogether.
Only 3% go to college, although 70% report wanting to go. 1% complete a BA.
Large numbers of former foster care youth exit care without assurance of stable housing.
Almost a quarter experiencing homelessness after leaving care.
The birth rate for young women in foster care (17.2%) is more than double the rate of their peers outside of the foster care system (8.2%).
Mothers who emancipate out of foster care at increased risk of losing child to foster care also.
Many unaware of benefits available to them as both former foster youth (financial aid, MediCal, CHAFEE grants, Guardian Scholar Programs) and as a person with a disability (SSI, DSPS support).
70% of California’s inmates were in the foster care system at one time.
42% of inmates have an identified disability.
82% had indications of specific learning or mental health disabilities.
Many youth in foster care are not identified as having a disability/are never referred for assessment
IEP and 504 plans for youth in care are often of poor quality and not IDEA or Section 504 compliant.
Transition Planning is a particular issue.
Plans are written without meaningful youth input, and services delivered without youth actively consenting
Beginning at age 16, a plan, called an ITP, should be developed about what services the youth needs
This plan should include:
-employment training and experience
-independent living skills like cooking, cleaning, mobility etc.
The plan should be reviewed once every year
Schools are legally required to conduct reviews of this plan every year as well a provide all services outlined in the plan or linkage to sites to where the services could be provided
IEP’s are less likely to include:
Goals for post-secondary education (than youth in special education only). Only 31% of plans had a goal in this area.
Goals for developing independent living skills (than youth in special education only).Only 16% of plans had a goal in this area.
* Findings from 2004 Fostering Futures Project (OHSU)
IEP’s aren't "individualized" and often have:
Significantly fewer goals overall (than youth in special education only). 20% had no Measurable post secondary goals.
No plan for how to reach goals.32% of transition goals listed on the plans had no accompanying action steps.
* Findings from 2004 Fostering Futures Project (OHSU)
In a comparison of youth in foster care receiving special education to a group receiving special education but not in foster care:
Education and Transition Plans of foster youth were lower in quality.
Transition Plans of foster youth were 1/2 as likely to contain goals regarding education after high school. (31% vs. 60%)
Foster youth were less likely to have an advocate at the meeting (42% vs. 69%).
Caseworkers typically absent. Only 31% of plans provided any indication that the caseworker had attended the meeting.
Caseworkers and families listed as responsible for transition activities even though not at meeting.
Only 7% of Transition Plans contained discussion about student’s emancipation from Child Welfare.
Less than 25% of the plans made any reference to Independent Living Programs.
List the student as responsible for working on transition goals, w/little or no support from others. Almost 25% of time, the student listed as sole person responsible for working towards a goal.
Rarely describe effective practices known to promote successful transition outcomes (self-determination training, person-centered or career planning, extra-curricular activities, mentoring, individualized financial support, disability empowerment).
Less than 25% of the plans make any reference to Independent Living Programs or other Transition Planning occurring through Child Welfare.
BRINGING CIL, DOR, REGIONAL CENTER AND OTHER AGENCIES INTO THE EDUCATION PLANNING PROCESS IS KEY!
Focus is on safety first.
Voluntary nature of Independent Living Programs means many youth with disabilities are left out--what does voluntary really mean?
Lack of understanding of Disability or how to challenge gatekeeping at school district level
Perception that labeling youth will harm, not help.
Lack of understanding of adult resources (SSI, DOR, Regional Center/DDS).
Requires that a Transitional Independent Living Plan (TILP) be developed for a youth who is between the ages of 15½ and 16 by the county social worker/probation officer, with the active participation of the youth and other supporting adults.
Purpose: to describe the youth’s current level of functioning and identify emancipation goals, services, activities, and individuals assisting the youth in the process of obtaining self-sufficiency. 
This Plan should include connecting youth to resources, and providing hands on training/mentoring/support!
 California Department of Social Services. All County Letter 08-31
Schools do not understand how the Child Welfare system works.
Neither understands Disability issues, history or resources.
Laws that provide educational rights, access and nondiscrimination to youth in school presume and depend on Parental involvement and advocacy.
Child Welfare depends on reports from Educators to make decisions but no clear bridge between institutions.
Parent or other adult often “runs interference” with CIL, DSP, Regional Centers as youth transition out of school. FY often do not have anyone to take this on.
Essential that Transition Plans at School include ACTIVE teaching about the disability and how to self advocate, and that goals be written that require this.
Independent Living Centers can be important connection here—Youth Leadership Forum, Disability History, etc Schools need to invite them into process
Double labels: Foster Youth AND Person with a Disability
Many see these labels as stigmatizing and wish to emancipate and leave them behind.
Success may depend on understanding that labels link to services, not to value, identity or self worth.
Nothing speaks to adolescents more than peers or former but still "relevant" peers. Be a connector!
“I think it’s part of the culture of foster care to always wonder if you’re worth it. You feel like you were never good enough for your original family, or for any other family. I carried those things around in my own heart without even realizing it. Then I looked at these other people who I thought were so worthy, and found out they had the same feelings of worthlessness that I did. I could recognize that regardless of how they felt about themselves, they were good, they were loveable. Then I could finally extend that to myself. Connecting to other alumni of foster care has been a new kind of freedom and love and belonging that I never found anywhere before”--Former Foster Youth
“There’s a perception that … these foster kids … if they’re not with their mother or father, that means no one wants them, and no one wants them for a reason, so I think they’re almost seen as a lost cause.”
—Jelani, former foster youth
To move from the passenger to the drivers seat in driving their own future.
To feel that doing so is likely to result in POSITIVE Outcomes!
To understand the relationships between benefits planning and career choices.
To learn to communicate their disability-related work support and accommodation needs.
To learn to find, formally request and secure appropriate supports and reasonable accommodations in education, training and employment settings.
* (From Guideposts to Success/NCWD)
Mentors and role models including persons with and without disabilities.
An understanding of disability history, culture, and disability public policy issues as well as their rights and responsibilities.
An ability to try out new skills and independence while still receiving support!
* (From Guideposts to Success/NCWD)
Active Teaching of Self Advocacy as a SKILL!
Help NAVIGATING these systems while still IN SCHOOL
Acquisition of appropriate assistive technologies.
Community orientation and mobility training (e.g. accessible transportation, bus routes, housing, health clinics).
Connections with Adult health care providers
Appropriate Durable Medical Equipment when needed.
Personal assistance services, including attendants, readers, interpreters, or other such services.
Benefits planning counseling.
Exposure to post-program supports such as independent living centers and other consumer-driven community-based support service agencies and HELP making initial contact.
Stigma (Youth want to be “NORMAL”).
Youth and other agencies do not understand benefits.
Lack of training for Child Welfare and Education re: disability civil rights/community available.
“Voluntary” nature of Independent Living Skills Programs means youth who can’t or won’t participate may not get “plugged in.” Continuing issue with AB12--how to increase buy in.
Foster parents/group homes caring for youth with disabilities lack training in transition AND in disability.
How will they find us?
How will they get to us?
How will they know we are there for them?
How will they know that we “get it”?
Many youth clients will not “identify” themselves as former foster youth
Homeless youth are very likely to have spent time in Foster Care—ask!
FYWD may not be aware of their disability status—ASK if they had an IEP or 504 plan, but also ask if they “received special help” or "resource" in school.
KNOW THE OPTIONS
Has Student been referred to 504 or Spec Ed?
Should "I" make that referral? (if not you, who will do it?)
ASK ourselves: Is this student AB 12 eligible?
Remember, students can "reenter" voluntary
dependency, and like many other youth, may crash and burn first time out!
Don’t give pointless referrals.
Respect Student Choices (don't give choices and then override them)
Just because a person doesn’t want spotlighted as a student with a disability at their school, doesn’t mean they do not want support around those issues.
Have alternative ways of assessing students for LD that raised self confidence
Don’t tolerate negative self talk, and refer students for mental health support when you see this as an obstacle
Encourage group work in special-ed classes among students .
Be HANDS ON when it comes to specific tasks needing to be done. Call together, write letter collaboratively. Google Docs is a great thing to actively teach!
Be HANDS ON when it comes to specific tasks needing to be done. Call together, write letter collaboratively. Google Docs is a great thing to actively teach by doing!
REFER for Special Education Assessment--do not rely let foster care status be a barrier or excuse for not assessing! (CAHSEE can be waived for seniors who have not passed and have an IEP or 504 plan)
Remember that a 504 plan is a general education support plan to LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD
Help Ed rights holders understand: Special education is not a "place" but a package of services, support, instruction provided in the LEAST restrictive environment
Assist Youth in requesting school records to determine when last assessed, if eligible, disability designation, etc. Making requesting education records routine part of school exit--may be needed later!
Assist youth in creating a PORTFOLIO that includes a letter of introduction and a description of necessary accomodations for employers and/or Colleges/Vocational Training programs
For youth coming who have “DROPPED OUT” of school, BE PARTICULARLY AWARE:
Mental health, behavioral and learning disabilities put students at risk of being “pushed” out when needs are not met—esp. when there is no parent advocating for youth. Youth with a previous IEP who were never formally exited (meaning assessment showed no eligibility) from Special Education and without a diploma CAN reenter school system in various ways--engage district!
For pregnant and parenting teens, understand all options, and keep IEP /504 support in place wherever education is being provided.
If assessments in school or health records are more than three years old, youth have difficulty qualifying for services in college, accommodations for GED, SAT, etc. Make sure student has copies of most recent triannual assessments.
Encourage youth to use time sensitive benefits (MediCal) to get new assessments, or refer to “assessment classes” available at some community colleges.
What are Chafee Grants?
AB 12 nuts and bolts
How does financial aid work for these youth?
SSI (special requirements for counties to help youth apply prior to emancipation).
What Housing Options exist?
Know the players in your district and county! Know the "go to" people up the chain of command.
Youth Organizing Disabled and Proud (YO) is a statewide initiative for youth with disabilities ages 14 -26 The program offers:
Disability 101 is a website that has information on applying for different cash-aid programs as well
For a copy of today’s PowerPoint presentation and links to additional resources, visit the DREDF website at http://www.dredf.org/special_education/trainings.shtml
Contact the local Independent Living Center
Or call CFILC at: Phone (916) 325-1690TDD (916) 325-1695Fax (916) 325- 1699
Visit the CFILC web site at www.cfilc.orgfor a listing of Centers and contact information.
Parent Training & Information (PTI) Centers provide technical assistance and training to parents/guardians of school-age children with disabilities, and professionals who serve them. PTIs by region/state:http://www.taalliance.org/ptidirectory/pclist.asp
Contact DREDF at:
Phone/TTY (510) 644-2555Toll Free (800) 348-4232Fax (510) 841-8645Email firstname.lastname@example.orgWebsite www.dredf.org
Thank you!This project was funded using 7B funds allocated by the California State Independent Living Council and distributed/administered by the California Department of Rehabilitation.
Californian Foundation Independent Living Center ( This websites has links to a number of local programs foster youth throughout the state ) - http://www.cfilc.org/site/c.fnJFKLNnFmG/b.5192415/k.BDE2/Home.htm\
California Department of Rehabilitation (The California Department of Rehabilitation works in partnership with consumers and other stakeholders to provide services and advocacy resulting in employment, independent living and equality for individuals with disabilities.)http://www.rehab.cahwnet.gov/
Community Alliance for Special Education(This site contains, Information and legal referral services for special education advocacy) http://caseadvocacy.org/RESOURCE LIST
Scholarships and Internships for youth with Disabilities - http://www.proyectovision.net/english/opportunities/index.html
Wrights Law (Information and tips on special education advocacy ) http://wrightslaw.com/Youth with Disabilities in the Foster Care System: Barriers to Success and Proposed Policy Solutions, (This report provides an overview of challenges that foster youth with disabilities face) http://www.ncd.gov/newsroom/publications/2008/FosterCareSystem_Report.htmlRESOURCE LIST
Youth Leadership Forum ( An exciting five day leadership or program that provides information on everything from technology to resource agencies. Plus participants get the chance to meet and interact with leaders in the State and Nation - celebrities, politicians, entertainers, and other role models from the "disability community “The forum takes place July in the State Capitol, Sacramento, California. Student delegates and volunteer staff stay in the dorms at California State University, Sacramento. Sixty students with a verity of disabilities are selected to attend, this free conference . For more info, http://www.calylf.org/site/c.qmL2KiN2LtH/b.2229713/k.BDAD/Home.htm)RESOURCE LIST