State Internship Program for CYSHCN Pays Dividends
August 2019

Carmen Boucher
Youth Internship Program Coordinator and Principal Community Program Liaison
Office of Special Needs, Health Equity Institute, Rhode Island Department of Health 


The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) Internship Program for Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs (CYSHCN) provides students with special needs/disabilities the opportunity to practice job skills in a real work environment, preparing them for eventual transition to work and independence.

The Internship Program places transition-age students with particular needs and disabilities, who are enrolled in the state’s Regional Transition Academies and School Transition Programs, in office-based and entry-level internships at the RIDOH. Because many factors impact successful employment for youth with special needs and disabilities, the RIDOH program provides students with a venue to become familiar with office norms, social behaviors, and daily work routine expectations. More importantly, students learn about their abilities and strengths, and build self-esteem with every success they achieve.

“As a traumatic brain injury scholar at the Rhode Island Department of Health, I have been exposed to data concerning public health scenarios, and I have been able to improve upon my social skills within the workplace. The internship program has empowered me by helping me gain the skills and knowledge needed to approach future opportunities with confidence. I truly enjoy the work I am doing, and I continue to learn more each day.” 
– Alexander Pescarino

Man sitting at computer“The Internship program has given me an opportunity to apply my skills and learn new hands on skills. This being my first time in an office atmosphere, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. Working hard around amazing people and handling tasks one by one, I started to like my internship and pursued a career out of my internship working with youth around the state in the Health Equity Institute.”
– Pauline Thompson RIPIN Youth Resource Specialist

Internship programs take place over 90 hours. The process includes an initial interview, on-site shadowing, and orientation training. Supervision and support are provided daily by an internship facilitator who assesses placement match, skills development, and assists with other work-related issues/accommodations. Upon completion of the program, participating students conduct an evaluation about skills gained through the internship experience.

The RIDOH Internship Program has been providing opportunities for student internships since Fall 2011 in various programs throughout the department. Students who have completed internships with RIDOH have reported, through evaluation surveys, increases ind confidence, independence, social interactions, appropriate behavior, and energy level.

Person filing papers in filing cabinetWhen I was given the opportunity to do the internship at the RIDOH I felt honored to participate in the program. … When I was at the RIDOH I felt I was given a sense of responsibility and trust to handle sensitive information and keep it secure. This made me feel like I could handle more tasks then I expected to be able to do.

“I learned skills of filling and organization, which are crucial skills to know how to do if I work in an office. I feel more confident now about performing these skills. I truly appreciated the opportunity that was given to me.”
– Peter Hanna

Students also report increased empowerment to assess their likes, dislikes, strengths, and ability to identify any needed accommodations/supports.

“Being in this internship program has impacted me to comfortably advocate for my needs and accommodations. This program has done a wonderful job at being inclusive, accessing my needs and empowering me to be confident in my work. This internship experience has provided me with the tools that I have gained to take with me and use on my future education and job endeavors.”
– Sabina Piorkowski

Other skills learned included: professionalism, collaboration, teamwork, communication, initiative, and self-management.

“The Internship helped me understand the different working environments people go through. It helped me how to be organized and follow directions. It helped me understand time management in a job setting. It taught me the importance of personal appearance and dress code. The program taught me about punctuality and communication with your co-workers.”
– Sergio Bussell

The program has had an overall positive impact on students’ lives, and has helped to prepare and empower the next generation of workers to make a difference in their fields.

“Having the chance to be a student intern at the Rhode Island Department of Health was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that taught me how to shoot for my goals and be a leader. The mentors had such a huge impact on me. They allowed me to explore the things that I love and taught me the steps to staying driven and being successful.

“This program has empowered me to be the best that I can be and taught me how to fight for what is right and stay confident the whole way through.”
– Starr Sroka

Carmen Boucher and Alexander Pescarino