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.
I believe that all providers regardless of position or title need to prioritize occupational related activities by engaging persons in recovery to work. The role as a worker is a key for social inclusion. I view prioritizing work as a civic and professional responsibility. Individuals living with health concerns like myself can and do benefit from working. For instance, I learned about taking healthy risks to work by accepting help from friends, family, DVR, consumers, and job coaching services. This support gave me an opportunity to more confidently create a vision, strategically peak into the future, and take action steps toward work possibilities and dreams. In the past, I was often unemployed, underemployed and frequently hospitalized. Collectively we need to move beyond the focus on basic activities of daily living (ADL’s) and help people to build “wage-earned” economic growth through employment. This is a culture of promoting self-help, self-care practices, self-determination, self-discovery, self-renewal and more, rather than a stagnated, uncreative and visionless service delivery. We all need to partner and collaborate on the value of work to bring an increased sense of community feelings among service recipients.
Let’s initially hold hope for individuals in residential settings so they may learn to hold the hope for themselves by supporting an ancient tool and ritual named “work.” Furthermore, assist in preparing individuals to be “work ready,” by regularly providing professional employment technical assistance, having consumers, staff, and or family members to help support resident occupational endeavors. Support people to work regardless of relapse and fears. Reassure people that working is sometimes hard though the benefits can be far more enriching. Like any goal important to create a “step by step going to work plan.” In addition, in the event that I relapse and I again live in a boarding home or agency housing program my preference is to reside time-limited in an environment of both staff and consumers thoughtfully and timely engaging me to get back to work and independent living. I give my gratitude to those in the field and supporters who make an effort to promote work. I urge others to move past attitudinal values and policies that may keep you from unconditionally supporting employment.
Don’t let me or others languish in residential settings!
Dear Ms. Gao,
I enjoy reading your posting because the examples you provided are well established. It is true that few people in our society can live without work but these individuals live under the poverty level. Through work, people can gain many benefits. Work has personal meaning and work promotes recovery (Dunn, et al., 2008). Staff needs to be educated about employment so to help the people in recovery to choose-get- keep their job.
As you mentioned in your posting the best way to help people start thinking about employment is to talk to them about work. There are various opportunities practitioners can talk about work with the individuals receiving services if they do not have sufficient time. They can talk about work when going for food shopping with the persons, when waiting at the doctor’s office, while driving and so on.
Health care providers need to be optimist that the individuals living with a mental can do better so to offer better services to them. Hope is a crucial component in someone’s recovery.