Transition can feel like 'falling into a void', but it need not be like that, says Jill Davies...
To provide young people and their families with more support at transition
Holding workshops where people can share information
The Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities
It is well known that the transition to adulthood is incredibly stressful for young people with learning disabilities and their families. Some parents have described it as'falling into a void' thanks to the lack of co-ordinated planning,information and options offered to this group of young people. The government has acknowledged the problem and responded with two new initiatives - Getting a Life and the Transition Support Programme.Some years ago the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities launched a project called What kind of a future? It was funded through a legacy to be spent on improving the lives of people with Down's syndrome. When we asked people and their families what area of work to focus on, one of the major worries was what happens to young people when they leave school and the limited opportunities that seem to be open to them. So the project addressed innovative approaches to transition and produced a booklet featuring the stories of young people doing exciting things with their lives after leaving full-time education. The second phase of the project involved running a series of 12 workshops between 2008 and 2009 in Cardiff, Derby and Newham in London, inviting along young people and their families. The aim was to support participants to plan fortheir future and to help turn those plans into reality. Although these workshops were for people with Down's syndrome, they could easily be applied to all young people with learning disabilities.
In each area around seven to 10 young people aged between 14 and 27 years attended, accompanied by members of their family. During the first phase of the project weidentified that families played a key role in making change happen for their relative. The principals of each workshop were to:
- ask the participants to select a topic linked around transition
- invite local professionals and self-advocates who could share their experiences about the given topic
- offer the young people activities that enhanced the learning from each topic
- allow families time to talk and make links with local professionals and organisations.
The first workshop in each area explored person-centred planning,as this is the key tool in supporting the young person in thinking about their hopes and dreams as they approach adulthood.Person-centred planning co-ordinators were invited to speak, along with a local self-advocate whose life had benefited from person-centred planning. Very few people attending the workshopswere aware of this approach, so it was great to link them up with local professionals who could begin to plan with them. Further sessions explored topics including housing, employment, health,benefits, individual budgets and self-advocacy.
By linking local organisations andprofessionals with the young people, some positive outcomes wereachieved. For example, in one area the Mencap Pathways manager was able to support two young women to refer themselves to the service.Prior to the workshop, neither family was aware of the Pathways Service. In another example, a family acquired a direct paymentthat helped their daughter to have a social life. Other outcomes included:
- three young people have started work on their person-centredplans
- one young woman has started a paper-round while at college
- another has started paid work in a day centre for older people
- one person decided they felt confident enough to go out ontheir own with friends
- another has expressed the need to move out of home
- two friends are now planning to go on a short holiday together(along with their sisters for support)
- one young man said he no longer needs an escort in his taxiwhen he goes to the day centre.
As for the families, they expressed a greater awareness of what isavailable locally and their aspirations had increased around theirson or daughter entering the workplace. Both the Cardiff and Derbygroups said they would value meeting on a regular basis to explorefurther the different issues at transition.
We learned that this model of informing youngpeople and their families of the options at transition was far moreuseful than passing them written information with no follow up. Theyoung people enjoyed meeting at the workshops and they offeredsupport and inspiration to each other. They also reminded thefacilitators, speakers and parents what is important to them atthis time in their life, rather than let the adults decide forthem. Families themselves are a huge source of information and onlyby bringing people together can this valuable information be passedon to others. We believe that this model can be replicated in anylocal area providing there is commitment from a lead organisation(it could be from the statutory or voluntary sector) to plan withfamilies and determine what their information needs are.
My kind of a future is an easy readworkbook that covers a range of topics including: staying healthy,getting around and getting ready for work. It was developed toencourage young people to plan their own lives independently and tothink about their future. It was motivated by the fact that so manyyoung people were telling us that there were no resources availableto help them think about their future. It was developed with theyoung people themselves during the workshops. Prepared for thefuture? was written specifically for parents, siblings and otherfamily members who want to help a young relative lead a fulfillinglife after leaving school. The booklet covers a wide range oftopics in jargon-free language, including:
- getting support
- different opportunities available after school
- moving from the family hom
- getting support in your caring role.
To download copies go to www.learningdisabilities.org.uk/what-kind-of-a-future/
About the author
Jill Davies is research programmemanager at the Foundation for People with LearningDisabilities