Transitioning From School Into Adult Services

By Bob Fonte, Director of Outreach

The Arc Baltimore works intently to transition recent graduates from school into day and supported employment services. We refer to these students as transitioning youth. Every year there are a number of families who do not get into adult services or their entry is delayed for a variety of reasons. In order to prevent this from happening, I wanted to talk about what families should do in preparation for when their child exits the school system. Although the process can be daunting, it does not have to be difficult. Starting early will give you plenty of time to address any problems and agencies, such as The Arc, are there to help you.

HOW DO I GET FUNDING?
There are two state agencies that fund services for persons with disabilities. The Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) provides short-term employment and life skills training, employment support, and adaptive equipment. They work with individuals who have any disability that impairs their ability to maintain employment. DORS works with both individuals who have a mental health diagnosis or a developmental disability. There is a waiting list, but folks who receive Social Security benefits receive a priority for services.

The Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) is the state agency that funds services for persons with developmental disabilities. There is a long waiting list for services, but DDA generally allocates a significant amount of funding for students exiting school at age 21. This is known as the Transitioning Youth (TY) Initiative and the funds are for day or supported employment services. Students who leave school early are not eligible until the year they would have exited the school system if they stayed until age 21. The TY Initiative is the way that the majority of individuals get into DDA services. Everyone eligible for the transitioning Youth Initiative will get a resource coordinator (case manager for DDA services) who will assist you with this process. Both Baltimore City and Baltimore County School systems have transition teams that will also offer guidance beginning even before age 18. So, there is help for families who need it.

HOW DO I QUALIFY FOR DDA SERVICES?
To be eligible for any services from DDA, an individual must have a severe developmental disability that impairs their ability to function independently, but there are two levels of eligibility – DD (Developmentally Disabled) and SO (Supports Only). This often confuses families as most people determined as SO have a developmental disability.

“Supports only” (SO)DDA determined that you have a significant disability, but are more independent than someone who would be determined as DD eligible.

A young adult exiting the school system with a SO status is unlikely to get into services through DDA. You can apply to DDA at any age. However, applicants under age 18 are often determined to be SOsince, at that age, they are not expected to have many adult skills whether or not they have a disability. Individuals who are originally determined SO can easily request a “redetermination” provided there is documentation that supports this appeal. Current school records are usually adequate.

Families of a child turning 18 should know their status with DDA. If they are SO, they should contact their resource coordinator to initiate a redetermination. If the redetermination still yields a determination of SO, you have a right to formally appeal that decision.

Aside from exiting school at age 21, one must also be eligible for DDA services as developmentally disabled (DD) in order to be eligible for the TY Initiative and, in the future, the full range of services (residential, day and supports) that DDA offers. Those individuals who are determined only as SO are eligible for support services from DDA, but are not eligible for TY money nor day and residential services. Individuals in the SOcategory are also not eligible for the DDA waiver, so it is unlikely they will be able to obtain any services from DDA. The bottom line is that if you are eligible as DD, you are in position to receive day and employment services. If your status with DDA is SO, you should seek to appeal this decision.  

HOW DO I APPLY FOR THE COMMUNITY PATHWAYS WAIVER?
The other critical piece to getting DDA services is eligibility for the Community Pathways Waiver. The DDA receives about 50% of cost of services from the federal government for those in the waiver. So, DDA generally does not fund non-waiver services. One cannot apply for the DDA waiver in advance of services, but if someone receives SSI benefits and Medical Assistance, they almost certainly will be eligible for the waiver. Families should apply for SSI for a child at age 18 when only the individual’s – not the family’s – income and assets are counted.  There is an asset limit of $2000 for SSI and the waiver. Those who do not already have SSI and/or MA may still be eligible for the waiver, but it is a much longer and complicated process.

WHEN SHOULD I SELECT A PROVIDER AGENCY?
Early in the final school year, families should begin contacting providers and looking at programs of interest to them. Ideally, you should know where your son or daughter is going by January, but many families do not sort this out until much later. You should have a first and second choice of programs. Your resource coordinator should be working closely with you in this process and can send referrals to your choice of provider agencies. There is a universal application that all the agencies should accept, so you only need to fill out one application and give it to the resource coordinator to distribute with the referral packet. You should be aware that TY funding does not start until July 1 at the earliest and there is usually a gap of at least several weeks between graduation and the start of DDA services. 

Although the eligibility and waiver regulations can be complicated and confusing, the majority of students will transition into adult services without a hitch. There are three key points to remember to ensure a smooth transition into the adult world:
  • Apply to the DDA and/or check DDA status at age 18.
  • Apply for SSI benefits and Medicaid (Medical Assistance) at age 18 and keep assets under $2000
  • Work with your resource coordinator to apply to and visit providers early in the student’s final year of school – if not before.
For more information and guidance on the TY process, check out our TY information page or contact me or my colleagues in the Outreach Department at 410-296-2272. 

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