The Parent Support Network of Rhode Island hosts a conference Wednesday to highlight the challenge for children with severe disabilities, mental health and substance abuse issues as they transition into adulthood. It’s the time when young adults must leave behind many of the services they relied on through childhood and adolescence.
When young people reach the ages of 16 to 25, they may age out of social support programs geared towards children.
For children, most of these services are overseen by the state Department of Health, but for adults similar programs are managed by the department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.
Network director Lisa Conlan says that means they must learn to navigate a whole new system.
“As a child I could be seriously, emotionally disturbed,” said Conlan. “As an adult I now have to get to severe mental illness, and I may need to reach hospitalization a few times before I would even qualify for some of the services.”
Young adults may also be forced to advocate for themselves to a greater degree, which can sometimes be a daunting task.
That’s why the organization will offer simulations at the conference for social workers and mental health professionals who work with these young adults, says Conlan.
“What is it like to have to go up to the department of human services and seek cash assistance, or food stamps, or to be homeless and go into a shelter? They’re going to be put through those experiences,” said Conlan.
Lewis says helping young people secure new social services in early adulthood is a problem nationwide.