Texans with developmental disabilities continue to experience higher unemployment rates than Texans who do not have disabilities. Parents of youth who have developmental disabilities also report that the transition from high school to a career is a particularly difficult, involved, and confusing process. Project SEARCH, a business-led school-to-work transition model, has demonstrated success in developing internships for students with developmental disabilities that lead to integrated employment that pays the prevailing wage for a given job. Since it started in Cincinnati in 1996, Project SEARCH has approved over 150 programs in 42 states and 4 countries. Sites in various stages of implementation are currently located in Austin, El Paso, and Fort Worth; individuals and businesses in other areas have indicated a strong interest in establishing more approved sites.
The Project SEARCH model requires a partnership between multiple state agencies (representing education, vocational rehabilitation, the long-term support agency, and a community rehabilitation provider) as well as businesses and families. The Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), in addition to participating at the local level in the sites, has actively supported the development of Project SEARCH sites across Texas for over a year. DARS staff maintains contact with the Project SEARCH national office and provides technical assistance to Texas businesses. Through this effort, DARS can gather information about emerging barriers and identify possible opportunities for sites to share resources and/or coordinate activities. However, as the number of sites expands, it will be difficult for DARS to continue in this role. It may also be preferable for the agency/organization that supports and coordinates work between all the sites not be one of the agencies involved in project implementation.
Developmental Disabilities Councils have played key roles in supporting the successful initiation and/or growth of Project SEARCH in multiple states. The Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities could also facilitate the expansion and the evaluation of Project SEARCH in Texas by providing funding to an organization to:
- facilitate the development of new sites across the state;
- coordinate activities of existing sites and collaborate with DARS to ensure that all available resources are used effectively and efficiently;
- evaluate the factors that influence the degree of success of any specific program and share this information broadly;
- explore, with the approval and assistance of the Project SEARCH national office, adapted models through which a wider range of businesses might successfully implement Project SEARCH; and
- gather information about barriers and work with the appropriate agency or organization to remove these barriers.
TCDD and DARS staff met to discuss what types of activities might be helpful. The project outlined below draws on those discussions and supports collaboration between DARS, the Project SEARCH national office, and Project SEARCH sites (existing and future) in Texas to facilitate the establishment of as many successful, sustainable Project SEARCH sites in Texas as possible. The grantee would serve in a supportive role, ensuring that each business has “ownership” of their site, and would agree not to use the Project SEARCH model or brand in any way that is not fully supported by the Project SEARCH national office. Additionally, the selected grantee would not be a partner involved in implementing a specific Project SEARCH site and nor could the grantee be a state agency.
State Plan Goal and Objective: Goal 2
Establish at least two programs that assist Texans with developmental disabilities to gain competitive employment and/or to increase their personal income and assets, and that continue to operate after the completion of a maximum of 3-5 years of TCDD funding, by 9/30/2016.
Partner with other organizations to expand and evaluate the impact of Project SEARCH in Texas, by 9/30/2016.
Proposed Project Description
TCDD intends to fund one (1) project to expand and evaluate the impact of Project SEARCH in Texas by implementing the following activities:
- Support coordination between the Project SEARCH national office, Project SEARCH sites in Texas, DARS, and other state agencies that become involved.
- Identify barriers that sites and/or other partners encounter (for example, ensuring that families have access to benefits counseling as a part of their participating in Project SEARCH) and seek to resolve those barriers in a collaborative manner with participating agencies.
- Conduct outreach/marketing activities to create additional interest in Project SEARCH sites across Texas.
- Provide technical assistance to organizations interested in establishing Project SEARCH sites in Texas.
- With the approval of and guidance from the Project SEARCH national office, explore adaptation and/or expansion of the model to other types of business and/or to non-students.
- Support an annual site visit from the Project Search national office or their approved national TA provider.
- Prepare a final evaluation for TCDD as outlined below.
Expected Grant Outcome(s)
- At least 10 new sites in Texas will be approved by Project Search by the end of year 4.
- A final evaluation report will be provided to TCDD that includes information regarding:
- Savings achieved by businesses implementing Project SEARCH;
- The employment outcomes of the students who participated in Project SEARCH, analyzed by type of disability, socio-economic background, and ethnicity; and
- Information about barriers encountered.
Proposed Measures of Success
- The grantee will report the number of Project SEARCH sites established, and the number of students who obtain jobs at each site.
- Staff from participating sites, DARS, the Project SEARCH national office, and others participating in the collaborative effort will be surveyed to determine grantee effectiveness.
Proposed Funding Amount
Up to $175,000 per year for up to five years, for one project.
Proposed Amount of Required Match
Matching funds of at least 25% of the total project costs are required except for activities conducted in designated poverty areas of the state.
Up to five years.