Skip to content

Youth in Transition Toolkit:


Transition framework

Guiding principles

These guiding principles serve as the foundation for effective transition planning.

All guiding principles for transition planning are based on person-centered practices. To learn more about person-centered practices, check out the shared practices section in the toolkit. 

Under law, transition planning must be in place by 9th grade. However, transition planning is a lifelong process that begins well before 9th grade.

To build a richer transition planning experience, work to align efforts across programming and education levels. This encourages youth and their families to work toward a vision for an inclusive, meaningful life after school. If an outside agency is likely to be responsible for providing or paying for transition services, best practice is to include them in IEP team meetings. 

To support this work, use the Charting the LifeCourse life stage guides. The guides offer a common planning framework for youth and families as they move across the life stages. The guides help everyone think about questions to ask, options to consider and things to discuss as they work to positively shape the future and move toward their vision for a good life. 

Families are the best partners in building successful transition outcomes. In fact, family involvement is a measurable predictor of success. Honor the family's wealth of knowledge and the key role they play in a youth's life.

Engage families early to discover their dreams and concerns for their youth's future, and to understand how you can best support them. For youth with disabilities, families are often the first, most knowledgeable and most consistent "case managers." 

To learn more, check out the engage families section in the toolkit.

Building self-determination is a core element of transition planning. Youth with stronger self-determination are more likely to report higher community access and employment after high school than those with lower self-determination.

Self-determination is:

  • Knowing and believing in yourself
  • Knowing what you want for the future and making plans to reach your goals
  • The ability to monitor and adjust your actions
  • The ability to make choices and decisions based on your preferences and interests

Help youth you support build self-awareness, know their rights, understand their options, make informed choices, and advocate for what they want. Throughout the process, reflect on what you can do to help youth maintain choice and control as they transition to adulthood. You can also help preserve individual rights and self-determination by helping families explore supported decision making as an alternative to guardianship for adults who need help making decisions.

As support professionals, we must provide information about the benefits of integrated settings, support experiences in integrated settings, and work to identify and address any concerns people have about integrated settings.

Informed choice happens through ongoing person-centered conversations, activities and experiences. A person making an informed choice understands their options as well as the risks and benefits of any given decision. With informed choice, community resources and supports are valued and explored.

Informed choice is especially important when people are thinking about less integrated options or segregated settings, like group homes or sheltered workshops. Historically, people with disabilities were institutionalized and told that they weren't capable of living in the community. They may be unaware of (or reluctant to choose) integrated options.

As part of enforcing the integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the U.S. Supreme Court's Olmstead decision, the U.S. Department of Justice requires that public entities take affirmative steps to ensure that people have an opportunity to make informed choices.

To learn more, check out the informed choice toolkit.

Too often we think of guardianship as an automatic step in the transition process. Instead, aim to preserve a youth's choice and control over their own life by first exploring alternatives like supported decision making.  

Supported decision making is a person-centered approach to decision making and an alternative to the use of court-based guardianship actions. Supported decision making recognizes that all people, including older adults and people with disabilities, need at least occasional help to make decisions.

To learn more about supported decision making, check out the supported decision making section of the informed choice toolkit or WINGS Minnesota.

Everyone has unique skills and abilities, and we do better when we use them.

Early on, help youth discover their unique skills and abilities. Once their strengths are known, find ways to build on those strengths.

By focusing on strengths rather than deficits, you can set a positive culture that elevates a youth's potential. See youth as the experts in their own lives. Focus on what they can do first, and any help they might need second.

Hands-on tool

Encourage youth to use the one-page profile to list what people like and admire about them.
One-page profile »

Expectations are contagious. A youth's aspirations are influenced by what you and others communicate about what's possible.

In your work:

  • Tune into your own thinking. Are you inadvertently making assumptions that place limitations on a youth's possibilities for the future?  
  • Lead with a spirit of optimism and a focus on the possibilities. 
  • Help youth and their families see what can be achieved with the appropriate opportunities and supports.
  • Help youth and their families set a big vision for the future.  

To learn more from PACER, see how professionals can promote high expectations for post-school success by family members (PDF).

Inclusion means that a person has the same rights, access and choices as anyone else. It's about people with disabilities feeling truly welcomed and valued in the community. It's our job to not only provide inclusive services, but to help the youth and families we support to envision and build inclusive lives.

High-quality transition programs adapt to the given cultural context while valuing diversity, understanding differences, and developing services and supports that meet the unique needs of each person. Given persistent outcome disparities in Minnesota, the commitment to build culturally and linguistically appropriate outreach and services is critical.

To learn more:

Another way to support inclusion is through universal design.  

Universal design is a strategy for making products, environments, operational systems and services welcoming and usable to the most diverse range of people possible. The key principles of universal design are simplicity, flexibility and efficiency. 

Universal design isn't limited to people with disabilities. Universal design should be at the heart of all opportunities provided to all youth. Whether we realize it or not, most people benefit from universal design on a daily basis.

To learn more, check out:

By law, youth with disabilities who receive special education and related services must, to the maximum extent appropriate, be taught in the least restrictive environment. This means that each youth must be taught alongside youth without disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate.

The concept of integrating people with disabilities into postsecondary education and training, employment and independent living settings with peers without disabilities ideally extends beyond school and special education. At any age, people with disabilities should receive supports that allow them to pursue postsecondary education or training, and work and live in the most integrated environments.

To learn more, check out the federal least restrictive environment requirements and the Arc Minnesota's guide to the least restrictive environment in education.

Successful transitions take a collection of committed partners working together. Though some needs can be met through informal resources, some call for a range of services and supports. Either way, building person-centered informal and formal partnerships during high school supports better outcomes.

Start by thinking about the various systems, providers, roles and natural supports that a youth may encounter as they transition to adulthood. Then look for opportunities to build stronger relationships and formal partnerships that support collaboration.  

At the system level, look for ways to:

  • Build a better experience for youth and their families
  • Coordinate and align services and supports
  • Identify and address gaps in services 
  • Share and leverage resources 
  • Promote efficient service delivery
  • Foster shared expertise

At the individual level, build a coordinated transition plan by:

  • Encouraging youth and their families to use My Vault
  • Helping youth identify their team (both formal and informal resources)
  • Building relationships with key resources in the youth's life by inviting them into the process
  • Strengthening community connections by prioritizing recruiting and leveraging natural supports first
  • Building stronger community connections that will provide support throughout a youth's adult life

To identify formal and informal resources, use the integrated star (PDF) or mapping relationships tools from Charting the LifeCourse.

To learn more, check out interagency collaboration from the IRIS Center and the toolkit for stakeholder asset mapping from NCAPPS.

High-quality transition programs are measured by their ability to help youth reach their goals. We all want youth to have better lives, not better plans. 

With a data-driven approach, you can:

  • Use evidenced-based practices in your transition planning
  • Measure individual outcomes
  • Analyze data along the way and make adjustments as needed

When you let the data tell you what's working and what's not, you'll improve quality outcomes. 

To learn more, review data collection and use and effective practices from NTAC.

« Previous: About the framework | Next: Shared practices »