Supported Internships help disabled young people feel valued and socially included

With Jill Hanson, Debs Robinson and Geri Codina

One of the biggest concerns for parents as their young people approach adulthood is if and where they will find a job. The Children and Families Act introduced the Supported Internship, but most local authorities have been slow to embrace the opportunities this could bring.

Some new research has recently been published underlining not just the employment benefits but also the possibilities for improving social inclusion that supported internships also bring. The authors, Jill Hanson, Debs Robinson and Geri Codina are University of Derby researchers and lecturers in its Institute of Education. They've kindly written for SNJ about their findings and why it's important supported internships are widely taken up.

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Being valued and included via Supported Internships

By Jill Hanson with Debs Robinson and Geri Codina

In 2017 my colleague Geri Codina and I were asked to write about the different approaches used to help young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) move from school into employment. This is important because many people with SEND are not able to experience employment and all the positives that work brings.

These positives can include developing a positive identity, enhanced self-concept, a sense of purpose and meaning and the opportunity to take part in society in a wider sense. We thought it was really important to find out the best ways of helping young people with SEND leave school and move towards having a job that offers them these possibilities.

While we were writing the article, we found about supported internships and Geri, myself, and our other colleague Debs, wanted to find out even more about them. Supported internships have been used in America and more recently in England. They're open to young people with SEND aged 16-25, and include some college courses on things like life skills, numeracy and literacy. They also work with a job coach to learn to do one or more kinds of jobs in an organisation over the course of about a year. Job coaches help the young people learn the different tasks within the job while in the actual workplace and help them with the college courses. 

How does it help?

Young people who take part in these supported internships have said that it improves their life and work skills and that it makes them feel more confident. Importantly, quite a lot of young people who complete their supported internship get a paid job at the end, while many others either go on to further education courses or to do voluntary work, rather than ending up unemployed.

We asked one organisation who has been running supported internships for over five years if we could spend a day talking with the interns, the job coaches, internship graduates working in the organisation and other colleagues. We wanted to see what the interns did, what they learned and how the programme helped them be more included in society. The organisation is quite big and has lots of different departments, meaning the interns can try lots of different jobs, work with lots of different people and get a lot of support from their job coach.

The research authors

What did we find out? 

Firstly, we found that the interns enjoyed working in the organisation and the chance to work in many different roles meant they learned how to do many different things and work with a lot of different people. They each had their own favourite placements where there was a good fit between what they liked to do and what the job involved.

The interns were given a lot of feedback on how they did their jobs and were treated the same as very other person working there. This meant there were quite high expectations about how well they had to perform. However, the job coach supported them to meet these high expectations so the interns knew they were doing a good job, were valued as helpful employees, and had developed some skills. Increased confidence led to the interns taking on other challenges such as learning to drive, take trains and buses and give talks.

The graduates of the programme we talked to had been working for a while. Some had achieved further qualifications and were developing exciting careers. They were living independently with partners, had friends they went out with and were really proud of what they had achieved. One graduate had become an advocate for other young people with SEND and gave talks.

How were they valued?

When we spoke to the co-workers of the interns and graduates, we heard that these young people were important to the organisation. They had a very strong work ethic, being reliable and always doing a good job. In some cases, the interns were able to do things much better than other colleagues. The colleagues told us the supported internship programme helped make the organisation better and they liked working with the interns and graduates.

There were different things in the supported internship and organisation that helped make it a place where the interns could start to develop their identity, become more confident and learn a lot of valuable skills to help them get a job. Firstly, the organisation treated everyone individually, taking a person-centred approach. Secondly, the interns were able to try out a lot of different jobs and interact with lots of different colleagues. Thirdly, the interns had high expectations placed upon them and were given feedback about whether they met them or not. Since this was done alongside support and guidance from the job coaches, the interns could learn how to meet those expectations and develop a sense of purpose and value. 

What did it mean for the interns?

What did this mean for changing the lives of the interns? It meant that the interns and graduates had a lot more social interaction with a many more different people than they would have. It also meant they built deeper relationships with people outside of their family and began to participate in a wider community.

You can find Supported internships as a vehicle for social inclusion here: https://doi.org/10.1111/bld.12428

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About the researchers

Jill Hanson is a senior researcher, and her focus is on careers, career guidance and transitions of young people, especially young people with special education needs and disabilities. Debs Robinson is a Professor of Inclusive Education and has a wide portfolio of research that looks at different aspects of inclusive education. Geri Codina is an Associate Professor in research and the Programme Leader for the National Award for SENCOs and the MA Inclusion and Special Educational Needs and Disability. 

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