The federal government seeks to help youth with disabilities—particularly those receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI)—achieve better job outcomes as they become adults. The goal is to reduce their dependency on benefits by helping them find employment and earn higher wages. But because disabilities and other characteristics of these youth present significant employment barriers, strategies to address these concerns have to be thoughtful and comprehensive. The strategies must also have a rigorous evidence base to demonstrate their success. To achieve this, several agencies have contracted Mathematica to examine how transition services are being used for youth with disabilities and identify which services show the most promise based on the evidence. Mathematica recently released three reports that shed light on this topic.
The first report, “Potential Strategies to Improve the Employment Outcomes of Youth SSI Recipients,” documents promising strategies to promote sustained, gainful employment for youth SSI recipients. After providing an overview of the challenges that youth SSI recipients face in making transitions to adulthood, the researchers reviewed existing studies to identify which strategies are most promising. Although the existing evidence base is limited and needs more testing (ranging from small pilot tests to large demonstration projects), the review did reveal three key findings on potential transition strategies:
- The evaluation of the Youth Transition Demonstration provides the most comprehensive information to date about promising strategies to improve the employment outcomes of youth SSI recipients. It also points to the potential for employment services to influence outcomes for this population.
- Random assignment evaluations of federal demonstrations for people receiving adult SSI and Social Security Disability Insurance show the positive impacts of case management, health plans, supported employment, work incentives, and other supports.
- Various strategies targeted to youth and young adults with disabilities show consistent promising evidence on employment outcomes, though much of this evidence is based primarily on descriptive or nonexperimental studies. A larger number have involved transition programs that provide participants with employment services coupled with other supports.
The second report, “State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies’ Early Implementation Experiences with Pre-Employment Transition Services,” presents state implementation experiences with a new mandate from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The mandate requires state vocational rehabilitation agencies to make pre-employment transition services available to all students with disabilities, not just youth clients who qualify for vocational rehabilitation services. The report presents examples of partnerships, service delivery, and staffing used to provide these services. The findings confirm that agencies have faced challenges in implementing the new pre-employment transition services, but they have made considerable progress in developing innovative strategies to expand the services they offer and the populations they serve.
In the third report, “The Relationship Between Youth Services and Adult Outcomes Among Former Child SSI Recipients,” Mathematica found positive evidence of the long-term association of some types of services used by youth receiving SSI. The analysis examined a group of youth ages 14 to 17, some of whom received vocational rehabilitation, vocational training, or special education, and tracked how they were doing 13 years later. The findings indicate that vocational rehabilitation services were associated with improved long-term employment and economic independence, though confounding factors might contribute to the observed relationship.
Each of these reports are part of larger projects that seek to investigate effective transition practices for youth with disabilities. Understanding the existing evidence base and current practices will enable program administrators and policymakers to better assist youth achieve self-sufficiency as they become adults.