The Road Ahead – Main report

2. What is transition?


This section provides the context for the discussion in the chapters that follow about young people's, parents' and supporters' information needs at transition.

In the parents' and supporters 'groups, the question 'what is transition?' resulted in definitions accompanied by emotional reactions. Parents spoke of their 'fears' as they did not have a clear understanding of the process. Supporters viewed the question primarily from the point of view of the young people experiencing transition and linked this to the support they themselves could provide.

Young people's views of transition

We asked the direct question 'What is transition?'in only one visit with young people with learning difficulties. In this area, one of the participants clearly stated that transition was:

'Moving on from being a child to becoming an adult.'

This young person was herself the Transition Champion for the area (the person seen as responsible for moving things forward on transition locally). She was on the sub-group of her local Learning Disability Partnership Board, (the new multi-agency forums set up following the Valuing People White Paper to oversee local implementation of its provisions) and was possibly becoming co-chair of the group.

In the other areas, transition was explained by the project team as 'growing up' and 'deciding what to do when you are older'. When the young people really did not understand this concept, the team resorted to explaining that it was 'when they left school'.

Parents' views of transition

Parents described transition as their young person becoming an adult. From an holistic viewpoint, one parent recognised that this would involve health, education and social services.

The parents' main response to the concept of transition was, however, emotional. Transition was described as 'scary' and 'frightening'. These emotions were related to a lack of appropriate services and lack of transition planning. Parents felt that transition was very difficult to:

'Get your head around particularly without appropriate information.'

Planning the future was likened by one parent to:

'Crystal ball gazing.'

Lack of transition planning

Some of the parents commented that they had had little support during the transition process. One parent said that her daughter was now 20; neither mother nor daughter was aware of having had any meetings to discuss this young woman's transition. Another young person had left school with nothing in place. One parent observed:

'Promises of smooth transition [by Social Services Department] then nothing for 18 months.'

Parents recognised that resources and lack of communication fed into this issue:

'Departments are dealing with so much, too stretched. Children's team had to pass you on at 16 but assigned an adult trainee Social Worker at 20.'

'Resources a problem, overwork, 5 people on health planning group but GP didn't know who the Community Nurse was.'

They felt that they needed to 'fight' to get any support:

'The only way she's got anything is by me ringing. It's lonely. Left friends from residential college. Hard to see her go to residential but I cried when she came home, with nothing.'

Lack of services

The parents were aware that there was a general lack of services which were appropriate for their young person; this was a cause of some apprehension. They were also aware that services for teenagers and specific services to support transition would soon stop:

'Scary - everyone suggests things stop at about 22.'

'You lose advocacy, youth centres etc at 25. '

Some said that they had been warned of 'impending doom' by other parents and they ought to 'get staff sorted' well in advance.

Their concerns were compounded by previous negative experiences of service provision. As one parent pointed out in the past:

'So many people have let me down. '

The young person in charge

The parents recognised that transition was a time when their young person should begin to do 'what he or she wanted' and take charge of his or her own life:

'They do change and want to make choices as they come into manhood.'

Some parents were, however, concerned about this because their young person had:

'Difficulty knowing what he wants'

and he

'tends to agree.'

Adult responsibilities

While they recognised that their young person was becoming an adult, parents had concerns about them taking on the adult responsibilities which their peers took for granted. One parent said:

'Can't picture him voting or understanding how to or doing things adults take for granted.'

Some parents were concerned that whilst their young person had become adult in terms of age and physical development, they were vulnerable, had not yet attained certain skills and, on occasion, exhibited behaviour that was not regarded as appropriate in a young person of their age.

Others recognised that their young person's apparently appropriate interaction with others was related to their own on-going support.

'Difficult when he can appear so able - it's with a huge amount of background support.'

They realised that as their young person was 'becoming independent', they would be 'embarrassed by Mum checking' and were concerned about how they would 'know how and when to let go'. In one instance, a parent was concerned that the process had gone too far:

'Now he's over 21, in supported living, I feel excluded, I don't have any involvement in decisions.'

Role models, such as older brothers who would help young people understand what it meant to be an adult, were felt to be valuable.

Risk taking and safety

The parents recognised that while growing into adults their young people would need to:

'Test the waters - what's right, what's wrong. What's been acceptable in amid the family isn't with others. '

This acceptance of the need for young people to experiment with new things was linked to an on-going concern that the parent did not really know how much their young person understood and that their young person was 'open to judgements by public'.

Throughout all of the discussions parents voiced concerns about the provision of appropriate support. One family had found two students for their young person to go out with when no other support was available.

Increasing awareness of difference

As the young people grew up and compared themselves to others, the parents were concerned about their self-esteem. They felt there would be an:

'Increasing awareness of the differences between them and others.'

School as a resource

In one area in particular, parents saw their child's school as a key resource at transition:

'Since this school opened, only need to ask and information is available.'

Advocacy support

In another area, the parents recognised the importance of the local advocacy group in which their young person was involved. They stated that the:

'Advocacy group has really helped them move forward - relationships, able to sit and listen and talk, respect each other, hear about others' feelings and difficulties. '

Parents supporting each other

Parents also commented on the support that they received from each other and from taking part in this focus group meeting:

'Learn things only from another mother. '

'Find talking to other parents very helpful - free to speak, learn, share. '

Changes and choices

Within the context of concern, and lack of clarity, about the transition process, parents recognised that a wide range of choices might potentially be available to their young person. These included:

Supporters' views of transition

The supporters' views of transition generally began from the perspective of the young people they worked with, rather than their own position as a supporter.

They recognised both positive and negative emotions in relation to the transition process. The negative emotions included 'loss' and 'fear' and the recognition that it was a 'frightening time', a time of 'confusion', 'coping with change' and 'losing stability'.

On the other hand, this time was also recognised as 'exciting' and a 'new and challenging horizon' where the young person could 'feel important'. One supporter commented that it was a time when young people needed to 'trust others' to help them appropriately.

The supporters' definition of transition centred on both becoming an adult and 'becoming more aware of being an adult'. Transition was seen as a development period, a time of change, of confronting problems and different challenges. The changes at transition involved 'new experiences ' and 'learning new skills' as the young people made decisions that would affect their life in adulthood, so they needed to learn to 'feel comfortable about change. For one supporter, transition was seen generally as making changes in life at different stages; by another only as 'leaving school and 'starting again'.

For young people staying at school until they were 19, the early stages of transition could be summarised simply as 'changing class ' with little impact, therefore, on the young person's life generally.

Becoming recognised in their own right

The supporters felt that transition involved the young person 'becoming an adult ' and being 'treated as an adult and not a child'. Transition meant being entitled to their own views and to being 'listened to'. It was a time of growing rights, responsibilities and opinions as young people were 'discovering ' themselves.

Independence and physical and emotional changes

Personal growth and self discovery were related to 'growing independence ' and the opportunity for young people to 'explore independence' and 'changing relationships at home'.

The supporters recognised that these changes were accompanied by the physical and emotional changes of puberty.


The supporters' discussions of transition then turned to the practicalities involved in making changes and becoming an adult. They talked about the 'lack of choice after school' and the 'involvement of lots of different agencies'.

One supporter summarised the situation as: 'a fight or struggle in which parents were involved and also needed support'; another believed that progress had been made around transition planning and that there was more 'preparation and lead-in now'.

Support required

The supporters were clear that young people needed support and advocacy during transition, in order to make appropriate choices in the different areas of their lives including:


This section looked at the young people's, parents' and supporters' understanding of the transition process.

The young people: only one of the young people understood the term 'transition'; the others needed the concept to be explained in a more concrete manner.

The parents were unclear about what happens during transition and their role in the process. They understood that transition was a time when their young person took more control over their life, but were concerned about their ability to take on adult rights and responsibilities, about the changes that might happen the support they needed. They were aware of a lack of services and supports in their local areas and the need for appropriate national and local information. The parents found discussing transition an emotional process; they felt scared and anxious.

The supporters saw the transition process from the point of view of the young person. They recognised that it was a time of great change, during which the young person needed to:

  • Be in control
  • Be aware of their own capabilities
  • Be able to understand their own emotions.