My son is finishing his first “real” job experience and I couldn’t be prouder of him. He worked for an insurance company, taking advantage of Maryland’s Department of Rehabilitative Services (DORS) Pre-Employment Transition Services program – he worked 3.5 hours/day, two days a week. When I think back on the journey to get him to this point I’m overcome with gratitude for the professionals I’ve met along the way. Without them we (my son and I) wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful; because although you can be a strong advocate you still need the right people in your corner to help open doors.
So today I want to talk about the Pre-Employment Transition Services my son used. Every State in the country is required to have a similar program, although I can’t say for certain what it will be called where you live. This comes from the 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Specifically, it requires “a vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency to reserve 15% of its federal funds to provide pre-employment transition services (Pre-ETS) to students with disabilities.”
The child needs to be a student, these benefits are available between the ages of 14 and 22. Think of the opportunity to help your child by getting real paid job experience – not only for the boost to their self-confidence, but the opportunity to improve their resume for their post-High School job search. They’ll start earning credits towards their ability to receive Social Security retirement and disability from their own records. And because they are students their SSI and Medicaid (if they are receiving it) has additional protections – Student Earned Income Exclusion (SSI).
Workforce training isn’t limited to just on-the-job-training (OJT). It also includes financial literacy, interpersonal skills and other “soft” skills necessary to keep a job once you have it. For many of our children it’s not the assigned tasks that present the challenge, especially if provided the correct supports – it’s understanding the nuances of workplace culture; and the only way (in my opinion) to help them grasp these concepts is through exposure. I don’t know how to role play internal power struggles or politics that every place I’ve ever worked had; and it’s not enough to tell our children not to get involved – they have to know what is happening before they can opt out of it.
If you have a child between the ages of 14 and 22, who is still in school and has an IEP or 504 plan, look into Pre-ETS. These programs are funded, let’s make the most of them. If you don’t know who to ask, start with your child’s IEP team, but don’t stop there if you hit a wall. If the school can’t/won’t help you reach out to the State’s Department of Rehabilitation. The sooner you can get your child started, the better. Think of what you learned (or wish you’d learned) as a teenager working your first job – let’s give our children the same opportunities.