New Illinois Supported Employment Family Project in the National Limelight

The Illinois DHS Divisions of Mental Health's (DMH) and Rehabilitative Services (DRS) Supported Employment (SE) family initiative will be presented at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 2009 national conference in San Francisco, July 5-9. SE, also known as Individual Placement and Support (IPS) is a program based on research-supported evidence indicating that it is notably more effective for mental health consumers to go to work as soon as practicable rather than entering a more traditional training program in order to succeed in the competitive workforce. An unexpected side benefit of this alternative is the greater potential of general job creation in local communities. The SE Family Initiative is getting this message to families.

The program presents an aggressive and comprehensive strategy to aid employee-consumers in recovery by offering to help them find individually matched job opportunities that accommodate their interests and skills as well as bring them into mainstream employment situations. It also provides ongoing individualized services and support. Just as important to its continuing success, SE incorporates several nonnegotiable principles including recognition of recovery as the expectation, the assurance of employee-consumer accountability to his/her employer's business success and the utilization of measurable outcomes for SE's further development.

One of only three initial proposals accepted, the Illinois Family Project is funded and actively supported in combination by the nation's two most prominent nongovernmental supporters, The Johnson and Johnson Foundation and Dartmouth Psychiatric Research Center . Together as The Johnson & Johnson Foundation - Dartmouth Community Mental Health Program, they monitor SE pilot programs in ten states initially selected for their outstanding potential. The Community Mental Health Program Family Project was specifically created to expand family member involvement in SE programs. That aim served as a distinct advantage to Illinois because its program has partnered with consumers and family members since its inception. In fact, consumers and family members comprise over 50 percent of the state pilot program's Statewide Advisory Committee. Additionally, while a quarter of the technical assistance/fidelity team is composed of persons with a lived experience of serious mental illness (SMI) at least two members of the team are also family members. SE representatives continue to have a presence at each NAMI-IL state conference. DMH also works hand in hand with its sister division, Rehabilitation Services, and NAMI-IL to strengthen the SE collaboration.

The Illinois Model

The Illinois model was developed through the ideas, experience, expertise and commitment of a number of stakeholder representatives from, DMH, DRS and NAMI-IL. DMH Director of Rehabilitation Services Katherine Burson stated that in submitting a competitive proposal for consideration, Illinois offered a number of benefits including:

  • Training of both adults and transition age youth family members
  • The partnering of local NAMI chapters' with nearby SE sites to engage families in policy and program development
  • In-depth state and local chapter NAMI familiarity with "Family to Family" curricula
  • Sufficient capacity to facilitate further cooperation among trained family members via trainings, telephone and face-to-face consultations
  • The capability to systematically provide practical SE know-how to eligible family members as well as parallel ability to provide individualized benefits counseling
  • Providing advocacy and leadership skills cross the board
  • Within existing NAMI educational forum guidelines, both the commitment and capacity to augment practical knowledge and learnings regarding the role of employment to recovery

Consequently, Illinois has successfully crafted a prototype for engaging families around SE not only by building on the just-mentioned benefits including the educational forums and fashioning "train-the-trainer" capabilities but additionally by making them transferable to other local NAMI-IL affiliates at other SE locations. The state also engages families in the development and support of an active recovery vision that includes gainful employment, expands knowledge and use of benefits counseling, extends NAMI-IL supports to families receiving services at local SE sites and devising a model that can be adapted to other family populations that are not typically engaged in formally structured support organizations (e.g. immigrants, refugees).

"It takes a village"

DMH Director Lorrie Jones praised those involved but also had a further observation, "Sustained effort, cooperation and dedication by a number of stakeholders went into formulating our proposal. But just as noteworthy, our remarkable commitment indicates that Illinois is ready to lead the nation to a new awareness of the immense importance of employment as a primary road to recovery. We've shown that an expanding SE program like ours has to rely on more than internal agency staff. It takes a village." Her point is well taken. Everyone in the workforce counts on the availability of critical community supports such as reliable transportation, satisfactory and secure shelter and adequate childcare opportunities. Illinois SE is turning the corner by looking for more ways to ensure that those and additional supports are accessible to those consumers and their families working for their recovery.