AKIM-Jerusalem brought information to its Grundtvig partners on helping persons with special needs to successfully transition from their family homes into independent living arrangements, and to make optimal use of available leisure time and continuing education opportunities.
The underlying assumption is that, people with special needs are at higher risk than other people at failing to make this transition, not due to lack of personal potential but mainly due to the unavailability of- or to insufficient acces to support. The Training Apartment Program accepts groups of 6 adolescents with special needs for 15 meetings, once a week, from early afternoon until the next morning.
The program offers trainees an out-of-family-home living experience that focuses on developing skills in activities of daily living, interpersonal skills and community orientation. The program also offers parents support in dealing with the problematic of "letting-go".
Through personal changes we can gain confidence and become empowered.
Some transitions are hard to deal with and can pose a challenge but within a safe space and with the right kind of support, these too, can be mastered.
Graduate of the Training Apartment program
Moving out of the parental home is one such transition.
Source: Manual for Training Apartment
What is the purpose of the Training Apartment?
The future of a person with special needs is full of difficult questions. How will he/she do? With whom will he/she live and much more?
Many professionals in this area of work believe that community based living should be preferred over institutional care. The Training Apartment program rests on the assumption that the graduates will eventually live in community based living arrangements. The program aims at alleviating some of the anxieties that may arise among the participants and their parents.
Who participates in the program?
The age of the participants in the Training apartment range from those completing secondary school up to adults who still live in their family homes.
Generally the groups that participate in the Training apartment program are referred to us by special schools or sheltered workplaces. The advantages of this procedure are that the participants already know one another and their levels of functioning are similar. In addition, a staff member supervises the composition of the group, which helps the group to be more functional.
Good interaction between the group members is a key to the success of the program and to achieve its objectives.
Some of the parents are very interested and positive about their son\daughter's participation but there are occasionally those who are very negative. Program's and referent agencies staff do their best to go over the stages of the program with the parents because we are also there to help them through the process of “letting go” from their children. Flexibility can help in some of these cases like offering the possibility of spending some hours during the afternoon with the group without staying overnight, etc. In the end, however, the participation is always completely voluntary. We have never had someone staying in the apartment when he\she didn't wanted to.
How it all works
We are a democratic apartment: we encourage the participants to express their wishes, take part in decisions related to the program contents: what we should cook or where we want to go and, of course, to share their concerns.
Gradually, the participants' skills develop: self-expression, becoming aware of one's own preferences and, if necessary, giving up on them. As a consequence, the participants' self-confidence builds up (because "I know myself best") and having achieved that, it then becomes easier to establish social relations.
During the daytime, two or three staff members are present in the apartment and this allows for handling individual conversations with the participants. When necessary, the group can also split up into smaller groups and do different activities.
The program includes going out just for fun, reinforcing the social network between the participants and exposing them to a diversity of situations (cinema, cafes, shopping and more).
The workers in the program are usually students, who have leadership capacities, know how to run a home and are sensitive to the needs of people with intellectual disabilities. They are accustomed to receiving supervision and aspire to experiencing a process of growing together with the program participants.
The Training Apartment coordinator is responsible for the relationship with the families, other external agencies, conveying special messages to the participants and for supervising and coaching the team members.
Due to the differences between the participants in the different groups we highly recommend adjusting each work-team to the particular group members. For example, with mixed groups, we advocate making sure that there is a female night staff member. In most cases, there are no more meetings with the group following the 15 meetings that are part of the program. But, every rule has its exceptions.
In instances of special requests from the referring agencies, an additional round of meetings can take place which is then focused on the participants expected moving away from their parental homes and into community based living arrangements in the near future.
Alternatively, when some participant does not complete the course with the first group he/she is a member of for any reason, he/she can become part of another group.
A., the oldest person to ever take part in the program was 63 years old. Following his parents' deaths he continued to live in an apartment of his own near his sister's home and she cared for A's basic needs (food, laundry, etc.). A's siblings were very concerned about his social isolation because he spent most of the days alone at home, not interacting with anyone.
A. was very opposed to moving away from his apartment. He even suspected his siblings of wanting to "kick him out". Towards the end of his participation in the Training Apartment program, A was asked if he would like to move into a community based living arrangement. He answered: "If the apartment is similar to the Training apartment, then that is exactly what I want!" Shortly after that, his siblings contacted the social worker and asked her to help A. move out of his apartment and into a community based living arrangement.
Today, A, lives in his new apartment with other residents who are of a similar level of functioning and enjoys his new life there. The people that we have accepted to the Training apartment program until now have been people with mild intellectual disabilities without particularly challenging behaviors.
As for adult participants in the program, their guardians are usually their siblings, and so the Training Apartment staff keeps in contact with them.
Three important meetings before the first overnight stay
1 At school or in the workplace: The Training apartment team goes to the place that originally referred the candidates in order to meet with them for the first time. In this meeting, the mutual expectations of the program coordinator and the candidates are clarified and adjusted. During this encounter, the candidates for participation get answers to questions they may have about the program and the apartment. Generally there are more potential participants attending the "get together" than the final group members because some of them will still be hesitant about taking part in the program.
2. In the Training apartment: This meeting is meant for the team members that referred the candidates to the program, the candidates themselves and the program staff. In this meeting, the candidates are told about the house rules which they need to internalize and commit themselves to honor. The rules will be described in greater length below, but the first rule is to honor the Training Apartment's main objective – the participants' willingness to learn. An additional purpose of this meeting is to familiarize the candidates with the apartment itself. In order to underscore the candidates' independence, they travel to the apartment accompanied by the staff members of the referring agency, and not by their parents.
3. In the Training apartment: In this meeting only the Training apartment staff and the candidates' parents participate. The objectives of this meeting are:
(a) To reduce the parents anxieties regarding the conditions in the apartment (most parents want to see that the apartment is clean, well equipped, that the staff is qualified, etc.)
(b) To collect additional information from the parents about the candidates.
(c) In the course of the meeting, the program staff members become the parents' partners and a communication channel opened. This offers the parents a sense that they have someone to turn to regarding the apartment and their son's/daughter's progress towards independence.
Seminar at ELLA International Inclusion Congress
The ELLA seminar helped to create a joint understanding of:
Partner countries of ELLA will receive written material describing key elements of each of the 4 areas above ((a)-(d)).
After presentation of the results during ELLA congress the European participants will discuss the relevance and applicability of the Training Apartment in their home countries. A manual of these deliberations will be prepared to allow the partners to continue discussing the contents with their colleagues at home.