As students with disabilities transition out of high school, a new government report finds the path to independence is overly complicated.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, kids with disabilities are eligible for a broad range of services through their local school district. However, once these students complete high school, they must apply and be deemed eligible for services administered by upwards of four federal agencies in order to continue receiving government assistance.
But a report released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office finds that poor coordination often leaves young adults and their families struggling to find resources.
“The current federal approach to assisting students with disabilities in their transition to postsecondary education or the workforce necessitates that students and their parents navigate multiple programs and service systems to piece together the supports these students need to achieve maximum independence in adulthood,” finds the report from Congress’ investigative arm.
For the report, investigators interviewed families and other stakeholders in five states. In many cases, parents reported that school district officials were not aware of services that their children might be eligible for as adults or did not properly inform them of their options.
What’s more, varying requirements for government programs can be confusing and documentation needed to qualify for different offerings is frequently overwhelming, GAO found.
Students are also often at a disadvantage coming out of high school, the report indicated, because they have not received critical vocational or life skills training despite a requirement that all students with disabilities have transition plans.
Other problems identified by GAO in the transition process included misinformation disseminated to families, low expectations on the part of families and professionals as well as delays in receiving services.
“Without receiving accurate and timely information about available services, students may miss opportunities to access needed services that could mean the difference between achieving an optimal level of self-sufficiency and relying on public assistance to meet their basic needs,” the report said.
GAO is recommending enhanced coordination between the Department of Education, Social Security, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor, all of which provide transition services to youth with disabilities.
Some members of Congress are also looking to act on the issue.
“Transition services to help students succeed in college and careers are vitally important, and I hope that we can use the findings of this report to increase access and make it easier for students and their families to navigate programs that are here to help people with disabilities lead full, independent lives,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.