Improving VR Outcomes for Out-of-School Youth Involved in the Justice and/or Foster Care Systems


During this 3-year project, Cornell University’s Yang-Tan Institute will conduct mixed method exploratory research to learn how the public Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program can effectively serve out-of-school youth (ages 16–24) with intellectual, developmental, and mental health disabilities who are involved in the justice and/or foster care systems, ultimately contributing to the outcome domain of employment.

The research will also focus on unique considerations pertaining to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic downturn, which have created an even more pressing need to address service gaps for these youth. These youth are more likely to experience skills gaps from educational interruptions and digital divides, and they are less likely to access VR services. Also, these youth will be entering the employment market during this challenging time.

The goals of the study are to:

  • Explore issues of population identification, outreach, and service delivery from both practitioners’ and youths’ perspectives.
  • Determine VR practitioners’ utilization of evidence-based, culturally appropriate interagency approaches towards identification, outreach, and service for these populations.
  • Explore how the pandemic has changed the ways that systems-involved youth are willing or able to engage with VR services.

The objectives of the study are to:

  • Increase understanding of the experiences of system-involved out-of-school youth with disabilities in accessing and benefiting from VR services
  • Identify effective approaches for connecting out-of-school youth, and their families, with VR services in order to improve employment outcomes.

Project Activities

Outcomes will include evidence from three primary research activities:

  • Focus groups and interviews with out-of-school youth and their families as well as with VR and other service professionals (e.g., justice and foster care personnel)
  • A follow-up survey to obtain quantitative data about VR experiences across these four types of stakeholders
  • Stakeholder feedback on the initial design of products. These products will include one multimodal, pilot-tested toolkit (e.g., web, text/pdf, images, checklist, video) for VRCs and related professionals, as well as CRCC-accredited webinar trainings for these groups.

Contact Information

Matthew Saleh


Funding Agencies

US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Community Living

Principal Investigator

Matthew Saleh (PI), LaWanda Cook and Leslie Shaw (Co-PIs)

Collaborating Partners

Connecticut Bureau of Rehabilitation Services