Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

Possible State Intervention Options to Serve Transition-Age Youths: Lessons from the West Virginia Youth Works Demonstration Project

Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

Possible State Intervention Options to Serve Transition-Age Youths: Lessons from the West Virginia Youth Works Demonstration Project

Article excerpt


Policymakers increasingly look for options to improve the prospects of youths with disabilities, who face several potential barriers to making a successful transition to adulthood and independence, especially if they receive cash benefits from the Social Security disability programs. For example, young beneficiaries do not fare as well as youths without disabilities in terms of labor market outcomes (Loprest and Wittenburg 2007). In recognition of these challenges, several state and federal agencies have initiated demonstration projects that aim to improve services and outcomes for transition-age youths; that is, those aged 14-25. Legislatively, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA, Public Law 113-128) emphasizes improving services and outcomes for transition-age youths, including requiring state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies to adequately prioritize services to youths with disabilities.

In 2003, the Social Security Administration (SSA) initiated the Youth Transition Demonstration (YTD) to assess various options for supporting youths with disabilities who received or were at risk of receiving Social Security disability benefits. The YTD included an evaluation that compared results for randomly assigned treatment and control groups at six project sites in different geographic regions. The evaluation's project sites varied substantially in their participant composition and the availability of existing supports.

This article summarizes findings on one of the six projects, West Virginia Youth Works, from interim and final YTD evaluation reports (Fraker and others 2012, 2014). We focus on findings that are particularly relevant to ongoing state initiatives and demonstration projects that seek to improve services for youths with disabilities. The article also complements another article in this issue of the Bulletin (Fraker and others 2018), which reviews the evaluation reports and examines results for all six YTD projects. We focus more heavily on the implementation findings that state policymakers and administrators might find helpful in designing their own programs. We chose the Youth Works project because it covered the largest geographic area and had promising results in the year after implementation. Hence, policymakers and administrators who are developing programs for youths with disabilities, particularly in response to WIOA, might consider some aspects of the Youth Works project worth replicating.

Selected Abbreviations

CES   customized employment specialist
CWIC  community work incentive coordinator
DI    Disability Insurance
HRDF  Human Resource Development Foundation
SSA   Social Security Administration
SSI   Supplemental Security Income
VR    vocational rehabilitation
WIOA  Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act
YTD   Youth Transition Demonstration

The lead organization for Youth Works, the Human Resource Development Foundation (HRDF), provided intervention supports to treatment-group youths in accessible settings, including at the youths' homes or workplaces (or by phone) in 19 counties throughout West Virginia. Employment supports were strongly emphasized throughout the service period, which lasted 18 months.

The findings suggest that implementing larger state interventions to serve greater numbers of youths with disabilities is feasible. They indicate that services can substantially improve employment outcomes, but they also raise important questions about whether short-term services can generate results that last into adulthood without requiring further transition and employment supports.


The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program provides cash payments to eligible low-income children and adults with disabilities. To qualify for childhood payments, an individual younger than 18 must have a medically determinable impairment that causes severe functional limitations and will result in death or is expected to last for a minimum of 12 consecutive months. …

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