Transition Services: The Buck Stops Where?

Published on August 23, 2009 by Jennifer Laviano

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One of the most important aspects of the IDEA, about which I speak and write often, is the requirement for Transition Services.  In an upshot, these are the services which are designed to prepare students with disabilities to become adults.  Now, I would argue that ALL special education services should be doing that, but when Transition becomes a part of an IEP, typically the student is in his or her teens or older.

Transition Services are extremely important, because often they are the “last chance” for a student to develop the skills necessary for life after school.

There are a number of possible agencies which might be natural to include in the development of a student’s IEP and Transition Plan.  Depending on the disability of the student, any number of non-educational State agencies could be involved.  In Connecticut alone, I have seen IEPs which include the involvement of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the Department of Developmental Services (DDS, formerly DMR), the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services (BRS, which is under the Department of Social Services), the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS)…and the list goes on.  Sometimes, the IEP specifically designates that some of the services will be provided by one of these outside agencies.

So what happens if they don’t do it?

Unfortunately, I see a lot of kids’ Transition Programs fall apart because some governmental agency other than the school district has been charged with a role, which they completely neglect to fulfill.  Many of the students and  parents whom I represent will tell me that they don’t hear a single word from their case worker or whomever else is supposed to be responsible for months after the IEP meeting.  Or sometimes, never again.  So, where should the family turn?

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The IDEA makes it clear that, regardless of whether a school district (which is usually your a “local educational agency”) elects to assign portions of the IEP’s implementation to others, the ultimate obligation to make sure the student’s special education Transition program is being delivered is still the school’s.  The specific language states as follows:

Failure to Meet Transition Objectives:  If a participating agency, other than the local educational agency, fails to provide the transition services described in the IEP…the local educational agency shall reconvene the IEP Team to identify alternative strategies to meet the transition objectives for the child set out in the IEP.  20 USC 1414

In my experience, a lot of the non-educational agencies which get involved in the special education process simply do not see being part of the IEP team as their obligation.  Most will not become directly responsible for the student until they officially move from IDEA eligibility to adult services.  Regularly, they either aren’t invited, or don’t send staff to attend IEP meetings, even if their participation might be extremely important.  They are already over-worked and under-staffed with their current case-loads; the last thing they want is another responsibility.  And it shows.

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There are of course exceptions.  I have met dozens of case-workers from non-educational agencies who have been remarkable, and whose involvement has been integral to a student’s successful transition to adulthood.  But sadly, they are not the norm.  I have literally heard representatives of these agencies who have been asked to be provide parts of a student’s IEP say “sorry, not my job.”

If your school district has developed a Transition Plan that is going to be implemented by others, make sure you are vigilant about their involvement.

While monitoring the IEP when it’s being entirely provided by your school district is a constant task, it pales in comparison to making sure that non-educational agencies are following through.  The very last place you want to learn that the Transition Services which you thought were being provided by an outside agency, have not been, is at one of the last IEP meetings before IDEA services terminate.  By then, it’s often too late.

Time’s a tickin’; pay attention.

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