By Gina Macris
A year ago, Rhode Island adopted a policy allowing students with developmental disabilities at least 12 months before they left high school to plan their entry into the adult world.
Now, the Employment First Task Force wants to know whether the policy and the reality are one and the same.
Word of mouth among special education professionals is that in some cases, the families of students notified they will be eligible for adult services from the state Division of Developmental Disabilities nevertheless aren’t given a budget in enough time to make a good adult service plan before they leave school.
Claire Rosenbaum, the Adult Services Coordinator at the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, raised the issue at the most recent meeting of the Employment First Task Force July 18.
The task force chairman, Kevin Nerney, of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, said he would ask state developmental disability officials in writing to come to the group’s next meeting with data showing how closely the state is adhering to its “eligibility by 17” policy.
The state established the policy in July, 2016, in response to a U.S. District Court order which said it must eliminate service gaps for eligible young adults once they leave high school. Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. had been presented with evidence that eligible young adults sat at home doing nothing for weeks or months after they left high school because adult services were not in place.
Young adults are one of four categories of individuals with developmental disabilities who are protected by a 2014 consent decree requiring the state to move away from sheltered workshops and non-work programs akin to day care toward purposeful activities in the community, with an emphasis on jobs paying at least minimum wage.
The consent decree envisioned the Employment First Task Force as a group representative of adults with developmental disabilities, families, and community organizations that could serve as a bridge between the public and state government.
The eligibility policy says that, unless there is a need for extra documentation, students should be notified within 30 days of filing applications whether they will receive adult services. If they are eligible, they should be scheduled for an assessment of need, called the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS, within 30 days. And 30 days after the assessment, they should be notified of the individual funding allocations they have received, according to the policy.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) said July 20 that "it will take some time" to gather answers to detailed questions about adherence to the timelines in the "eligibility by 17" policy and additional questions about the SIS.
Questions raised at Tuesday’s meeting about the eligibility timeline overlapped with queries contained in a task force report to Charles Moseley, an independent monitor appointed by the court to oversee implementation of the consent decree.
In the report, approved by consensus Tuesday, the task force recommends that Moseley collect detailed information on various aspects of the application and funding process and appeals of decisions made by the state. The task force previously has requested application and eligibility data from the state but has not received it, according to the report.
Other sections of the report covered a number of topics, including “person-centered planning,” an individualized approach to arranging services that incorporates a range of personal choices that go far beyond menus of activities that may offered by one provider or another.
Moseley has made it clear he believes person-centered planning is the foundation for compliance with the consent decree,
Nerney, the task force chairman, said in the group's report that he believes such truly individualized planning “could have a greater positive effect on people’s lives than the consent decree itself. “
At the same time, “you can’t destabilize the current provider system while building a new one,” Nerney warned.
Rosenbaum said that truly individualized, or “person-centered” planning, a comprehensive process requiring a skilled facilitator, can’t be done properly with the amount of money available in the state’s developmental disability system.
The next meeting of the Employment First Task Force, open to the public, has been set for Aug. 8 at 2 p.m. at the Community Provider Network of RI, 110 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick. It will adjourn at 3 p.m. to avoid any conflict with the quarterly public forum sponsored by the state Division of Developmental Disabilities. That forum runs from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Coventry Department of Human Services and Senior Center, 50 Wood St., Coventry.