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Barriers to Successful Transition for Young Adults Who Receive SSI and Their Families

by Jennifer L. Schuster, Jaimie Ciulla Timmons, and Mairead Moloney

The transition to adult life for youth with disabilities and their families is often complicated by the need for continued services and supports which are often limited or difficult to access. The move from the known special education system to an unfamiliar often inaccessible adult service system can bring about a series of concerns. Hence, parents of young adults with disabilities have frequently identified the need for reliable, accessible high quality services that address all aspects of adult life. The presence of a disability also affects the social life of students in transition, as well as work outcomes.

One support that the federal government has provided for a long period of time is the supplemental security income (SSI) which functions as a monthly cash stipend. This is a needs based program that provides a monthly stipend and medical benefits for individuals with disabilities who have limited income and resources. To be eligible for SSI, children and adolescents must meet financial and disability eligibility guidelines. They must show evidence of a physical or mental impairment that result in marked and severe functional limitations. Furthermore, family incomes must be less than $740 a month and family assets may not exceed $2,000. Obviously, SSI can function as an additional barrier to successful transition for young adults in terms of employment, since maintenance of health insurance is a primary concern for many SSI recipients. Furthermore, many individuals do not want to take a chance on losing their SSI.

In this study, Schuster and her colleagues examine the barriers to transition faced by young adults with disabilities who are receiving SSI. Interviews were conducted with 12 transition age students and 10 of their parents or guardians. The authors identified a number of obstacles through transition planning that were unrelated to the receipt of SSI which included:

  1. A poor match between student's interest and current jobs.
  2. Perceived lack of partnership between families and schools.
  3. Impact with disability unemployment, social supports and continuing education.
  4. Preoccupation with the present, uncertainty about the future.
  5. Additional constraints.
Further discussion with the families indicated additional barriers associated specifically with receiving SSI such as the difficulty in management of SSI, limited understanding of the relationship between work and SSI and unawareness of the supports available through SSI. While the number of students in this study was small (12) this is a very important qualitative study because it provides specific insight as to why SSI is not functioning in away that would promote community integration and independent employment. SSI is viewed as an either-or mechanism as opposed to a support from which to build employment upon. This paper is a good start on what could be a much more in-depth larger study in the future.