Today I went on a parent excursion. I went on a Post School Options Bus Tour organized by Cameron's school. This is my fourth year going on this parent excursion and every year I learn something new.
The purpose of this excursion is for parents to visit the service providers who support students when they finish school. Cameron has two and a half years left at school. If Cameron didn't have special needs he would have one and half years left but we will be offered an extra year. In his final year of school he will be assessed for Post School Options and then we will cross the minefield awaiting us.
Somebody asks me almost every other day - 'What will happen to Cameron when he leaves school?' This is a valid question and as we were discussing today, this is a part of society that is very much hidden away and not talked about.
Cameron's school has acknowledged that leaving school is an extremely scary process for families to go through. I for one am panicking about it now and we still have two and half years left. When your child is young you can not picture yourself with a child leaving school just like when you have your baby and can not imagine them starting school. However I think this is worse. Going into school, although scary, holds a certain level of comforting understanding. We've all been to school and have some acceptable expectations about what to expect.
Leaving school should be an exciting time for a teenager. They should be moving on into an exciting new phase of their life but for a lot of families with teenagers leaving school this is a very scary change. As parents we don't know what to expect because this is not familiar territory for us. After high school I went on to further education so I could start a career and this is not Cameron's future. Even for those students who will be able to enter a workplace it is again not a familiar workplace.
This morning our first stop was at ACTIV which is a supported workplace. To be able to work in this type of environment the employee must be able to look after their own personal needs and not have any medical needs that require a nurse on the premises. They need to be able to work with generalized supervision. The service provides supported training but the employees do need to be dependable and motivated.
At this service nobody works five days, some only work one day. Each person is employed according to their personal needs and abilities. The work ranges from building laundry troughs to packing shoes and repackaging cleaning products. There is an understanding that the social context of work is very important so they build this into their workplace.
Cameron won't be able to go into a supported work placement. His personal care and medical needs are too high and he requires 1 on 1 supervision most of the time.
Next we visited TAFE. This is adult further education and this site provides a special needs course. They support students leaving school to continue their education in an adult environment. Quite often by the time students are leaving school they are finally learning and then they are removed from the school environment. TAFE can continue this growth taking students from where they are to where they would like to be.
I'm not sure if Cameron can go into this environment. He certainly couldn't go into TAFE as an independent student, he would require 1 on 1 support. Cameron is not currently learning academically so I'm not sure if this would be appropriate for him. I need to do a little more research.
Our final stop for the day was at Interchange which is an Alternatives To Employment agency. There are many agencies which provide alternatives to employment programs. Some programs are centre based and some programs are community based. Interchange is community based.
Alternatives To Employment is most likely where Cameron will go when he leaves school. During his final year of school he will be assessed for eligibility and then we will be told how much money has been funded for Cameron per annum. We will chose our preferred agency and hope they have a vacancy.
ATE participants are encouraged to identify how they would like to spend their days. They can elect to do group activities or activities on their own however everything always comes down to the almighty dollar and that starts with the initial funding allocation. ATE does not replace school hours, in fact some people will only receive funding for five hours a week, if any. Hardly anyone receives funding for five days of activity. We may get funding for two to three days, if we are lucky. Again we will be restricted with our funding because of Cameron's need for close supervision, if he was not as needy his funding could be stretched further with group activities and one staff member looking after the group.
I'm watching other families go through this process, make some hard decisions and worry about the future. Parents are faced with giving up their careers because their child is not allocated enough ATE funding to allow them to work. They either have to work to pay a carer or stay home.
Getting out there and seeing what is available is really important but also really scary. I can't stop this transition happening but at the moment I'd rather put my head in the sand. I know that everyone gets it figured out eventually and once we do we will leave school behind and settle into our new life - I suspect Cameron and I will be spending a lot of time together.