Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

VRTAC-QM Quick Feedback Needed – Help Us Improve!

Surveys can be a hassle, but your feedback helps us improve. Share your thoughts on our tools and materials here: Survey Link.

Thanks for your input!

Mar 14, 2022

On this episode of Manager Minute, we are delighted to discuss Colorado’s Employment First initiative. On the panel, we have:

  • Patricia Henke, Colorado Office of Employment First (COEF) Director
  • Meghan Greene, CIE Manager, CO VR
  • Katie Taliercio, Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF); Colorado’s State Medicaid Agency
  • Katie Oliver, Colorado Department of Education
  • Cheryl Carver, Colorado VR

They are involved with a very innovative and successful collaboration in Colorado pertaining to their Employment First initiative.  We believe it’s an outstanding model illustrating how multiple agencies can effectively partner in an Employment First initiative to serve their consumers better. We have the pleasure today to understand how this is working in Colorado, so you may be able to move in a similar direction.


Here are some useful links discussed in the podcast:

Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Colorado

Colorado Office of Employment First

Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Finance

Colorado Sequence of Services for Students and Youth with Disabilities


Listen Here


You can find out more about VRTAC-QM on the web at:


Please stay up to date by following VRTAC-QM on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @VRTAC_QM



Partnering with State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies (SVRAs) to enhance service delivery and maximize outcomes through quality program and resource management.

The purpose of the VRTAC-QM is to provide training and technical assistance that will enable State VR agency personnel to manage available resources, improve effective service delivery, and increase the number and quality of employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities. The VRTAC-QM provides TA and training in VR program and performance quality management, fiscal and resource quality management of the VR program, and general quality management of organizations. You can request technical assistance from the VRTAC-QM by contacting your TA Liaison directly, contacting any member of the Center you wish, or by filling out the information on our main website and clicking on submit. While on the main website, join our mailing list to receive updates on training and new activities occurring within the Center.



Full Transcript


Leveraging Employment First initiatives to improve consumer services across agencies in Colorado.



Speaker1: Manager Minute brought to you by the VRTAC for Quality Management. Conversations powered by VR, one manager at a time, one minute at a time. Here is your host, Carol Pankow.


Carol: Well, we're delighted to have a whole crew from Colorado with us this morning in the studio. We have Patricia Henke Colorado Office of Employment First. Meghan Greene with Colorado VR. Cheryl Carver also with Colorado VR. Katie Taliercio, CEO with the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing. And Katie Oliver, Colorado Department of Education. So welcome to you all. I appreciate you being in the studio today. These fine ladies are involved with a very innovative and successful collaboration in Colorado pertaining to their Employment First initiative. We believe it's an outstanding model, illustrating how multiple agencies can effectively partner with their Employment First initiative to better serve their customers. We have the pleasure today to understand how this is working in Colorado. So you may be able to move in a similar direction. So let's get a little background on Employment First. Employment First is really a framework for systems change that is centered on the premise that all citizens, including individuals with significant disabilities, are capable of full participation in integrated employment and community life. This national effort, formerly originated from the Office of Disability Employment Policy, when on August 8th 2018, they hosted 15 federal offices, including representatives from the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs and Justice, the National Council on Disability, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Social Security Administration to learn about and discuss the newly launched Employment for State Leadership Mentoring Program. Today, many states, such as Colorado, have adopted Employment First initiatives through formal state legislation and dedicated state funding appropriations in an effort to establish this framework so this objective can be met. So let's dig in. Meghan, I'm going to have you start us off with a little background about why the importance of partnering is so critical and a little more about your state Employment First legislation and the state's competitive integrated employment focus.


Meghan: Thanks, Carol. Yeah. So as you can see from all the different Colorado partners here, we love partnering together and it yields really great results for our state. Kind of, along with the background that you just gave in Colorado, priority is really that competitive integrated employment for all working age persons with disabilities. All people are capable of full participation, employment and community life. With the WIO definition of CIA as a shared goal and a shared vision of the supportive employment process across all of the Colorado State systems, with an emphasis on the use of those evidence based practices like customized employment or individual placement and support or benefits counseling to support that competitive integrated employment for the people that we serve in Colorado. This is really shown in the work that we all do that has been completed utilizing a state level systems framework and by aligning employment related policies, service delivery practices and service funding structures between our state agencies. Some of the examples of this alignment and collaboration is in. 2016 Senate Bill 16-77 was passed, which effectively prioritized Employment First in Colorado and required state agencies to convene and develop the Employment First Advisory Partnership between the Department of Education, Department of Human Services, Department of Labor Employment, which is where DVR sets and our state Medicaid agency, health care policy and financing in 2017. This Employment First Advisory Partnership was fully established and in 2018 the Employment First Advisory Partnership developed and publish some strategic recommendations for all of our state agencies and partners to work on and support Employment First in our state.

And this also supported our Senate Bill 18 one four five, which was a passing into law which effectively created requirements for training and supported employment providers standards. So really a great outcome and support across our agencies for the people we serve. Of all of us coming together to move those services and support for employment for so long. And in 2019, Colorado State Legislature approved a budget appropriation which effectively developed our Colorado Office of Employment First, and you'll hear later from Patricia Henke and more about that. She is the director of our Colorado Office of Employment First, and it utilized our State Council Cash Funds and DVR match to support these efforts. Federal funds are prioritized for training and our certification of support and employment service providers, and any remaining funds are utilized to provide vocational rehabilitation services to eligible individuals with the most significant disabilities. So all of these partnerships coming together to really support Employment First across Colorado and leveraging different funding sources and different initiatives together, we've had several different examples of what this yielded and one of them was. For employment, first, full time employees within the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation that focused on evidence based practices for supporting people with most significant disabilities with their employment and career goals, this legislation and these efforts supported two positions within our Medicaid agency to start a pilot for performance based services, and we'll hear more about that from Katie Taliercio hear later. We also again have established the Colorado Office of Employment First to support employment efforts in our state, so lots of wonderful things happening from all this partnership and work together.


This also establishes and supports the focus of competitive and integrated employment and shows really the passion and collaboration and partnership among all of us around the value of Employment First within our state and all the initiatives that we're working together on to support Employment First. One of the things that has been a real big focus for the division of Vocational Rehabilitation is that we've set a long term dream goal of increasing the prosperity gap for individuals with disabilities by 10 percent and 10 years, and this is a huge goal for us. And in order to really achieve this, it's imperative that we support all Coloradoans with achieving those goals. We really want to make sure we're supporting Employment First efforts and really engaging with all of our partners on these goals to make this happen. That Employment First advisory partnership that I mentioned earlier that was created through legislation, it continues to meet in perpetuity, actively working on these recommendations that they set forth a couple of years ago to support competitive integrated outcomes in our state for employment and always looking at new recommendations for Colorado and Colorado agencies to support the continued work. So that's kind of a big bird's eye view overview of kind of some of the work and legislation and collaboration that happens in Colorado to really support our shared priority of employment. First for all, Colorado.


Carol: Meghan, this is really exciting to hear. I had come from an Employment First state and we did not. We didn't have that same level of support. I think legislatively for all the things that you guys have been able to create here in Colorado, I think that's super exciting in the partnerships that you've been able to develop and to sustain and carry on. I think that's very cool. So, Patricia, we're going to swing to you. Can you tell us more about the Colorado Employment First initiative and what successes have you had to date and what's the partnership like with VR?


Patricia: Absolutely, Carol. And thank you so much for having Colorado on the podcast today, and thanks, Meghan, for that description of how Employment First initiatives have really evolved in our state. It is pretty amazing and impressive to hear it all over again of all of the amazing work that's been happening for so many years to move these initiatives forward. So as Meghan mentioned, the Colorado Office of Employment First was envisioned by the Employment First Advisory Partnership, and we are just a little over two years old now, so we're still pretty young in our operations and existent really proud about what has been accomplished thus far. And so our team actually is employed by the University Center of Excellence Developmental Disabilities, which is Colorado's, UCEDD and is housed at JFK Partners at Colorado University. I think that's a differentiation I wanted to make because a lot of folks in our state and nationally think that we're state employees and in fact, maybe employed by the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. So I wanted to differentiate that it's a contractual relationship with VR and Colorado University and that we're all housed and employees of CU. It was really important, although we are housed at the UCEDD it was really important for the disability community and the Employment First Advisory Partnership that our work have across disability representation, and this was very eminent when the legislation was coming together in 2016. And so I want to communicate that that we are very much across disability organization and that we work on behalf of all individuals with various disabilities. And so our vision for the Colorado Office of Employment First is essentially to create a culture of inclusive, meaningful and competitive employment for all people. We are charged with changing perspectives on what it means to work, and we are working every day towards demystifying processes for families, for individuals with disabilities who are interested in employment. We are promoting barrier reducing policies and practices. We highlight and create awareness about options for support towards competitive integrated employment. We're continuously researching innovative strategies and technologies and ultimately helping employment providers and job seekers know about strategies that are going to lead to those competitive integrated employment outcomes. So we do this by really three bucket areas, which is our mission statement. And this is leading Colorado toward. Unemployment reaching all people with disabilities through one collaboration, which we're talking about today and why that is so important to systems innovation, we're continuously looking at kind of our existing systems and asking questions about what's working well and what can we work towards changing if needed and three training excellence and technical assistance. As Meghan mentioned, Senate Bill eighteen one forty five was key legislation that really move the needle on expectations around training and provider qualifications in our state to provide competitive integrated employment services. I'm going to transition to talking about some general successes of the Office of Employment. First, it was hard to choose whether there has been a lot of accomplishments over time and these accomplishments that have occurred in collaboration with everyone here on this call and other partners in our state.

I want to mention that Colorado Office of Employment First does not do any of our work in silos that we model effective partnering and continue that movement forward to affect change and progress in our state. So I wanted to mention how the Colorado Office of Employment First has worked towards creating an employment for community in this state. When we got started in 2019, I was hired in November 2019. We had six months in our first year and although there was a pandemic that occurred three months into our start date, we were able to reach 3,000 people in 6 months through training, technical assistance webinars, other opportunities to start the conversation about employment. First, create that awareness and essentially try to move the needle and change mindsets in our state. In Year two, which was a full year, we doubled that number and reach 6,000 individuals and we continue to reach more and more people to engage in the conversation around Employment First and really create that employment for community and movement. So we're really proud of that. We do this in partnership with HCPF and the individuals here on the call today, as well as the advocacy community and families and job seekers and service provider organizations. Another area I wanted to mention, which I think really does illustrate the collaboration and partnership and what can occur when individuals come together towards a common goal and a shared vision. And this is really an emerging area for Colorado that we're really excited about, and we think it's really important. And what I'm speaking to is benefits counseling and disability benefits. One, as we know, many individuals are fearful of going to work, or it's not so much going to work, but are fearful around what's going to occur to their benefits or health care. And this can create a barrier to competitive integrated employment. And the Colorado Office of Employment First was charged specifically with bringing disability benefits one hundred one to Colorado. This was a key part of the budget appropriation that the disability community strongly advocated for. And so this was an 18 month long project, and it's just one example of how partners have come together towards the shared vision and commitment. Colorado has been unique from other states that have implemented disability benefits one on one and that we've had an in-house subject matter. Expert Melanie Hornibrook, who I have to mention on the Colorado Office of Employment First Team and through the Employment First Budget Appropriation, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation also had allocated staff person to work on behalf of benefits counseling, which provided the foundation to bring over 20 additional subject matter experts together to develop the content for Colorado's Disability Benefits 101. The core partnership with the Colorado Office of Employment First and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation has also supported creating awareness about benefits counseling and DV 101. To want

to elevate this conversation even further or this movement around benefits counseling kind of under the umbrella of employment? First, as we acknowledge and recognize that we needed to increase capacity with having certified benefits counselors in our state. So we are partnering with DVR to provide the opportunity for nearly 50 individuals statewide that represent urban and rural communities to become certified and benefits counseling. We are partnering with Cornell to create two Colorado cohorts to support this effort, and the individuals that are interested in becoming certified benefits counselors is vast. We have educators, service providers, family members, independent contractors and many of them are already providers of DVR and health care policy and financing. The Colorado Office of Employment for us is also looking at. How to braid these services across education, DVR and Medicaid and other state organizations so that we can continue this practice of grading services, partnering and making it seamless for the customer, the job seeker, and we really see this as a key intervention and necessary service to continue to move the needle about knowing that employment is possible and that work can interact with your benefits and you can actually earn more money in doing so. And there are so many other ways I could talk about collaboration and partnership and that our other partners on the call are going to speak to. So with that, I'm going to just say thank you and we appreciate this opportunity, and I will now transition it back to you, Carol.


Carol: Well, thanks, Patricia. You really packed a lot into that into those few minutes. I loved that you brought up benefits counseling. We actually are going to feature that in our podcast next month with another state and some pretty interesting initiatives. So I was excited to hear what you folks are doing in that area as well. I also was struck when you talked about demystifying processes. We've been talking a lot about that without using those words. Exactly, but I liked how you said that and very excited about what you're doing. So now we're going to transition over to Meghan and Katie T to discuss the DVF partnership with the MOU and the roundtables and your sequencing of support and employment initiatives.


Meghan: Thanks, Carol. I'll kick us off and then Katie is going to jump in here in a minute. But DVR and our Colorado Medicaid agency, I would say a really long standing at this point partnership where we are actively working together for innovative ways to support Employment First and the people we serve, employment goals in Colorado and some of the things that have really helped. Aside from just us being good partners to each other with this is formal interagency agreements. So our interagency agreement is a really great example of helping to foster that partnership and in it has some great information about mutually developing processes to capitalize on our partnership and to support the people we serve. We've designated supported employment leads that really interact and ensure that we're actively meeting and developing processes together ongoing. Our interagency agreement really also outlines that we develop and update our statewide best practices together in partnership and maximize seamless service delivery to individuals with services. We provide training and guidance jointly. You had mentioned Carol, our roundtables, so in our interagency agreement, it states that we will every year go out and provide some roundtables to our providers, our community center boards, our DVR local offices to support the active practices and best practices of supported employment in reaching competitive integrated employment. We just completed some roundtables this last year with our local DVR offices and are jointly talking and having frank conversations about best practices and how to really partner together.

Katie Taliercio, who will talk here in a second and DVRs Darby Brumley. We're really integral in making those happen and having really great conversations and training together and doing that in partnership really models that partnership that needs to happen at the local level. I also really talks about how we can support people who have been within subminimum wage and how to help them reach those employment goals and get to competitive integrated employment and provide information and resources about career pathways and is really committed to doing that and agree to work collaboratively with all of our partners across the board, as well as share pertinent training opportunities and really making sure that it's outlining those partnerships that really make the sequencing of services that we're known for in Colorado, that Katie is going to talk about here in a second, as well as our partnership opportunities happen so that AIA is a really good foundational document and then our just general partnership and the importance that we both as agencies place on our partnership and actively meet and support that it has been really integral to furthering competitive integrated employment in Colorado and modeling the partnerships that happen across the state. I will kick it over to Katie to really talk about those specific logistics and partnership outcomes that have happened.


Katie Taliercio: Thanks for having me be a part of this podcast. And of course, as you hear people talk, you think of a million more things you want to maybe touch on. So I will try to be brief and try not to duplicate what's already been talked about. One of the more exciting pieces that's just come to my mind as I hear people talk. And another outcome for this partnership and collaboration, I think across the board is that in 2021, Colorado passed Senate Bill two one 0three nine, then is the elimination of minimum wage in Colorado. Is very exciting for us. But while people are transitioning out of minimum wage, we also get to introduce some new services through the Medicaid waiver. And I think the reason that this passed is because of the collaboration and partnership with all the state partners. And I think it's coming from a federal level to. State level and then to all the people that are doing the work and all the people that are looking for jobs, it's kind of all coming together. But the neat thing about the new legislation is we were able to tackle some of the barriers that can happen within the Medicaid waivers for people to get competitive, integrated employment. And so we're increasing the amount of job development and job coaching people can receive, and we are introducing benefits counseling services into our waiver, which is very exciting.

And another thing that we're pretty excited about is the Medicaid buy in, which is going to allow people who are in their developmental disabilities waiver and intellectual and developmental disabilities waiver utilize buy in. So people who are currently having to say no to raises or work more hours or things like that is all due to change coming up really quickly here in Colorado. And that I do feel like as a partnership, we've all come together to figure out what can Medicaid do to partner best with other services around Colorado that are available? Another aspect that's coming to mind a lot, and Patricia talked about this a little bit, but the braiding of services and the sequencing of services has really become a neat tool. And the more we talk about it, I think we've learned that the language we use is really important. Certain things that all the acronyms that Medicaid have is are different than the acronyms that vocational rehabilitation has. So how do we talk about that better? And I think maybe Katie might talk about that too. I think that's been one big lesson that we've been learning is how do we communicate with Medicaid case managers and counselors and others providing services? But also, how do we make sure that people looking for jobs are aware of what's available to them? And the better we do, the more people can be advocates for themselves and say, Hey, I want to do this, and here's what I know is available to me.

I think we've been learning a lot about that. And then I just want to mention, too, that any thing that's happened, I think across with the milieu and setting up the roundtables together and doing a lot of collaborative work with all of the state partners and advocacy agencies and job seekers themselves has been that we've learned how to do this virtually, and I think that's really helped inform the work going forward and what Medicaid needs to do. And sometimes I joke around with some of my team internally that I've worked more with state partners and I have with my internal team. And I just think that really speaks to the level of how we're all putting these puzzles together. And when we come up against the barrier, we can pull together a bunch of people that say, OK, can I do this? Can Medicaid do that? How can we make it work together? And ideally so that we're providing enough services that it's seamless for the person receiving the services? So I hope that I tackled most of the things that we're excited about and some of the outcomes in Medicaid. And pass it back to you, Carol.


Carol: Thanks, Katie. It really strikes me as I'm listening to you all talk about what you've done. I mean, this has really been a journey, and it feels like that foundation that was built back in 2016, and you guys keep kind of brick by brick building more upon that foundation. So it's just taking you into such a great direction in such a broader, whiter, deeper collaboration. I think that is super cool. I did have one kind of follow up question. I was just wondering, I'm going to kick it to you, Meghan, just to ask, how did the pandemic affect the work you were doing? Because we know kind of put lots of states in a tailspin. I just wondered if you guys were able to pivot quickly using technology and stuff. I was thinking about the roundtables you were holding and all of that. Do you have any thoughts about how the pandemic impacted your work the last couple of years?


Meghan: Yeah, absolutely. That's a great question, Carol. So I would say it absolutely affected people's attitudes towards work and their comfort level towards work. It affected how we approached our work as state agencies and had some, I would say, pros and cons to how we pivoted, right? So like Katie mentioned, we kind of had to pivot virtually in that virtual world, and our roundtables in previous years were people driving around the state and meeting in person, which is always wonderful to me to take time. And you might not be able to reach as many people in person. Whereas one of the benefits of pivoting virtually, especially with that specific initiative or meeting with local CVS and DVR offices together, is we were able to really see increased attendance and rural areas really able to be a part of those conversations more than they had been previously. And I think that extended beyond just those roundtable events, but really also the services that we're able to provide. One of the examples that I use is benefits counseling and benefits planning across our state. People have been able to pivot to provide that service virtually as well, and maybe we can reach more people in rural areas now that that service can be provided in a virtual way. So that's just one very specific example that DVR and service providers were able to pivot. And so really leaning into that virtual world has been a challenge and that we're learning how to do that well and effectively, right? It's a new mode of completing services, but also has some positives in that we really are able to reach people that maybe we weren't able to reach before, but it also really highlights the need and importance of assistive technology and technology. In general and how we make the people we serve and job seekers comfortable with technology and learning that so they can truly access services in a more virtual world and support them with their job goals. So that's been a real focus and highlight for how do we make sure that people are comfortable with that and then it can open doors, right? So if we're really, truly supporting competitive integrated employment, it really opens some opportunities for people who may not have thought about some of the work goals or competitive integrated employment they could do before that. Now they could in a more virtual world and may have more virtual options for employment as well. So it's been very interesting road that I think has opened lots of different opportunities and mindsets and brainstorming for new innovative ways to do services in that virtual world.


Carol: It's a little bit of a silver lining out of all of that kind of craziness of the last couple of years. I love that you said that really kind of that comfortability of the individuals and using technology in that focus and really opening new doors. So I think that is wonderful. So now we're going to pivot a little bit and talk to Sheryl and Katie O about the education partnership with DVR. And I understand that you have an MOU and you do some joint training and there's something called the sequencing services tool and you have a whole sequencing of services development process. So do tell me more.


Cheryl: Thank you, Carol, and you're absolutely right things that we are so excited about, and it is so nice to see them actually coming to fruition now. Since we've been working on the sequencing of services for the past three years now, I think it is to actually have an outcome and Katie O is going to speak to that a little bit greater in detail. I want to talk more about how DVR and our Colorado Department of Education partner as a whole, similar to the interagency agreement that Meghan and Katie spoke about between DDR and health care policy and finance. Colorado has an interagency agreement, but also a cooperative services agreement between CTE and DVR, both of which have been in place and grown and expanded and shifted over the last 30 years. Our interagency agreement at the state level allows DVR and CDC to model our expectations at the local level when collaborating to provide services to transitioning youth, which is something we have upheld as being key to being successful in those partnerships. The interagency agreement itself helps to ensure that CTE and DVR are collaborating for all activities related to transitioning youth to provide technical assistance, support training, even program review to our local education agencies and our district DVR partners, as well as some of our external partners when we can pull them into those activities. The technical assistance, support and training, as well as the program review, also apply to any and all of our school to work initiatives such as Colorado School to Work Alliance program that supports district transition goals through the provision of pre-employment transition services and VOC Rehab Services. Our project search sites, which is a transition program for high school students with more significant needs, as well as our pipeline project, which is promoting career technical education to students with disabilities so that they can begin to see that as a viable career pathway. And currently we have an enhanced services pilot going on with our school districts, which focuses on using the discovery process to develop customized work based learning experiences and will buy next school year offer benefits counseling, which Patricia mentioned earlier. Our interagency agreement has been the precipice for pilots new initiatives, the development of tools and cross system trainings not only between DVR and CDE, but also other partners across the state. Our federally mandated agreement, which here in Colorado is the Cooperative Services Agreement, gets a little bit more into details, right? It talks about our roles and responsibilities of each of our systems. It gets into discussing the financial responsibilities of each agency. It includes a dispute resolution process, talks about how education and VR should be collaborating in the provision of services, how we will work together on the transfer or sale of assistive technology from education to VOC rehab when it's appropriate, and it covers the policies of each system that affect transition, our cooperative services agreement is the model that we have used in the past to develop a template for local working agreements. Those local working agreement templates are currently being recreated, and that is all thanks to the push of sequencing of services. But it will specifically define the transition responsibilities between education and VR partnerships in order to minimize duplication, ensure access to services for youth and support ongoing and effective working relationships. Again, all of this aligns so perfectly with our Sequencing of Services project and our drive to create useful tools for more efficient grading of services with the appropriate providers at the right time for students to improve outcomes, raising those expectations in employment for those students. And the key piece to this, of course, it requires increasing agency coordination and collaboration with an understanding of one another systems. So since I've mentioned it frequently and everybody else has alluded to it, PTO is going to kick us off talking about the process of how we got to sequencing of services and do an overview of that tool.


Katie Oliver: thank you, Sheryl. Just really exciting to be here to talk about the work that's been doing, and I know that Colorado has always been proud of their relationship in, particularly with VOC Rehab, but we've also had a very strong relationship with other state agencies, hence a lot of our presence here today. So we've really embraced our relationships. We cross-train, we kind of talk to each other systems. We've learned so many things over the years due to our partnership and those interagency agreements, whether they're actually formalized on paper or that we've just been together for so long trying to figure out our common missions and visions and having those conversations and building those relationships with other state agencies. It's just been a real pleasure and it's been a lot of fun over the years. We have obviously identified lots of gaps as most states do as well. We want to make sure that we're increasing our outcomes for students with disabilities, ultimately getting them employed and self-sufficient and involved in their communities. And so we know that that has been such a forefront for our partnership over the years. And we've talked about this. We've had different models. We've had different partners at the table for years before and we really had kind of a transition continuum. And so we were still missing the boat somewhere. So we sat down had some conversations back in 2019, and particularly it started a little bit more with the folk rehab and the Department of Education. And we said, OK, for some reason, no matter how much our best laid plans and transition planning, we're still not getting the outcomes we want for our students with disabilities. We're still missing them. So how do we make these connections? We're trying to have that smooth transition process handing the baton to the next system, whether that's other adult services, whether it's post-secondary education or employment. We're still dropping the baton somewhere. We're all speaking different languages. We're not coordinating, we're not braiding and blending funds. Let's start talking about this and let's really beef this up so that we can have more of a presence and more consistency across our systems so that our family and ultimately the youth are knowing what's happening next and really emphasizing and enhancing that coordination and that planning for those students. So back in 2019, prior to the pandemic, we came together and started talking about how we would like to proceed with some sequencing of services. So we created a Colorado transition team or partners for students with disabilities. We have representatives, obviously here today from VOC Rehab from Colorado Office of Employment. First, we had the Department of Labor and Employment, the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing Department of Higher ED, our Office of Behavioral Health. We had career tech ED and community college representatives. We had council representatives from the council, the Developmental Disability Council of Colorado. We've had parents from our peak parent center. We've also had some transition coordinators as well be involved with this work.

So we pulled together and started kind of brainstorming about how can we create a shared vision? How can we create consistent language and ultimately help our families and students navigate the world outside of K-12? And so we created a shared state vision, which I think is something really important to share. You know, for years, we've been saying all means all. And so in Colorado, we've adopted that at our department and other departments. But you know, we are still missing very key people and that we're missing those students that we're really not capturing every student. So we changed our shared state vision to represent a little bit more of. Individual presents, so we say each and every student, regardless of their disability, has a right to transition to the adult life that includes, of course, partners at this table. Education, employment, independent living. We want full community participation and the right to make decisions in and about their own lives. So we also know when we recognized why we were creating this work that we needed to start partnering at younger ages, not just in high school. We want to start trading down to the middle school level. We know that there are students that drop or lose engagement around eighth to ninth grade transition. And so we want to keep those engagement efforts happening and keeping those students eye on the prize of that ultimate goal of employment someday and being successful. We know that we needed to create high expectations and create that self-determination for those students.

Cheryl mentioned increasing that agency coordination collaboration. Absolutely. We have so many different members and state members at the team, and then we have one hundred and seventy eight school districts out there in Colorado with other partners and their local community. And so how do we infiltrate some of the state level work into the local so that we can create that coordination and having those really rich discussions and focusing on that individual students so that student level planning and of course, creating consistent messaging. So with the assistance of Jennifer Stewart and the Colorado Office of Employment, first, we were able to create kind of a framework and pull these two partners together, as well as partners from our national technical assistance that are on transition, Ruth Allison and Jackie Hiatt. They have been very instrumental in helping us facilitate this process and kind of put it to paper and make sure that all of our voices are heard and that we're moving forward. Hearing what other states are doing, too has been really a cool experience, but we created a framework and so we created six course student outcomes that we all, as state level department partners agreed upon and how that looks. So we have. Building self-determination and leadership skills was a certain outcome that we thought was really important to achieve postsecondary success, build skills, to safely navigate community and access the services, understand post-secondary options, develop competence and computer and digital literacy, having that expectation of competitive employment and understanding disability and health management. And we have a beautiful logo that kind of pulls it all together on our website, which is open to anybody to check it out. It is WWW.CDE.state.CO.US/SequencingOfServices, or you can Google and you can put Colorado sequencing of services and it should get you where you need to. I know that's quite lengthy, but again, that's WWW.CDE.state.CO.US/SequencingOfServices. You will be able to see that framework. The core outcomes from that framework. We actually created ages that these activities should be happening. We talked about who is responsible, having those conversations that we agreed upon at the state level. So what is DBRS role? What is the school's role? What is ticpods health care policy and financing role or the local community center board? And having those conversations and breaking them down into examples of those skills that we would like to see or be attained by the students? What are the parents responsibilities? And having that coordinated conversation that really could help drive that IEP planning process. So that's been really good. So I even lean to my other partners if there's anything else that they would like to add from a partner perspective about this tool before I kind of talk about our next steps and what we've been doing with our pilot. Anybody else have anything else to jump in at?


Cheryl: Not yet, Katie. You're doing great.


Katie Oliver: Perfect. All right. I just wanted to be inclusive because it's their work too. So from there, currently we have the state template. We have a local template. We have currently for pilots here in Colorado that are pilot the piloting this work intensively with our partners, Mesa School District on the western side of Colorado, we have our Denver, our largest school districts. We have Weld County, which is a more rural community up north. And then we have another rural community down on the south side of Colorado Pueblo. And so we've been really focusing on building those internal and external champions at the local level. So we have some people who have identified these goals and particularly most of these pilots started with education personnel wanting to create more interagency collaboration. And so we took these champions who are very excited, have personal goals about it for their district and for their families and their students, and we started discussing roles and responsibility. What are the roles in the community? What other community providers are in your community that we want to bring to the table and have conversation so that we're creating this template, this kind of map or tool that can help these discussions with community members. So despite turnover, you know, oftentimes there's been so much turnover, whether it's in special education or other state agencies is there has been so much turnover, but information does get lost or it's inconsistent. And so that was another focus of our area was we let's get this in writing in our community and put our templates in so that if Joe Smith wins the Powerball next week that we're going to have the same information and the person that's replacing them will have this the same information and understand the partnership so that we can make sure that's consistent, which has been a big hiccup with several different local players as we're a local control state. And so we've we started that. So right now we have the four pilots. That's where the intense work is being done. However, we as a state team want to continue the vision of creating interagency teams around the state of Colorado and other communities that it may not be as intense that we're doing right now. However, we want to continue to build those conversations, making sure the right people are at the table. We do have some sites already, some areas in our communities that already have established interagency teams. So how can we make sure that they have the right tools to make sure that their partners stay at the table, also not just show up to the table, but stay at the table? So that was really the intention is that our families are getting the information or they're able to share that information or be present to share that information for families and students getting ready to go on to whatever system or how do we overlap and so that there is no baton dropping in the future? So that has been a lot of exciting work, and we're currently working on an individual template for a student to work through or maybe an individualized education program at an IEP meeting. They could talk about it and really drive the planning process so that elements of the academics or the school is infiltrated into those conversations so that the course of study is being aligned. The goals are being aligned with what their goals are. And it's been really a lot of great work. We have one pilot ready to do a student level one, and I think once that student level show is filled out that template, then I think everybody is going to really start to see how that connection and planning from all the partners of the table were responsible for the success of that student. So that's what we're really excited about here in Colorado is that all that work that's been done?


Carol: Well, thanks Katie and Meghan. All right, Katie and Cheryl, I should say sorry. And Meghan and Patricia, everybody and the other Katie. But I can tell I get that great sense from you. Each talking, everyone's super excited. You bring a lot of energy to this topic, and I appreciate you sharing that website. I was writing down notes if you all would see my page, I have just dozens of notes about things that you've spoken about and I know others are going to be interested in. I know our listeners are probably going to want to reach out at some point to different folks that are on our panel today to talk about this. But I am going to turn it to Meghan to give us the last words and really to kind of tie a bow on it for our listeners out there. What advice would you give your VR colleagues and how to make this really work in their state because you all didn't just do this overnight? It's very evident the long journey you've been on. But for those folks that are just starting out, what advice would you like to give them? And Meghan, that's to you.


Meghan: Thanks, Carol. My advice, as you can see, is really leaning into the value of the partnerships and the value of the ideas and wonderful work that happen across your state and really trying to build those partnerships and relationships with advocates in your state, state agency partners, the people you serve and really try to bring everyone together and having everyone at the table and those partnerships and relationships be a part of the solution and working towards the solution. As you mentioned, Carol brings a level of energy, a level of excitement and having everyone be a part of that solution to support people with their employment goals really kind of kicks things off and gets those next steps. And what that could look like for your state could be very different or individualized, depending upon those conversations, those rich conversations that happen when everyone's at the table. So really just setting the table and making sure that people are there and then talking about how to keep people there and building that and spending the time on those relationships and partnerships and publicly doing that together really can lead to those coordinated legislative updates, coordinated initiatives between state agencies and coordinated services at a local level for the people that we serve. And just I'm leaning into that. The importance of those partnerships really leads the way.


Carol: So, Meghan, if somebody wants to reach out, what would you suggest? What's the best way for someone to contact or is there a website they should go to or what do you think?


Meghan: We have several different websites and I think they all kind of link together, which again shows that public partnership between all of us. But I think anyone on this call would be happy to receive a reaching out and support. But our information I know Sheryl and I as information is listed on our Colorado DVR website and we can always give you our email contact information, Carol. For people to have that, I know CD's website has lots of. Great information, and Katie mentioned the sequencing of service tool, and I know they have a sequencing of service email, you can email for any specific information related to that. And the Colorado Office of Employment First, as Patricia talked about, has a wonderful website and has lots of great rich information in the email that you can do there. And so we'd be happy to share all those websites and email information as well for you to have along with the podcast.


Carol: Thank you. I really appreciate that you all have been so generous in sharing aspects of this model with us in the past, which we've also greatly appreciated. And I really hope today's conversation helps the VR community think more proactively about how the various employment and first initiatives can be leveraged to achieve to improve partnerships, improve outcomes for our common consumers across our agencies. So thank you all for joining this very important discussion to help us empower one manager at a time, one minute at a time. And I wish you just continued success and all you do. Thanks a lot.



Speaker1: Conversations powered by VR, one manager at a time, one minute at a time. Brought to you by the VRTAC for Quality Management. Catch all of our podcast episodes by subscribing on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thanks for listening!