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Youth in Transition Toolkit:


Reach families


Establishing effective communication with families helps build trust over time.

By designing ways to include families in the process, responding to personal communication preferences and using collaborative communication tools, you can set a foundation for successful family engagement.

Lightbulb LEARN

LEARN: Develop your knowledge

Learn how to communicate and stay connected throughout the process.

As you work with an individual family to create a plan for communication, elevate the importance of their role and their insights.

  • Ask about their communication style, and accommodate their schedules and meeting preferences.
  • Ask if they'd like to create a My Vault account and use it to communicate and share information.
  • Get their perspective about how their youth communicates. 
  • Invite them into the process, including discussions and decisions.
  • Approach the work as a partnership. Collaborate to build the plan, and reflect their ideas in the planning process.
  • Offer information in a variety of formats, using words the family understands.
  • Emphasize their youth's strengths, interests and potential. 
  • Check in regularly and communicate along the way.

Education and disability professionals are often asked to have challenging conversations with families. These conversations may include sensitive subjects such as behavior issues or service decisions or limitations. These situations can be stressful for families and professionals alike, and may lead to misunderstandings and adversarial relationships.

Consider the following strategies to navigate difficult conversations while maintaining respectful working relationships with families.

When addressing challenging issues with families, frame the person and the situation positively. This will help families avoid seeing the situation as catastrophic and allow for a positive path forward. You might say, "He's doing well, and we have a few things to discuss."

Present information to families in a factual manner, without making predictions or assumptions. Ask families if they're experiencing the same thing or have some of the same concerns. You might say, "Here's what we're seeing. What do you see?"

Sensitive conversations are best conducted when a person the family trusts is involved. Bad news coming from unfamiliar people can result in the family questioning if the professionals truly understand their loved one.

Some people with disabilities have future goals that seem unreasonable. As a professional, it may seem important to present more realistic options. However, maintaining a person-centered perspective means supporting youth and their families toward the goals they set for themselves. If the original goal doesn't work out, you can explore a similar or related goal.

Also think about using person-centered tools to understand the why behind a particular goal. For instance, one provider shared that a youth's goal was to become mayor of her town. When asked why she wanted to become mayor, she said, "Because you get to shake hands and talk with people all day." The provider now knew that being around people was important to the youth's work.

Families often dread service meetings — such as IEP, ISS or IPE meetings — because they're filled with confusing language and negative information about their loved one. Rather than dwelling on negative information, use 10% of the meeting to discuss past challenges and 90% of the meeting to plan a positive path forward.

Engage families with empathy and understanding. Strive to put yourself in the family's shoes and understand how negative information might be perceived. How would you like negative or challenging information presented to you? This might alter how you present the information.

If things get heated or emotional, call for a short break to allow people to gather themselves and deescalate. If no progress is being made, consider tabling the issues for another meeting.

The Charting the LifeCourse tools are designed to reframe crucial conversations away from deficits and toward achieving a person's good life. Use these tools to problem solve difficult situations. For example, the Trajectory shows how decisions impact progress toward stated goals. The Integrated supports star can help families expand thinking beyond eligibility-based services to support a person's goals. My profile gives a way to articulate the youth's strengths, what matters to the youth, and how to best support them.

To learn more about using Charting the LifeCourse with families, see Charting the LifeCourse framework and Envisioning a best life within this toolkit.

Resources DO

DO: Work with families

Find resources to establish communication preferences and stay connected with families.

When you first connect with the family, capture their communication preferences. This step not only helps improve communication throughout the process, it shows respect — which can help build trust over time.

Questions to ask and record:

  • How do you prefer to communicate (email, phone calls, in-person meetings)?
  • Do you need communication accommodations (large print, translation, interpretation services)?
  • For in-person meetings, when and where works best for you?
  • How often do you want to communicate? 
  • What do you want to know throughout the process?  
  • Do you know who to contact when you have questions?
  • Would you like to communicate through a My Vault account?

Use this person-centered communication chart (PDF) to gather the family's perspective about the youth's communication style and preferences. 

Image of the first page of the Communication Chart tool

Introduce My Vault to families as an online tool for communicating and collaborating with the professionals supporting their youth.

My Vault is a secure, personal account used by people with disabilities and those who support them to explore and plan, store and share files, create contact lists, and document activities that lead to an informed choice.

With My Vault, a person can: 

  • Know who's on their team, who can help with what, and how to contact them
  • Access information and plans electronically
  • Store documents safely and in a single place
  • Access tools and activities to plan and prepare for work and life after school
  • Easily and securely share information and files
  • Store their own information, plans and resources after graduating from high school or a transition program

Introduce My Vault to families with the following resources:

A screenshot of the My Vault web page.
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