Helping Parents Navigate Supported Employment


Transitioning from high school and into the workplace is always a challenge. But for people with disabilities and their parents, finding work can often be even more complex. Luckily, a variety of resources and tools can help parents navigate this often confusing path.

Barb Ziemke is a parent advocate and trainer and project coordinator at the PACER Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is also the mother of Brandon, a young man with intellectual and developmental disabilities, who is happily employed at a Twin Cities deli.

PACER is the state’s federally-funded Parent Training and Information center. It offers a variety of workshops and materials to help families of children and youth with all disabilities through age 26.

“At PACER, we try to help show parents what’s out there so they can do the work that needs to be done to help themselves,” Ziemke explains. “I always tell them, you need to be an adult services detective.”

Find Crucial Resources–Including Other Parents

Ziemke points out that no organization is going to provide all of the information a parent needs when helping their child transition into the workforce. Mostly, she says, don’t be shy about asking for help, and manage your time and energy. “Hopefully, their child is actively involved,” she notes. “But many times, it’s the parents that have to navigate the system, and it’s complex.”

Often, places like the PACER Center give parents the best resource available—other parents. “For many parents, the employment search comes at a time when you’re exhausted and perhaps ready for a break,” Ziemke notes. “You’ve done so much advocacy already, and you need that second wind for this next big push. A parent who is a bit farther down the road on this journey can be a great help.”

Ziemke notes that while the Internet and state centers are helpful, they are, by their nature, also fairly general. “Go to places where other parents gather and really connect with them. Parents are a wonderful source of real, up-to-the minute information on practically everything.”

Start the Process Early

For Ziemke’s family, planning the route to employment began at an early age. “We made working and especially working in the community an expectation [for Brandon] based on our values early on. We didn’t wait to talk about this—since grade school, we framed it as, ‘Going to school is your job, and when that’s done you find a job in the workforce.’”

Building a work ethic early, and teaching your child to be motivated, sets a foundation that will help ease the transition. “As far back as ninth grade, Brandon determined that he wanted to work,” Ziemke says. “He specifically wanted about 25 hours a week, doing something that he enjoys in the community. This guided the decision-making. Having a goal with high, but attainable, expectations will help you focus the job search.”

High Expectations and Flexibility

Ziemke adds that parents need to be flexible, and always have a Plan B ready. It took Brandon almost a year of working with someone from adult services to find his current job. “He loves cooking shows and water,” Ziemke says, and his work at the deli involves dishwashing, a marriage of the two.

However, Ziemke notes, don’t feel as though you need to meet all of your child’s employment desires to make a strong job match. She observes that while Brandon enjoys his job, it doesn’t satisfy all of his needs. “But now we have a success to build on and tools to look for another job that might fulfill him even more.”

Learn More Tips and Strategies!

Employment specialists should use parents and families as a valuable resource when doing job development and job coaching. The DirectCourse/College of Employment Services curriculum shows you how to build relationships to make strong, sustainable job matches.

Check out our courses “Principles of Career Development” and “Strategies for Job Development” to learn more.

Share Button