With September coming to an end, spring has sprung, the weather is getting warmer and school students are anxiously awaiting the end of Term 3. For those finishing Year 12, it is a time of relief, excitement and wonder, but also often stress, fear and uncertainty.
On the one hand, there will be newfound freedom in their lives no longer focused around the nine-to-three, Monday to Friday timetable. On the other hand - pressure coming from their families and peers. Options. Decisions. Questions. Where are you going to study? When will you get a job? What do you want to do with your life?
But for many young people with disability, this time can be vastly different. Many of them will be leaving school at the end of Term 3, having gone through transition meetings with their teachers, Support Teachers, Transition and Local Area Coordinators. They will have filled out their school leaver plans, outlining their life goals and the supports needed to achieve them.
There are numerous options available to school leavers with disability and navigating through these choices and opportunities may be challenging and confusing. To help shed some light on this subject, we asked our Managing Director, Alicia Yuen, and Engagement & Operations Manager, Kristie Findlater, some questions about leaving school and the new NDIS support, School Leaver Employment Supports (SLES), offered by some NDIS providers including Beyond Abilities.
Can you describe the process of leaving school for people with disability? What is currently happening in these young people’s lives?
Alicia: At the moment, these young people are trying to work out where they’re going. Their schoolteachers and Support Teachers, Transition, are guiding them to write a plan that outlines what they want to do and how to make it happen. They will then, with their parents or carers, attend expos and events (all held online this year due to Covid-19) and talk to different providers, like us, about what they want to do. They will access different supports depending on their needs, abilities and the types of funding they can receive.
What kind of feelings are they experiencing?
Alicia: It is not uncommon for young people to feel lost and confused after finishing high school. But while students without disability will start looking for jobs or go to TAFE/Uni (or both), students with disability may lack the necessary skills and support to be able to do that. Furthermore, there are certain rites of passage many students would have gone through before ‘growing up’ – having an afterschool job, asking someone to the formal, driving lessons, going on schoolies… Not having experienced these, young people with disability often don’t have that frame of reference, those shared events and that defined transitioning into adulthood.
Kristie: It’s a different process. While leaving school is a major new experience for everyone and it’s common to feel uncertainty and pressure, young people without disability can, broadly speaking, take their time sorting their lives out. They are not expected to meet with government bodies. Meanwhile, students with disability have to attend formal meetings (e.g. NDIS plan reviews, Individual Employment Plans), set out their goals and plan their lives for the next 12 months…all before leaving school in late September and with new things already happening in November! It can be an overwhelming transition for someone with disability. It’s also extremely stressful for their families if they don’t have supports in place to help them understand the options that are available.
How has Covid-19 affected the above processes and experiences?
Alicia: Throughout the year there are expos and events for school leavers, their parents and carers to attend, informing them of the supports they can access, guiding them to make decisions that will affect them for the next year or two. Due to Coronavirus, all these expos have been taking place online, which has limited access for some and made it difficult to get the information they need.
Kristie: The main challenge during Covid-19, for school leavers and service providers alike, has been the lack of face-to-face contact. We haven’t been able to attend any expos in person, which has made it difficult to get a feel for different companies and agencies and ask them questions without having to use email or Zoom.
Then there is the added fear and anxiety – in addition to leaving your comfort zone and going into the unknown, you now must remember to socially distance, wash your hands and wear a mask.
Do you have any tips for young people to make the transition process easier, as well as advice for their parents, relatives, carers and friends?
Kristie: Contact different providers. Find someone who can really connect with you and is able to support your primary carers at the same time. This can be done via Support Coordination, using your NDIS Core Funds to link in with another provider, or sometimes as part of another support with a provider.
Look for providers who are willing to think outside the box. School leavers are all different and have many ideas about the things they want to do for work. Hobbies and passions may very well be made into an employment opportunity…who knows?! This is where you need a provider who will look at the school leaver as an individual and NOT as part of a group, and help them explore the many options that may be available to them.
It’s also about getting out there and connecting with people who are going through the same thing – peers, parents, teachers. Sharing your contacts, experience and knowledge is invaluable and can often make what seems like an overwhelming task a lot less daunting. Link in with online support groups, Facebook pages and carer networks. Attend any Come & Try days if possible. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Alicia: Listen to what young people really want. We often think we know what’s best for them, but whatever they want out of life should be theirs alone to accomplish. A parent or carer might think the best thing for their young person is getting a job, any job they can realistically do, or getting into tertiary education. Meanwhile, school leavers with disability might actually want to make their own decisions, be more independent and do the things their friends are doing, like travelling and living independently. How can we give them these opportunities if we’re constantly stopping them from making their own decisions? The NDIS is all about teaching people the skills to make their own, informed choices.
Another thing to keep in mind when attending NDIS planning and plan review meetings is to make sure you understand and use the right language. For example, a person that is non-verbal or relies on mobility supports may, in most cases, find it harder to find work. Instead of setting a goal that states: ‘find a job’, which will connect that person with open or supported employment options, it might be wiser to focus on improving some key skills, which will offer that person more suitable funding type and supports.
What are School Leaver Employment Supports (SLES) and who are they for?
Alicia: SLES provide funding for up to two years and are designed for school leavers who want to work in the near future but ‘are not there yet’. The program is designed to build the skills needed to find and keep a job, but also to gain vital adulthood skills like literacy and numeracy, maintaining good relationships, confidence and independence.
For example, some people have behavioural barriers and anxieties that may hinder their interaction with other employees, students or people in the community. They won’t make friends the same way everyone else does, they won’t get a job and they’ll miss out on certain opportunities. A lot of people won’t understand the forms they have to fill out, which might further complicate their struggle to find work, in turn feeding their stress, anxiety or depression.
What can Beyond Abilities offer young school leavers when it comes to SLES or similar supports?
Kristie: When someone approaches us with needs that are quite unique and that other providers have said no to, we’re willing to give it a go. Not everyone wants to be in a group, so our individualised programs are designed around School Leavers’ abilities, interests and passions, so that they’re building skills in a way they enjoy. People come to us because we have an energetic, motivated team and we’re always trying new things. We always put our clients first, we treat them with respect and help them develop skills that align to their goals.
Alicia: We believe in smaller groups. We know that our clients need more support, so we’ve brought down the number of people in our groups to as low as we can – six. We do intensive group training sessions once a week, followed by some one-on-one support sessions. In addition, we feel it’s important for our clients to socialise and make new friends. We do things differently. We take our time putting together amazing programs where our clients can challenge themselves, learn, improve useful skills and have fun doing it!