By the time I turned 18, I’d been babysitting for years, I’d worked in retail as a cashier at Sam the Record Man, and I’d been a waitress serving appetizers at a bar attached to the Keg restaurant (anybody remember Brandy’s?). I had a wide group of friends in school and at these part time jobs. All of these experiences were unspectacular. These were all the typical jobs young people could be expected to apply for and get. I used my savings to travel for six months in Europe before starting university – also a very not unusual thing to do. I didn’t get the opportunity for these work, travel and educational experiences because I was exceptional. In fact, I was pretty darn average.
Fast forward a few decades (I won’t get into how many!) and two years ago when I became CEO at Holland Bloorview one of the first meetings I had was with David Coriat, the father of a former client and current volunteer, and a generous supporter of Holland Bloorview. David and I talked about a number of things, and for anyone who knows him, it wasn’t surprising that his greatest passion was reserved for talking about his daughter Jessica and how the path to adulthood for a young woman shouldn’t be so hard. With everything Jess has to give … shouldn’t it be easier?
I will never forget that conversation… and so many others I’ve had with parents of young people and many of our former clients. The words they often use to describe impending adulthood are surprisingly consistent: “the abyss” or “the cliff.” Why?
Research, including that of scientists like Dr. Sally Lindsay and her collaborators out of the Bloorview Research Institute TRAIL Lab, tells us the same thing: youth with disabilities continue to experience poorer outcomes in post-secondary education attendance, employment and independent living than their typically developing counterparts. Transition from paediatric health care to the adult health care world is also difficult and uneven.
- One survey found 53% of children with a disability have zero or only one close friend
- 59% of Canadian youth with disabilities, aged 18-21, attend post-secondary education compared to 72% of youth without a disability
- Unemployment rates for youth and young adults with disabilities are high and more than half of those who finish school do not have a job
That’s why there is an urgent need for Holland Bloorview to step up and impact transitions across all moments of the lives of children with disabilities. These transitions start early and smoother early planning, for example, for transitions to school in the community, between elementary to high school, from hospital to home and community, set up children with the critical skills and experiences they need for their best possible life. Our job is to set young people up for brighter futures.
And it is important to emphasize that there are as many optimal futures as there are children. While sometimes people hold up “independence” as the best case, we know that for many of the children we serve at Holland Bloorview that isn’t possible or desirable. Developing a truly inclusive strategy means respecting the dreams and goals of every family in all its individual particularity: there are many wonderful lives composed of different experiences and we want to provide the tools and environment to support any of them.
Holland Bloorview’s Transitions Strategy will improve youth preparedness and planning, reduce barriers, change attitudes and close gaps so that youth with disabilities can access more opportunities with greater confidence.
How will we do this?
- We will identify and challenge barriers to full participation and inclusion by breaking down stigma around disability
- We will ensure that all Holland Bloorview staff have the training and resources to coach children, youth and families in planning for the future, so that every single Holland Bloorview client has a transition plan in place
- We will expand and scale Holland Bloorview’s programs and services such as employment readiness, life skills, youth leadership and family support, based on real needs of families and supported by research
- We will develop a ‘young adults’ bridging program to address the unique needs of 16-26 year olds
- Partnering with leading adult service providers we will identify gaps and build joint strategies, including funding strategies, to meet the needs of kids with disabilities as they age out of children’s services
- We will develop and scale a model to take the programs we know families value the most within our four walls and offer them through community partners so they can benefit individuals of all ages near and far
- We will continue to conduct ground-breaking research to reduce barriers to employment, and create pathways to the future for our clients and kids like them around the globe
And stay tuned because there will be much more!
The young people we work with inspire us and we are excited and delighted to be doing this work that will be impactful to so many children, youth and families and will create a brighter today and a brighter tomorrow.
I started by telling you about the opportunities I got as a young person. I didn’t get them because I was special. I got them because I was average. Every young person has a right to the opportunities appropriate to them to enrich their future. At Holland Bloorview, supported by the Coriat family and their wonderful friends, we are going to make strides to make it so.