I recently provided training on employment services to staff members of mental health agencies in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Some staff members worked in residential programs including supervised apartments and group homes. Many of them stated that they provide little if any employment services because they do not believe residential programs are conducive to provide employment services. They reported that the program is designed to teach community living skills so that the consumers can move to an independent living environment in the future. They provide services to assist consumers with medical appointments, picking up prescriptions, doing grocery shopping, and recreational outings. I asked how many consumers have “graduated” and moved on. They admitted very few consumers have achieved the goal. I think this phenomenon will remain for a very long time because very few people in our society can live independently without a job, regardless if they have mental illness or not. Therefore, employment goal should be a core service for independent living.
Here are some suggestions that residential staff can try to promote employment goal.
- Have conversations about consumers’ employment interest, preference and history. For those who have little work history, ask them to talk about jobs of their family members. The idea is help them to see employment can provide the necessary and most reliable resources for independent living including having own apartment, enjoying leisure activities, making friends, having family/children.
- Observe and discuss various jobs while visiting a business. For example, while grocery shopping, watch how many different types of jobs are there such as bakery, meat and seafood departments, flower shop, etc. There are a lot more jobs other than cashier in a grocery store. Have conversations with employees in various department about what they do everyday, where and how they learned to do the job, what they like or dislike about the job or store.
- Talk about you own career path. How did you find the first job? How did you get to where you are today? What obstacles did you overcome? What support did you have when you had problems?
- Inviting working consumers to the residence to talk about their experience can be very inspiring for those who are not working. Help them to develop buddy or mentoring relationships.
- Connecting consumers with self-help centers and attend peer run activities including employment support groups.
You can see this list can go on and on. As a matter of fact, I am inviting anyone esp. those who are working in residential services to add to this list so that more ideas can be generated and shared.