Parents - the key to successful transition

Parents and families are often the one fixed point in a world of change for school leavers with learning difficulties and disabilities. We have to support them better, says Tracey Francis

Every parent knows, or will experience, the feeling – your child is growing up, taking steps towards living life the way they, not you, choose. Pride may be tempered with concern. Leaving school is probably the biggest change they have ever faced. Can you be sure they will thrive in the new world they are entering?

It’s a tough call for any of us. But for parents of young people with learning difficulties and disabilities, the uncertainty is of a different order of magnitude.

For these young people, the process is about so much more than finding the right college course or sourcing supported employment. If they’ve missed school due to their disability or condition, or haven’t yet developed the skills necessary to navigate the adult world, they may simply not be ready to make such a move. Add complex health care plans, practical difficulties with transport or accessibility, managing care packages and multiple support agencies, a landscape of changing benefits and entitlements, and the scale of the challenge families face becomes clear. If any aspect doesn’t work as it should, the whole structure can come crashing down.

For the vast majority of young people with learning difficulties or disabilities, parents and families are the one constant as the world around them changes, and are often left to plug any gaps in support throughout the transition process. With services under greater pressure than ever before, parents are key players in making sure the outcomes for these young people match our aspirations.

Contact’s new project, ‘Going forward – preparing parents for transition’, is about empowering families to play an active role in the transition process from the beginning, wherever they live and whatever their child’s needs. Supported through the Scottish Government’s Children, Young People, Families, Early Intervention and Adult Learning and Empowering Communities Fund (CYPFEIF and ALEC), we are working with parents’ groups and partner organisations across Scotland to talk directly to hundreds of parents, gathering their thoughts on what will give them the confidence and skills to support their son or daughter through leaving school and beyond. Their input will shape a comprehensive new national resource, ensuring it as many families as possible will have access to the information they need as they embark on this crucial journey.

Children’s and adult services have the Scottish Transitions Forum’s Principles of Good Transitions as an excellent guide to improving practice for this group of young people. By equipping parents to better understand and access relevant services and support, Contact’s new resource aims to provide a similar step change in improving experiences for them and their families.

More information

Contact (formerly Contact a Family) would like to hear from young people and families living with learning difficulties and/or disabilities to help us explore the issues around leaving school and what comes next. To attend a regional workshops, join our online discussion or share your thoughts about transition, visit or contact