Through their support, guidance and advocacy, family members and caregivers are key stakeholders to an individual’s success in the educational and workforce systems. According to research commissioned by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, students whose parents are involved in their career exploration and planning are more actively engaged in school, earn higher grade point averages, are more open to change, attend school regularly and are resilient when facing challenges. It is important that families begin the discussion with the youth about choosing a career long before completing high school. Family members should set high expectations, be involved in their child’s education, help build strong advocacy skills, and work to create a vision for a positive future for their child. However, for some families, assisting their youth in setting a vision for their future can be extremely challenging. 

When families are involved, students are more likely to:

    • Earn high grade-point averages and scores on standardized tests or rating scales
    • Enroll in more challenging academic programs
    • Pass more classes and earn more credits
    • Attend school regularly
    • Display positive attitudes about school
    • Graduate from high school and enroll in postsecondary programs
    • Refrain from destructive activities such as alcohol and drug use and violence

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is defined broadly as adults and children related biologically, emotionally, or legally, including single parents, blended families, unrelated individuals living cooperatively, and partnered couples who live with biological, adopted and foster children.

To this end, policymakers should embrace a multilayered approach to service delivery as indicated below.

Supporting family members to:

      • Communicate and model high expectations for what youth can do and achieve in life
      • Support youth’s learning through active involvement in their education
      • Participate with the youth in youth-led individualized planning and transition meetings
      • Build advocacy skills to direct and facilitate access to services and opportunities
      • Gradually shift from serving as a youth advocate to youth coach
      • Develop their own, as well as their youth’s, understanding of high school, post-secondary and employment expectations, including relevant policies, rights and responsibilities
      • Assist youth in:
        • Understanding their disability and implications in various settings
        • Exploring interests and options and accessing resources and supports for post-secondary education, competitive integrated employment, and community living
        • Identifying and participating in career preparation, work-based learning and paid employment
        • Developing employability skills and other competencies
        • Developing self-determination skills
        • Voicing their preferences and building and using social capital
        • Developing financial capability
      • Develop the family’s own social capital and knowledge to navigate transition.

Services, Supports and Opportunities for Families

Professionals, educators and service providers need to:

      • Communicate and model high expectations for what youth can do and achieve
      • Work in partnership with families to promote youth’s academic learning, career development, health, access to community supports and transition to adult life
      • Engage families and youth as partners in transition assessment and individualized planning
      • Include all families of youth, including culturally and linguistically diverse families, in the process of collaboration, planning and implementation for transition
      • Strengthen and practice cultural competency
      • Recognize and respect differences among family environments
      • Assist families with accessing and learning how to use technology
      • Coordinate and integrate services across multiple service systems
      • Provide families with:
          • Training and follow-up support on communicating and modeling high expectations for youth and developing youth autonomy
          • Training and information on financial capability
          • Opportunities to connect to people, institutions and resources
          • Peer-led programs/support networks for families and youth
          • Community-based wrap-around[i] programs as needed
          • Benefits planning assistance, including long-term services and supports.

Provide Information on:

      • How to access opportunities, resources and supports
      • Evidence-based and promising practices for transition
      • Relevant policies, rights, and responsibilities that apply to adulthood
      • Healthcare transition, supported decision-making and other alternatives to guardianship and long-term services and supports.

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Additional Resources for Parents

National-Level Resources

  • The Family Guideposts: Engaging in Youth Transitions, Parent and Caregiver Edition
    • The Family Guideposts for Success is designed to help families support their youth in these five areas, both directly and through the support of community organizations and agencies.
  • Pathways to the Future
    • This interactive site is a collection of resources, tools and people to help students with disabilities, through the journey from youth to adulthood. Youth can explore pre-employment transition services, jobs and careers, education/training after high school and independent living skills.
  • Understanding the New Vision for Career Development: The Role of Family
    • This brief provides information for families about the three phases of career development: self-exploration, career exploration and career planning and management. Individualized Learning Plans (ILP) are also highlighted as a tool to facilitate the career development process and how families can be involved.
  • Developing Financial Capability Among Youth: How Families Can Help
    • This brief provides families with suggestions and resources on how to talk with youth about money and assist them in learning and practicing financial management skills through their interactions at home. In addition, the brief includes suggestions for talking with youth about disability benefits and earnings.
  • Supporting Families of Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education
    • This brief is designed to assist faculty, staff and administrators in postsecondary education settings to better understand the value of engaging families of students with disabilities as partners in student success. Provided in the brief are ideas for supporting families in common need areas while focusing on student retention and academic achievement.

State-Level Resources