By Mike Wade
NRVCS Community Relations Specialist
Although services provided through NRVCS are primarily focused on behavioral health issues – including mental health and substance use disorders, as well as developmental disabilities – there are often other needs that must be addressed in order to help individuals remain in the community and to ensure they have an optimal quality of life.
Finding or maintaining employment is a significant and all-too-common challenge among adults who receive services from NRVCS. In fact, a 2014 study issued by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) suggested that the national unemployment rate for individuals receiving public mental health services is approximately 80% (and 90% or above in at least five states).
Overcoming those barriers is a primary function of NRVCS’ Community Access, Rehabilitation and Employment Services (CARES) team. CARES is a case management program based on a home visitation model of service, working with families who have young children and have been referred by local Department of Social Services (DSS). These families typically have mental health and/or substance use issues and are dually enrolled in both TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and VIEW (Virginia Initiative for Employment not Welfare).
The case managers and vocational specialists with CARES work closely with DSS to ensure that an individual’s or family’s documentation and work requirements are completed, while also providing clients with access and assistance to resources and services. (A Pathways to Employment grant provides funding for the vocational specialist positions.)
CARES Program Supervisor Amanda Cox adds that her staff has also been conducting job readiness workshops at the Radford Public Library. Cox says a total of six clients participated in the first workshop, which was held in December. The half-day event includes hands-on activities designed to improve job skills. These will be offered four times during the year.
“Our focus is really on getting the clients ready for employment,” notes Cox. “So, a lot of what we’re working on are those soft skills – stressing the importance of professionalism – getting along with coworkers, showing up on time and maintaining appropriate boundaries.”
“Most of the folks we’re working with usually have some previous work experience, usually entry level-type of positions,” Cox adds, “but they’ve been unsuccessful in the long run because of their mental health or substance use issues.”
CARES works with families from all five jurisdictions served by NRVCS. Participants can be involved with the program if they have received TANF benefits within the past 24 months. Ideally, individuals are able to find gainful employment and transition out of the service.
Cox says her team has been working hard to strengthen relationships with New River Community College and major employers in the area to expand the availability of opportunities for clients served by CARES.
“At some point, there does have to be a certain level of internal motivation,” Cox says. “The key is getting them to start thinking beyond survival mode, just existing day-to-day, and to consider long-term goals for themselves and also their children.”
“Getting to that point is a process, however, and there’s usually not a quick and easy solution,” adds Cox. “So, we believe you have to look at the client holistically and address all of their needs. You have to look at the whole picture.”
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