This 16-part, 168-page series of articles from the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation provides an update on the ongoing evaluation of the Promoting Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income (PROMISE) project. The PROMISE initiative sought to address many of the barriers to economic independence that youth Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients and their families face. The articles summarize the intermediate findings and recommendations from six national PROMISE grants.

These journal articles highlight select findings from the six projects funded under the PROMISE initiative. The project collectively recruited and enrolled over 13,000 youth between the ages of 14-16 years old receiving SSI benefits across six research sites: Arkansas, California, Maryland, New York, Wisconsin, and ASPIRE, (a collaboration among Utah, Montana, Colorado, Arizona, North Dakota, and South Dakota). Recruitment took place across 24 months beginning in spring 2014; each site was required to serve a minimum of 2,000 participants. Upon enrollment, participants were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. The project assessed the substantial barriers to economic independence the youth SSI recipients face in transitioning to adult life. The barriers are related to their health status, social isolation, service needs, and potential loss of disability benefits. As a result of these barriers, the education and employment outcomes for youth SSI recipients are frequently less favorable than those for their peers without disabilities, leading to greater dependence on public programs and poorer overall economic well-being as adults.

PROMISE is a joint initiative of the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Departments of Education (ED), Health and Human Services, and Labor. As the lead agency for the demonstration, ED funded the six model demonstration projects to promote positive changes in education and employment outcomes for the target population. The PROMISE projects provided innovative educational, vocational, and other services to youth and their families. The projects also made better use of existing resources by improving service coordination among state and local agencies. Eligible participants in the PROMISE program are Youth SSI recipients age 14 to 16. ED provided total funding of approximately $230 million.

This 168-page research report is based on data collected from 2013 - 2019 through the PROMISE program.

Major Findings & Recommendations

SSI youth and their families are often a transient population with limited connectivity. Lack of transportation places limits on face-to-face communication, while financial pressures restrict access to communication technology. Also, the complexity of poverty further exacerbated these conditions; family energies are focused on immediate basic needs such as food, housing, and security, rather than future-oriented development needs.

The projects learned that once youth and families were engaged, interest-based job placement, case management supports, and job readiness training were significant predictors of success for youth in work experience programs. The personalized attention provided by a designated case manager was essential in introducing youth and their families to local services and supports and played a critical role in supporting successful work outcomes.

The lessons learned through PROMISE regarding the implementation of evidence-based service interventions, engagement strategies, and the critical importance of collaboration among the educational, vocational, rehabilitation, and Medicaid systems emphasize the need to proactively invest in the youth SSI population. The early introduction of employment-focused services and supports, offered and provided in a manner that acknowledges and addresses the challenges that families living in poverty frequently face, offers a distinct opportunity to positively affect the career trajectory and financial future of many individuals with disabilities.