Fraker, T., Honeycutt, T., Mamun, A., Manno, M., Martinez, J., O’Day, B., Reed, D., & Thompkins. A. (2012). The Social Security Administration’s Youth Transition Demonstration Projects: Interim report on Broadened Horizons, Brighter Futures. Report submitted to the Social Security Administration. Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research.
- This report presented an interim implementation and impact analysis on the Broadened Horizons, Brighter Futures (BHBF) Youth Transition Demonstration (YTD) project. The program sought to help youth with disabilities ages 16 through 22 who received Supplemental Security Income and resided in Miami-Dade County maximize their self-sufficiency.
- The study examined implementation of BHBF, focusing on major aspects of service delivery, including the background, local context and service environment. It also provided information on participants’ characteristics and satisfaction with the program. The authors conducted qualitative analysis of staff and participant interviews, including data collected from site visits; and descriptive quantitative analysis of participants’ baseline and follow-up survey data and service utilization data from a management information system.
- The study found that participants began receiving services soon after enrollment. Some services were more challenging to implement than others, but all participants received some project services and most received at least one of the four major types of service: benefits planning, employment, education, and case management.
- Study findings related to implementation challenges and solutions are potentially applicable to other current or future projects that provide employment-related services to youth with disabilities.
The Youth Transition Demonstration Projects, Broadended Horizons, Brighter Futures
Features of the Intervention
BHBF in Miami-Dade County, Florida, was one of six project sites using a randomized design as part of the larger YTD, sponsored by the Social Security Administration (SSA), which intended to help youth with disabilities become more economically self-sufficient and improve their employment outcomes. Each site varied in terms of services provided and targeted participants. From April 2008 to March 2012, ServiceSource, a nonprofit organization focused on people with disabilities, offered person-centered case management services to young SSA beneficiaries (ages 16 to 22) with severe disabilities. BHBF included personalized employment services and benefits counseling, financial literacy training, access to individual development accounts, and case management services focused on reducing barriers to employment.
All YTD participants were also eligible for waivers that (1) extended the student earned income exclusion to all YTD participants regardless of age, (2) increased the earned income exclusion to a $1 reduction in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit for every $4 earned above a base amount, and (3) delayed benefit cessation for YTD participants who were determined ineligible for benefits after a benefit review or age-18 SSI medical redetermination.
Features of the Study
The implementation portion of the study sought to describe whether the demonstration, as implemented by BHBF, tested the service intervention as conceived by SSA. In doing so, the study described the major aspects of implementation, including the local context; inputs, resources, and partnerships; service delivery, including dosage; and participants’ characteristics and satisfaction with program services. The study drew on program documents; site visits (including interviews with managers, staff, and partner staff, and focus groups with participants); telephone interviews with project management; service provision data from the program’s management information system; and baseline and 12-month follow-up surveys of participants. The study included two BHBF locations, one in the northern part of the county and the other in the southern part, from September 2008 through May 2011.
The study found that BHBF implemented the YTD model as designed, and participants began receiving services soon after enrollment. Some services were more challenging to implement than others. For example, only two participants opened individual development accounts, which were like savings accounts, and some participants might not have received the education services they desired. BHBF modified the services provided over time, increasing its attention to paid job placement starting in May 2009 due to low rates of paid job placement up until that point. Some participants also faced transportation and child care barriers, which program staff partly addressed by providing limited public transit passes and linking some working participants to subsidized child care.
The program operated in a challenging context, but compensated for some of these challenges by employing a strong program manager who leveraged dedicated program staff. Miami-Dade County constituted an economically depressed environment, and although services already existed for youth with disabilities, these services were often fragmented and uncoordinated, and many agencies had waiting lists for youth to be served. To implement BHBF, the grantee was able to establish formal partnerships with several organizations to create project-specific materials and resources, and provide staff training and referrals to social services. The study found low staff turnover and high staff commitment to the project. The project manager also demonstrated strong relationships with staff, but would terminate underperforming staff, such as those who could not successfully recruit employer partners for the program.
All participants received some project services and most received at least one of the four major types of service: benefits planning, employment, education, and case management. Of these, 99 percent received benefits planning and at least one employment service, and 96 percent received case management. Overall, 84 percent received an education service and 34 percent received employment training. BHBF staff made 47 service contacts for each participant, for a total of 29 hours of service, and an average of 18 hours of direct service contacts involving youth. In the follow-up survey, nearly half of respondents did not recall receiving BHBF services; possible reasons for this included a discrepancy between how respondents and the survey itself referred to BHBF. Of the respondents who remembered the program, most rated it as good and useful, saying that it provided information about employment opportunities and helped them work effectively with others.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The study clearly identified the research question and topics of interest and explored an array of data sources to explore these topics. It included a systematic description of findings and effectively illustrated findings with case studies, quotes from interviews and focus groups, and descriptive quantitative management information system and survey data. Qualitative and quantitative data were triangulated, but the study did not include a thorough description of data collection, data analysis, and data quality control. The study findings are potentially applicable to other current or future projects that provide employment-related services to youth with disabilities; however, the absence of information on methods and analysis makes it difficult to determine the extent to which the findings reflect the average program experience.