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A Pilot Study Connecting Youth With Emotional or Behavioral Difficulties to Summer Work Experiences

Despite the potential contributions of adolescent employment to postschool success, many youth who experience emotional and behavioral difficulties (EBD) do not access these opportunities. This intervention study examined the effects of a package of
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Transcript  Career Development for Exceptional Individuals online version of this article can be found at: DOI: 10.1177/0885728810395745 2011 34: 95 srcinally published online 15 February 2011 Career Development for Exceptional Individuals  Erik W. Carter, Audrey A. Trainor, Nicole Ditchman and Laura Owens A Pilot Study Connecting Youth With Emotional or Behavioral Difficulties to Summer Work Experiences  Published by:  Hammill Institute on Disabilities   Division on Career Development and Transition and  can be found at: Career Development for Exceptional Individuals  Additional services and information for Email Alerts: Subscriptions: Reprints: Permissions:  What is This? - Feb 15, 2011OnlineFirst Version of Record - Jun 30, 2011Version of Record >>  at UNIV OF WISCONSIN on December 7, 2012cde.sagepub.comDownloaded from   Career Development for Exceptional Individuals34(2) 95  –106© 2011 Hammill Institute on DisabilitiesReprints and permission: 10.1177/0885728810395745 As youth transition through high school to adulthood, the  paths they take typically involve some type of formal or informal work experience (Zimmer-Gembeck & Mortimer, 2006). Indeed, working during adolescence can convey an array of potential benefits by promoting greater career aware-ness, fostering skill development, providing extra income, and enhancing developmental and postschool outcomes (Staff & Schulenberg, 2010). It is not surprising, therefore, that recognition of the importance of early work experi-ences for youth with disabilities is pervasive within recom-mended and evidence-based practices in secondary transition (e.g., National Alliance for Secondary Education and Tran-sition, 2005; Rusch, Hughes, Agran, Martin, & Johnson, 2009; Test, Mazotti, et al., 2009).For youth experiencing emotional and behavioral diffi-culties (EBD), these early career development markers appear to be elusive. Research indicates that adolescents with EBD have especially limited involvement in school-sponsored or community-based jobs during high school (Wagner & Davis, 2006). This absence of formative work experiences may contribute to the disappointing postschool employment outcomes highlighted across numerous longi-tudinal and follow-up studies (Karpur, Clark, Caproni, & Sterner, 2005; Newman, Wagner, Cameto, & Knokey, 2009). Furthermore, many students with EBD may not meet eligi- bility requirements for postschool support, such as vocational rehabilitation, making it imperative that they gain meaning-ful vocational experiences and appropriate support during the high school years.Although early work experience can occur in many contexts—including school-sponsored internships, off-campus work experiences, or afterschool and weekend  jobs—summer offers a particularly beneficial context within which to obtain these experiences. In addition to circum-venting conflicts with homework responsibilities and extra-curricular involvement, summer jobs offer an avenue for engaging youth in positive activities during what can be a relatively unstructured time. Yet, these summer experiences appear to be particularly restricted for youth with EBD. Findings from Wave 1 of the  National Longitudinal Transition Study-2  indicated that only 47% of high school students with emotional disturbance were reported to have partici- pated in summer work experiences during the previous year . et a.Career Deveopment or Exceptona Invuas   © 2011 Hammill Instituteon DisabilitiesReprintsand permission: 1 University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA 2 Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL, USA 3 University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI, USA Corresponding Author: Erik W. Carter, Department of Special Education, Box #228, Peabody College, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37203, USA Email: A Pilot Study Connecting Youth With Emotional or Behavioral Difficulties to Summer Work Experiences Erik W. Carter  1 , Audrey A. Trainor  1 , Nicole Ditchman 2 , and Laura Owens 3 Abstract Despite the potential contributions of adolescent employment to postschool success, many youth who experience emotional and behavioral difficulties (EBD) do not access these opportunities. This intervention study examined the effects of a package of strategies designed to increase access to summer work experiences. Fifty-seven youth with EBD from seven high schools were randomly assigned to intervention and comparison groups. A significantly higher proportion of youth in the intervention group were employed toward the end of the summer relative to youth from their same schools in the comparison group. Intervention components were rated as feasible to implement and acceptable to relevant stakeholders. Steps to sharpen the intervention’s ability to address the transition-related needs of youth with EBD are discussed. Keywords transition, employment, emotional disturbance, community organizing, high school  at UNIV OF WISCONSIN on December 7, 2012cde.sagepub.comDownloaded from   96 Career Development for Exceptional Individuals   34(2) (Wagner, Newman, Cameto, Levine, & Marder, 2003). Similarly, Carter, Trainor, Ditchman, Swedeen, and Owens (in press) found that only 32% of youth with EBD held paid or unpaid community-based jobs throughout the summer months, compared with 57% of students with learning dis-abilities from the same schools. These challenges are further compounded by the recent decline in summer employment opportunities for all youth associated with the country’s cur-rent economic challenges (Sum, McLauglin, Khatiwada, & Palma, 2008). In fact, increasing summer employment of youth was the focus of funding activities from the recent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.The purpose of our research project was to develop, pilot, and evaluate an intervention package aimed at increasing the summer work experiences for youth with disabilities, with an emphasis on youth with EBD. To identify promis-ing intervention components that were empirically or con-ceptually linked to improved employment outcomes and would be both feasible to implement and acceptable to rel-evant stakeholders, we reviewed the extant transition litera-ture and drew upon key findings from earlier descriptive and qualitative phases of our development project. Through this  process, we attempted to address the following salient issues.First, successfully connecting youth with disabilities to community-based work experiences is predicated on both the availability and awareness of employment opportunities and resources within the local community. Special educa-tors and transition personnel may have limited knowledge about employment-related opportunities and resources outside of those offered by the school (Trainor, Carter, Owens, & Swedeen, 2008). In many communities, an array of disability-specific and generically available programs and services has the potential to support summer employment,  but either remains unfamiliar to or untapped by planning teams. Efforts to identify and disseminate this information  by drawing upon diverse community perspectives have  been recommended as a way of informing and supporting transition programming (Crane & Mooney, 2005; Tindle, Leconte, Buchanan, & Taymans, 2005).Second, individualization is a defining feature of second-ary transition services for youth with disabilities. For stu-dents with EBD—who possess a diverse range of strengths, needs, skills, and interests—targeted planning efforts may  be critical when considering employment possibilities and exploring possible school-based and community-based sup- ports. Efforts to address the summer months within transition  planning could help ensure that the connections, supports, and resources youth need to access summer work and other community experiences are in place long before the school year ends (Carter, Swedeen, & Trainor, 2009).Third, individualized planning efforts are likely to be insufficient if intentional efforts are not made to support youth in connecting to local employment opportunities and needed supports (Hughes et al., 2004). Students with EBD may require assistance and support from adults related to finding, learning, and maintaining a job (Carter, Trainor, Sun, & Owens, 2009). As a result, the steps staff take with and on behalf of youth with disabilities hold great potential to influence the summer outcomes they attain (Trainor, 2007).Fourth, developing and strengthening relationships and linkages among school transition teams, local employers, and other community members is a recommended compo-nent of comprehensive secondary transition programs. Special educators may be unaware of the specific needs of local employers, have limited time and training to do job develop-ment effectively, or have few connections to the broad range of potential employers in their community. Bridging the spheres of school, work, and community could result in greater access to existing networks of employers and uncover employment opportunities that more closely match stu-dents’ individualized interests (Carter, Trainor, Cakiroglu, et al., 2009).In this study, we conducted a randomized evaluation of the efficacy and feasibility of a package of intervention strategies aimed at connecting youth with EBD to summer work experiences. Specifically, we sought to answer the following research questions. First, does a multicomponent intervention package show promise as an effective strategy for improving the summer employment outcomes of youth with EBD at two time points? Second, what was the nature of the employment and other community activities experi-enced by these youth during the summer months? Third, how did participating stakeholders evaluate the social valid-ity of elements of the intervention package? Method Participants and Recruitment Participants included 57 high school students with EBD. Demographics for participating students are displayed in Table 1. Although most youth were served under the state’s special education category of “emotional behavioral dis-ability,” youth with other primary disability categories also  participated. The average composite index score (  M    =  88.1; SD   =  16.0) on the  Behavioral and Emotional Rating Scale-2  (  BERS-2 ; Epstein, 2004) fell in the 21st percentile, indicat-ing that 79% of same age and gender youth not identified with EBD in the normative sample had higher ratings. The intervention ( n   =  33 students) and comparison ( n   =  24 stu-dents) groups did not differ significantly on the variables of age, gender, race/ethnicity, free/reduced-price lunch (FRL) eligibility, or  BERS-2  scores.We worked with staff at each of seven high schools to recruit participants. These liaisons initially were instruc-ted to invite youth receiving special education under the state’s primary or secondary label of “emotional behavioral disabilities.” However, schools varied in how they served at UNIV OF WISCONSIN on December 7, 2012cde.sagepub.comDownloaded from   Carter et al. 97 youth experiencing emotional or behavioral difficulties, with some schools serving them within other special educa-tion categories. Although 70 youth provided permission to  participate in this study, we excluded seven youth from the final analysis because the available documentation (i.e., IEPs,  BERS-2  ratings, supplemental teacher comments) did not indicate the presence of substantial emotional or behav-ioral difficulties. In addition, we later excluded six youth— all in the comparison group—whom we were unable to contact at any point during the summer, resulting in the final sample of 57 youth.Because substantial variability can exist across high schools and communities, we randomly assigned youth to intervention and comparison (“business as usual”) groups from within  each participating school. Our goal was to recruit five youth in each group from each high school. Prior to mailing out permission forms, liaisons were provided instructions to (a) create a list of all youth at their school meeting the study criteria, (b) order the list based on whom they perceived would be most likely to participate in a proj-ect focused on summer employment, and (c) alternately assign either an A or a B to each name on the list. Thus, although students were not randomly selected, we randomly assigned each letter to either the intervention or comparison group at each high school. Liaisons mailed permission forms to the first 10 youth listed for each group, with addi-tional mailings if the recruitment goal was not met within approximately 2 weeks. High Schools Seven high schools serving geographically and economi-cally diverse communities participated in this study, each of which had participated in previous phases of our project. Average student enrollment was 1,716 students ( SD   =  580). Across schools, average race/ethnicity composition of the Table 1.  Participant Characteristics by Intervention and Comparison GroupVariableInterventionComparisonTest statistic N 3324 Age a 17.2(1.1)16.7(1.2) t (55) =   − 1.82, p   =  .074Gender b χ 2 (1, N   =  57) =  1.60, p   =  .206 Female12(36.4%)5(20.8%) Male21(63.6%)19(79.2%) Race/ethnicity b χ 2 (1, N   =  57) =  0.39, p   =  .553 African American3(9.1%)3(12.5%) European American27(81.8%)18(75.0%) Latino/Hispanic2(6.1%)3(12.5%) Native American1(3.0%)0(0%) Free/reduced lunch status b χ 2 (1, N   =  57) =  0.22, p   =  .640 Eligible13(39.4%)16 (66.7%) Not eligible20(60.6%)8 (33.3%) Disability b,c  Emotional disorder23(69.7%)17(70.8%) Learning disability7(21.2%)4(16.7%) Other health impairment5(15.2%)3(12.5%) Speech/language disability1(3.0%)2(8.3%) Orthopedic impairment1(3.0%)0(0%) Autism2(6.1%)1(4.2%) Cognitive disability0(0%)1(4.2%) BERS-2 a  Composite strength index86.5(15.6)90.5(16.7) t (52) =  0.88, p   =  .381 Interpersonal strength8.1(2.7)8.1(2.9) t (52) =  0.87, p   =  .988 Family involvement7.6(3.3)7.8(3.0) t (52) =  0.63, p   =  .800 Intrapersonal strength8.2(3.2)9.7(2.7) t (52) =  0.30, p   =  .075 School functioning7.5(2.4)7.6(2.5) t (52) =  0.61, p   =  .983 Effective strength8.8(3.4)9.9(3.6) t (52) =  0.91, p   =  .235 Note. BERS-2  composite strength index has a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15; scaled scores have a mean of 10 and a standard deviation of 3. a  M  ( SD ). b Frequency (%). c More than one could be coded, resulting in totals exceeding 100%.  at UNIV OF WISCONSIN on December 7, 2012cde.sagepub.comDownloaded from   98 Career Development for Exceptional Individuals   34(2) student population was 86% European American (range, 62%–97%), 5% Latina/o (range, 1%–11%), 4% African American (range, 1%–14%), 4% Asian American (range, 1%–12%), and 1% American Indian (range, 0%–2%). An average of 16% (range, 1%–27%) of students at these schools were eligible for FRL, 12.5% (range, 8%–17%) were eli-gible for special education, and 2.5% (range, 1.0%–3.2%) received services under the state’s category of emotional  behavioral disabilities. Monthly seasonally adjusted adult unemployment rates in the state ranged from 4.6% to 5.1% during the summer of 2008, relative to overall national unemployment rates ranging from 5.5% to 6.1%. Minimum wage increased from $5.85 to $6.55 midway through the summer.  Measures We gathered information about the employment and com-munity experiences of participating youth at two points during the summer (mid-June and early August), using a structured telephone interview protocol. This interview pro-tocol was used with almost 400 youth in an earlier descrip-tive phase of our project and drew upon questions used in descriptive and longitudinal studies involving youth with and without disabilities (see Carter et al., in press). Telephone interviews were conducted with youth (76.0%), parents or guardians (18.3%), youth and a parent together (4.8%), or another relative (1.0%) to profile students’ summer experi-ences. We mailed a print survey to gather information for three students we could not reach by phone. Summer work status . During each interview, we asked whether the student was currently working and whether he or she had worked at any point during the summer. For youth holding either a paid or unpaid job, we asked about and coded  primary job responsibilities , hours worked per week  , typical work schedule , hourly pay , length of employment  ,  person(s) helping youth find the job  (if any),  provision of  school or other agency support  , and transportation modes  (see Table 3 for example response options). When we spoke directly with youth, we also asked them to rate their satis-faction with six aspects of their job using a 4-point scale (e.g. very dissatisfied, somewhat dissatisfied, somewhat satisfied, very satisfied). When youth were not working, we asked about their continued interest in finding summer work. If the answer was  yes , we asked (a) how long the youth had been looking, (b) the steps he or she had taken to search for a job, (c) who helped the youth with his or her search, and (d) what they perceived would help the youth with finding a job. When the answer was no , we asked res- pondents to share why. Community engagement . To ascertain the involvement of youth in other community activities, we also asked whe ther youth were involved in each of 23 nonwork activities (e.g., attending summer school, hanging out with friends, playing on a sports team, volunteering) during the  prior two weeks. When respondents mentioned an addi-tional activity that could not be subsumed under an existing category (e.g., driver’s education classes, tutoring), we tal-lied it as an “other activity.” Expectations and motivation for summer employment . Dur-ing the spring semester, we asked youth, their special edu- cation teachers, and parents to complete questionnaires asking  about their expectations for whether participating youth would be likely to work either part-time or full-time during the upcoming summer (i.e., yes, unsure, no). In addition, they were asked to report their perceptions of the extent to which participating youth were motivated to find a job or continue working for the upcoming summer (i.e., not at all, a little, somewhat, very). Design and Intervention We evaluated the efficacy of a multicomponent interven-tion package at improving the summer work experiences of youth with EBD using a post-test only, randomized experi-mental design. The intervention consisted of five primary components. The first two components were indirect and  provided information that could conceivably have been used for all youth in a school, including youth in both groups. The remaining three components were intended as active strate-gies specifically targeted for youth in the intervention group. Community conversations . We hosted an evening event in each community to (a) promote discussion of how various community members might individually and collectively expand local employment opportunities for youth with dis-abilities and (b) identify potential partners willing to col-laborate with high schools on this issue (see Carter, Owens, et al., 2009). Each event was held during the spring semes-ter, and, though open to anyone in the community, partici- pating youth and their families were not required to attend. Across communities, average attendance was 35 (range, 17 to 61) and included individuals identifying themselves as representatives from adult service agencies (21%), high school staff (20%), family members (19%), employers (12%), youth (8%), local government representatives (5%), and others (15%; e.g., local media, community organizations). These 2-hour conversations were based on the World Café model (Brown & Isaacs, 2005) and included a series of small-group discussions and brainstorming sessions and a large-group conversation focused on two specific questions (i.e., What can we  as a community do to open up summer employment opportunities for youth with disabilities? What would  I   be willing to do to facilitate summer employment opportunities for youth with disabilities?). Ideas and next steps generated during each conversation were compiled by the research team and shared back with attendees and other community stakeholders. Resource mapping  . During the spring semester, we assembled resource maps for each community identifying generically available and disability-specific programs, services, and at UNIV OF WISCONSIN on December 7, 2012cde.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
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