I attended a focus group this week. A new venture is being developed with the intent of providing a unique six to nine-month internship experience for young adults with disabilities. The program is deeming itself unique because in addition to training the hard skills needed to perform the job, social and emotional components of the employment opportunity will also be covered by training and mentoring. It sounds like a great idea. But one thing really irked me: There was no clear goal of expected outcomes upon completing the program. Clearly a lot of time and thought had gone into things like assessing, training, and mentoring the candidates. It seemed the wheels were in motion and everything was coming together … But no one could articulate what the “value add” would be for the candidate completing the program. In what ways will a candidate be better off once he or she completes the program? Parenthetically, I asked the group facilitator that question early on in the meeting. I was told “we would get to that.” We didn’t.
This lack of outcomes is a pet peeve of mine when it comes to adult services and postsecondary offerings for individuals with disabilities. Maybe it’s because I’m so deeply entrenched in charting my son Cameron’s future, but it seems the phrase “Transition Services” is catching on like wildfire. Everyone’s talking about it. It’s great that service providers are becoming aware of the aging population with autism. There seems to be much enthusiasm to “do something” for this population. But I fear in the excitement to get going, the ability to “do something meaningful” gets lost in the shuffle.
Yes, maybe doing anything is better than nothing at all. But it just seems to me that everyone’s emotions and enthusiasm are too heavily slanted towards the front end of intake and acceptance and not focused enough on the back end of what do I have to show for this experience? I’m as guilty as anyone of losing focus of the endgame. I’m so intent on finding a postsecondary program Cameron can get into that sometimes I forget to focus on what he will get out of a potential program. And isn’t that what it’s all about? It isn’t about what Cameron will be doing with himself for the next two to four years while he’s “away at college.” It’s about what that two to four-year experience will prepare him for. It is not okay to assume Cameron will come home and live in the basement upon completion of his postsecondary program. He will need to be able to be fully employed, and independent enough to live on his own. Sure, he can count on me for the typical supports parents provide any recent college graduate. But having personally worked at a postsecondary program in the past, I’m all too familiar with the fact that often there is no exit strategy. Time moves on, and at some point enough money has been spent. Then what?
I’m sure there are programs out there that have this outcomes thing down pat. And maybe this developing program will be one of them. But everyone needs to get it down pat. Whether publicly or privately funded, we can’t continue to spend money on programs that aren’t successfully meeting their goals. Or even stating their goals for that matter.