By Troy Allen, Director of Employment Services, SRVS Industries
Does the thought of embracing Competitive Integrated Employment (CIE) give you pause or present significant business model and fiscal challenges? The following will provide a blueprint to success by describing how the largest provider of disability services in Tennessee (TN) took this leap of faith.
Shelby Residential and Vocational Services dba “SRVS”, pronounced “SERVES” was established in 1962 with a workshop as our flagship model. The agency grew to have three workshops in Memphis with thirteen satellite locations throughout West TN. These sixteen sites employed over 600 people with disabilities who were paid subminimum wages. Unfortunately, our workshops functioned more like a day rehabilitation center, as participants often became bored with the repetitious nature of the work. Many yielded checks that were often $20 or less for a two-week period. While I believed at one time, workshops were good options for people who were often relegated to sitting at home with little to no engagement, that model is no longer progressive or sustainable. In fact, segregated service delivery systems are fast becoming extinct in mainstream society. In 2013 I reluctantly accepted the role of project manager to transform the organization, close our workshop and create other integrated services for the people we support. Conversely, once I willingly immersed myself in this role, my vision of next steps for my workshop family compelled me to embrace the evolution of disability services and supports. At that point, I studied national best practices, researched community resources, and had candid conversations with people in our workshop. I found that most had not been exposed to the options and opportunities outside our four walls. In fact, I came to the realization that I was an involuntary yet major part of the problem due to my limited scope and institutional mindset. Through this process, I became an avid supporter of CIE and unfettered community integration.
Here is an outline of the SRVS journey below, which I hope will promote brainstorming and strategic planning within your respective organizations and serve as a resource when you take the leap.
Partnerships are Essential:
One of the most significant benefits in the TN transformation was having an “Employment Champion” in state government. TN’s Director of Day and Employment services was a key figure in recruiting providers willing to pilot a transformation effort and was able to garner state resources and partnerships to make it happen. As a result, TN’s IDD and Vocational Rehabilitation Departments entered an agreement to work collaboratively in this process. In addition, TN received technical assistance through the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), which proved quite helpful by sharing national best practices in disability employment. I highly recommend engaging a benefits counseling provider early in the process to help alleviate fears and misinformation concerning CIE. Remember your current staff plays a major role in transformation and must be at the table and considered in every step of the process. We know our Direct Support Professionals have an enormous degree of influence on people receiving services and their families. Reassuring staff they are valuable members of the team and have a place within the organization is imperative. Also, proactively providing training on inclusionary practices can make a huge difference in perceptions and foster willing engagement.
From Idea to Outcome:
Most who work in the wonderful world of disability services have a thorough indoctrination regarding “Outcomes”, which often is the measurement of success for people, services and supports. In essence, when the person meets the desired outcome, this represents some level of success and is often followed by setting new goals for the next desired milestone. The same holds true as it relates to provider organizations and personnel. It is vitally important that a collective decision is made that moves all stakeholders towards transformation as the desired Outcome. Don’t allow your new vision to sit on a shelf and gather dust. This shift will undoubtedly require a dedicated and diverse group of internal and external stakeholders willing to do some research, strategic planning and gather resources to support transformation.
Make CIE an Appealing Priority:
Far too often the idea of CIE is challenged by presenting people requiring the most significant levels of support to enter the workforce as justification for the continuation of segregation. While all can agree that some people will require a more concentrated job development process (Customized), please don’t allow such challenges to be the imposed barrier that keeps people from realizing their dreams. Many people have a burning desire to obtain a job and take control of their future, which is often unintentionally discouraged by their inner circle. Please, Please, Please start the employment process with the people who have the skills, desire, and family support to enter the workforce, while using Customized strategies for those with more challenges. Also, consider pre-employment services for those who will benefit from exposure in the community to explore potential jobs. Given many have been in a day center for a number of years, they may need this exposure to realize their individual interests. SRVS not only chose to make CIE a priority, but also celebrated every single new job! We used positive reinforcement by highlighting every CIE success story and cheering our friends on as they started an exciting new chapter of life.
Educating the Greater Community:
SRVS embraced CIE and developed a strategic plan for transformation that heavily involved seizing every opportunity to speak to business groups and the media regarding the power of employment. Transformation is exactly what we want for the people receiving services and when we share this amazing and life-changing model in a compelling manner, others will see the vision. We have a group of people who have been restricted to day centers and workshops for years and even decades in some cases. Many have been limited by a fixed income with little to no change or gain over long periods of time. Many dream of breaking free of their limitations, branching out into the real world of work, building new relationships, having meaningful jobs, and enjoying more of what life has to offer. This is a powerful story of growth and determination, and we must tell it to the world!
All should approach transformation from a person-centered perspective, while simultaneously understating the reality of fiscal sustainability. Those tasked with the goal of transformation must be forward thinkers and willing to thoroughly evaluate how to reallocate resources in support of this change. Again, goals are set, and outcomes start to develop, but transformation will require a new vision of how the organization will use existing resources. Understanding how existing funding and available options can support CIE, assessing the probability of grant funding, and the reduction of day habilitation spaces and expenses are essential to this effort. This mission will take intentionality and must be part of the strategic planning process that can sever the ties that bind us to our buildings and all that stuff. Also, consider the liabilities, potential lawsuits and inherent risks associated with holding on to an antiquated service model that fails to support inclusion.
A Look Back:
SRVS closed our workshop in 2015 and has since gathered data and feedback from people receiving services, their families, and our staff.
What we learned:
- Workshop services are no longer referenced or requested
- All who desired CIE are working
- 91% Retention rate among those in CIE
- Community Integration includes an employment themed curriculum
- Exposure is essential to informed choice
- Benefits counseling is a must
- All people deserve to live their best life
- Segregation is not the way
The use of a self-assessment tool can help providers take an honest look at their organizational model and determine transformation and CIE readiness. Seek out subject matter experts to gain a better understanding of national best practices. Use person-centered techniques to help minimize your inherent inclination of defaulting to congregate thinking.