What Is Personal Futures Planning?

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Navigating the Journey from Birth to Graduation

For children with special needs, the journey from infancy to adulthood is marked by several key planning stages. These stages are designed to ensure educational success and smooth transitions at different phases of life. From birth until the age of three, infants and toddlers are supported by an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). As children grow and enter school, they transition to an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 plan. Their IEP or 504 continues until they leave the school system.

Transition Planning: A Crucial Step at Age 14

At the age of 14, formal transition planning begins. This includes a team, often including agencies that support adults with disabilities, to prepare for the child’s life after the school system. This process is about supporting a smooth transition to adult life.

Personal Futures Planning vs. Transition Planning

There are several types of Personal Futures Planning, and you may hear them labeled as Maps, Person-Centered Planning, or similar. The major differences between the school’s transition planning and Personal Futures Planning are the child’s dream/goal-driven focus, involvement of team members, and informal environment. There are no laws requiring Personal Futures Planning. Instead, a group of caring and committed individuals gathers in a relaxed environment, such as the teenager’s home, approximately every eight weeks to help the individual review challenges in order to reach their ultimate goals.

Exploring Dreams and Goals

Personal Futures Planning differs significantly from school-based transition planning. It is driven by the individual’s dreams and goals, and is a voluntary process conducted in a relaxed and informal environment. This planning doesn’t follow strict legal requirements. Instead, it revolves around a committed group of individuals, including family and friends, who meet regularly to help the individual overcome barriers and achieve their goals.

The Role of Personal Networks

This type of planning emphasizes the importance of a personal support network. It involves exploring the individual’s interests, strengths, and dreams, and harnessing the support of relatives, community centers, churches, and other local resources. The aim is to utilize these often-overlooked resources to make dreams a reality.

Stages of Personal Futures Planning

The process begins with communicating and brainstorming dreams, encouraging creative and innovative thinking. It’s a time to prepare emotionally for the future and to adjust plans as dreams evolve. The planning process addresses barriers, whether they are behavioral, logistical, or related to family schedules, and focuses on important goals like employment and future living arrangements. The planning will certainly address multiple goals, but the two primary goals will be 1) daytime activities, including employment or an appropriate day program, and 2) a future living situation, whether immediately after graduation or in the distant future.

The Value of Personal Futures Planning

Beyond School-Based Plans

While schools primarily drive IEPs and transition plans, focusing on preparing students for job opportunities and independent living, Personal Futures Planning takes a broader approach. It includes family and community resources to shape a comprehensive “dream” plan. It also helps in identifying goals that can be included into the child’s IEP.

A Lifelong Process

Unlike school-based plans that conclude with graduation, Personal Futures Planning is a lifelong process. It adapts and evolves with the child’s needs and life changes, continued support and guidance.

Embracing a Holistic Approach

Personal Futures Planning offers a whole child approach to preparing children with special needs for their future. Additionally, this supports an education plans by focusing on the child’s unique dreams and goals, including a wider support network, and providing flexibility to adapt over time.