Lessons Learned from CaPROMISE Youth and their Families

Executive Summary

CaPROMISE is one of six projects funded nationally under Promoting the Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income (PROMISE), by the Office of Special Education Programs, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, US Department of Education. The goal of CaPROMISE is to increase the self-sufficiency of transition-age youth receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and their families. For the past five years commencing on October 1, 2013, CaPROMISE staff have used a variety of educational, personal, community and work strategies to fulfill this goal and ultimately reverse the cycle of poverty and the adverse impact of disabling conditions for participating youth and their families. Throughout the implementation of CaPROMISE, a question that keeps emerging is “why is this attainment of self-sufficiency and independence so difficult?”  Furthermore, have our expectations and systems become so categorical and complex and at times contradictory, that we have lost sight of the expectations and complex needs of the youth with disabilities and their families?

This report seeks to answer these questions from the lens of system and culture change. Lessons learned from CaPROMISE are described and provide the framework for continued system and culture changes for the benefit of youth with disabilities and their families – in essence for each of us and our communities. The six Lessons are: 

  1. Rethinking the culture of expectations is essential to increase self-sufficiency.
  2. The primary focus must be the impact for the youth and their families.
  3. Family engagement is essential in the youth’s attainment of self-sufficiency.
  4. Community perceptions and stigma about disability limit potential for integration.
  5. Collaborative interagency and cross-organizational engagement are essential for increasing the youth’s self-sufficiency.
  6. Organizational structures and resulting expectations present opportunities and challenges.


Delving deeper, beyond legislative mandates and departmental silos, these lessons focus the discussion on the culture of our organizations, the expectations of both parents and professionals, and the limitations imposed by system-centered vs. person/family-centered paradigms. Drawing on these lessons, six recommended actions are presented that serve as foundational efforts to change the cultural norms surrounding transition efforts for youth and their families; increase the chances of sustainability and scalability that enable youth with disabilities to increase their opportunities for increased self-sufficiency; and influence current and future transition public policies. These actions are:

  1. Ensure the articulation of transition services and outcomes is clearly understood by all through written, visual, technological and spoken media.
  2. Identify community partners that are participating in the majority of these programs and merge local collaborative “program sites” that target career and employment outcomes.
  3. Develop and implement, with equal representation of the authorizing organizations, the expected vision, mission, values, outcomes and framework for transition efforts with youth and their family members as the primary focus.
  4. Ensure direct service staff have the latitude to provide youth and family specific services and outcomes while senior administrators ensure legal and fiscal mandates are met.
  5. As the six PROMISE research and demonstration efforts are completed, it is critical for the Federal partners to examine the results and determine which policies and regulatory requirements should be refined to increase impact and scalability in service delivery models.
  6. As legislative reauthorization is considered with these various Federal agencies, we urge that the classification systems used for identifying the disabling conditions of the youth be aligned with common titles and definitions.


Public policy and cultural change is complex, takes a focused and long-term commitment and will require regular reviews and refinements. All partners must have the political will to take the necessary risks and actions if true, meaningful, and substantial change is to occur.

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