Promoting Effective Parent Involvement in Secondary Education and Transition
Person-Centered Planning: A Tool for Transition
The expression, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is never
more true than when talking about a child with a disability. Young people with
disabilities need a support system that recognizes their individual strengths,
interests, fears, and dreams and allows them to take charge of their future.
Parents, teachers, family members, and friends in the community who offer informal
guidance, support, and love can create the “village” for every child.
Yet when young adults with disabilities are preparing to make the transition
from high school to work or postsecondary school, their “village”
may be forgotten in the rush to secure new services from programs and systems
that provide support for adults with disabilities. These crucial supports may
include vocational rehabilitation, day training programs, Social Security, Medicaid
waivers, housing, and transportation support. In contrast to a young person’s
informal support network, systems tend to use relatively impersonal and formal
methods of assessment. Case managers, vocational rehabilitation counselors,
and county social workers often have large caseloads as well as a limited amount
of time to know the individual needs and abilities of each student on their
Responsibility for maintaining the “village” is usually left to
the family or parents of the student who is graduating. However, parents have
little time to become experts on the range of supports available to their child
after high school. It is not surprising that the invaluable, informal supports
available from a young person’s “village” often remain untapped
or underdeveloped while families focus on accessing adult services.
This does not need to be the case. Use of a person-centered planning process
with young adults with disabilities as they go through transition can unite
formal and informal systems of support. By combining resources and working intentionally
toward a common goal, families and professionals can achieve more positive outcomes
for youth with disabilities, while at the same time putting long-term community
supports in place.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA ’97) requires
that a student’s Individualized Education Program include transition planning
by age 14 or earlier, if appropriate. This plan should reflect a student’s
interests and preferences, current accomplishments and skills, what they still
need to learn, as well as what they want to do in life. This can include a range
of goals—everything from the type of career the student would like to
pursue to the kind of living situation he or she hopes to have. Person-centered
planning is a way to identify a student’s individual goals and to help
students, families, and professionals craft plans that will support students
as they strive to achieve their dreams.
At its best, the person-centered planning process can strengthen the transition
to post-school activities by:
- Enhancing the quality of assessment and planning activities for both high
school transition services and adult service agencies serving youth with disabilities;
- Fostering positive working relationships between families and professionals;
- Providing a way for educators and case managers from other agencies to better
coordinate their services;
- Connecting families to adult service agencies before a student leaves high
- Helping ensure that services support the youth’s goals and lead to
successful outcomes; and
- Helping identify and cultivate natural supports in the community.
§300.29 Transition services.
(a) As used in this part, transition services means a coordinated
set of activities for a student with a disability that-
- Is designed within an outcome-oriented process, that promotes movement from
school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational
training, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing
and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation:
- Is based on the individual student's needs, taking into account the student's
preferences and interests; and
(ii) Related services;
(iii) Community experiences;
(iv) The development of employment or other post-school adult living
(v) If appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional
(b) Transition services for students with disabilities may be special education,
if provided as specially designed instruction, or related services, if required
to assist a student with a disability to benefit from special education.
(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1401(30))
§300.29 Transition services.
The IEP must include-
- For each student with a disability beginning at age 14 (or younger, if determined
appropriate by the IEP team), and updated annually, a statement of the transition
service needs of the student under the applicable components of the student's
IEP that focuses on the student's courses of study (such as participation
in advanced-placement courses or a vocational education program); and
- For each student beginning at age 16 (or younger, if determined by the IEP
team), a statement of needed transition services for the student, including,
if appropriate, a statement of the interagency responsibilities or any needed
(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(A))
Person-Centered Planning Action Steps
Step 1: Choosing a facilitator
Parents and families can begin the process of person-centered planning for
their son or daughter with a disability by choosing a facilitator. A facilitator
needs to be a good listener, work creatively to shape the dreams of the individual,
discover the capacities within the individual and within the community, and
be a community builder.
A facilitator can be a family member, school staff member, a service provider,
or a consultant. It is helpful if facilitators have previous experience or training
on conducting person-centered planning. Facilitator training is offered in many
states through school districts or other publicly funded programs.
Step 2: Designing the planning process
An initial meeting to develop the personal profile usually occurs several
days before the planning meeting so the participants have time to reflect on
what is shared. The meeting takes about two hours.
Parents/families and the person with a disability will:
- Develop a list of people they want to invite based on their:
- Knowledge of the person and family;
- Ability to make this process happen;
- Connections with the community; and
- Connections with adult service providers (if they will be involved in
- Identify a date and time for the initial meeting and other follow-up meetings.
- Determine the place that will be the most convenient for everyone, especially
the person with a disability.
- Discuss strategies that increase the participation of the focus person,
the person with a disability.
- Decide who will take a lead in gathering information during the meeting
and what person-centered process will be used (PATH, Essential Life Planning,
It’s My Life, or another).
- Develop a history or personal life story or profile of the focus person
by everyone sharing past events in the person’s life. The focus person’s
parents and family may share the largest amount of this information. Critical
events, medical issues, major developments, important relationships, and more
may be shared.
- Describe the quality of the focus person’s life by exploring the following:
community participation, community presence, choices/rights, respect, and
- Describe the personal preferences of the focus person. Include both likes
and dislikes to get a complete picture.
- Send invitees the personal profile.
Step 3: Holding the meeting: Implementing the person-centered planning process
- Review the personal profile and make additional comments and observations.
- Identify ongoing events that are likely to affect the focus person’s
life such as conditions that promote or threaten health.
- Share visions for the future. Through brainstorming, imagine ways to increase
- Identify obstacles and opportunities that give the vision a real-life context.
- Identify strategies and action steps for implementing the vision.
- Create an action plan. Action plans identify what is to be done, who will
do it, when the action will happen, and when you will meet again. Identify
action steps that can be completed within a short time.
Step 4: Planning and strategizing at the follow-up meetings
Work the action plan. Implementing the plan can require persistence, problem
solving, and creativity. Periodically bring the team together again to discuss
what parts of the plan are working and what parts are not. Once more, identify
what is to be done, who will do it, when the action will happen, and when you
will meet again.
Make sure that at each follow-up meeting the team:
- Establishes the time and place of the follow-up meeting;
- Establishes the list of participants;
- Lists all activities that occurred in the past;
- Lists all of the barriers/challenges that occurred;
- Brainstorms new ideas and strategies for the future;
- Sets priorities for the next agreed upon time period (6 months/12 months);
- Establishes renewed commitment by those participating;
- Lists five to ten concrete steps for each person to follow;
- Establishes the next meeting time; and
- Always celebrates the successes!
Note: Adapted from Mount, B. & Zwernik, K. (1994). Making futures
happen: A manual for facilitators of personal futures planning. Minnesota
Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities.
Young Adult Participation in the Planning Process
It is critical for the young adult with a disability to actively participate
in the transition planning meetings. This might involve advance preparation,
such as asking the student to talk individually with each team member before
the meeting or helping the student craft a written invitation for each team
member. It is very easy for adults to take over, making the young person a passive
observer instead of a leader in the process. The team must make conscious efforts
to provide the young person with ways to express his or her own dreams for the
future, agree or disagree with other members of the team, and be actively involved
in the team’s ongoing efforts. Students with all types of disabilities—regardless
of the severity of the disabilities—should be included in the transition
Young adults also have a number of responsibilities when it comes to participating
in and leading their transition planning meetings. They need to think about
what they really want for the future, identify what kind of help and support
they might need to achieve their goals, and come prepared to share this information
with their team.
Despite growing interest in using person-centered planning to drive the transition
process, it is not yet common practice. One reason for this may be that many
people believe this process is too time consuming. What they may not realize
is that person-centered planning may be more efficient in the long run. The
best transition plans truly reflect student-family goals for the future, which
helps the team avoid time-consuming guesswork. People certainly learn from their
mistakes, but a person-centered planning process can help teams to produce a
much more accurate reflection of the young adult’s goals and at the same
time, go to the heart of what is needed by the young adult and family much earlier.
Adult Services Planning
In addition to the family, the young adult, and special educators, the person-centered
planning process can also involve county case managers, social workers, vocational
rehabilitation counselors, and health care professionals. Including adult service
providers in person-centered planning can help ensure a seamless transition
from special education to adult services. Just as person-centered planning can
enhance the transition planning process for a student with disabilities, it
can be a tool to improve individualized plans for employment (IPEs) as well
as other adult service plans for young adults with disabilities who are eligible
to receive those services.
Developing Natural Supports with Person-Centered Planning
In addition to including professionals and service providers, it is essential
that person-centered planning teams include individuals who are familiar with
the abilities, interests, and needs of the young adult in work, school, or social
settings, and who are willing to help. These supportive individuals or “natural
supports” can be family members, friends, neighbors, former teachers,
or other caring and knowledgeable individuals who know the young adult.
Forming the person-centered planning team provides families with an opportunity
to involve individuals who want to help in ways that make a difference. These
individuals, in turn, can often provide access to broader and more integrated
opportunities in community settings than a professional can. Some examples of
how an informal support person can help young adults pursue and achieve their
- A neighbor who helps a young person find movie theaters on nearby bus routes;
- A relative who talks with colleagues about job opportunities for a young
adult who wants to work with computers; and
- Friends or family members who help find clubs—such as camera, book,
hunting, or fishing—related to a young person’s interests.
The insight of family and friends can complement and enhance the expertise
of the professionals on the team. For example, the team might discuss how a
person’s strengths equate to job skills and how the person’s interests
and abilities match specific career areas, jobs, and employers. The team might
also discuss other employment-related needs, such as transportation or assistive
Involving friends and neighbors who are unfamiliar with traditional forms
of service delivery can actually be an asset, because it can foster more creative
problem solving. Relatives and friends can also help families develop a “safety
net” of informal community supports to assist a young person when parents
are not available or if formal supports break down.
More Than a Series of Meetings
The team should meet as often as members and the young person want in order
to discuss their goals and support needs. Follow-up meetings should be scheduled
as needed to find out how the young adult is achieving those goals or if their
goals have changed. However, no matter how often a team meets, a plan is just
a piece of paper if it is not put into action. One way to make sure the plan
leads to action is to have the young adult, family, or team choose a facilitator.
The facilitator can lead the meetings by identifying and formulating questions
during the meeting and organizing important points from general statements.
The facilitator can also delegate responsibilities to other team members.
For example, if the team is focusing on employment after high school, the
facilitator could have one person take responsibility for helping the young
adult find an internship or job-shadowing opportunity. Someone else could help
the young adult find appropriate transportation. Each team member assumes responsibility
for a specific task that is outlined in the plan. At the next meeting, the team
members discuss their progress and modify the plan as necessary.
It is a good idea for the team to have someone responsible (parent, facilitator,
or a designated case manager) for follow-up—someone who can check with
other members to see how they are progressing.
What Happens if the Young Adult Has an Unrealistic Goal?
The team must determine its own comfort level with the goals of the individual.
However, how the team feels about the goals and how the young adult feels may
be two very different things. Supporting young adults to learn about and further
explore their dreams for the future is the proactive solution to this situation.
As a result of this exploration, a young adult may decide that his or her goal
is not necessarily a good match. However, the exploration process can be a memorable
learning experience, a valuable way of learning about one’s self, and
ultimately an important way of discovering other pathways to success. It is
important to realize that failure is not necessarily something to be avoided;
it is a natural part of life. More importantly, a person with a disability who
is protected from failure is also protected from potential success. Helping
young people with disabilities pursue challenging goals provides them with invaluable
opportunities for self-discovery, as well as the opportunity to surpass expectations
and to actually succeed in achieving their goals.
Selected Resources on Person-Centered Planning
Many different person-centered planning tools have been developed that could
be used in the transition process--
- Personal Futures Planning,
- PATH planning,
- Essential Lifestyle Planning, and
- Dream Cards are a few examples.
The following are some online resources with more information on person-centered
Parent Center Resources on Person-Centered Planning
University and Government Resources on Person-Centered Planning
Mount, B. & Zwernik, K. (1994). Making futures happen: A manual for
facilitators of personal futures planning. Minnesota Governor's Council
on Developmental Disabilities.
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This report was supported in whole or in part by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, (Cooperative Agreement No. H326J000005). The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, and no official endorsement by the Department should be inferred.
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