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Indiana Customized Employment:
Policy and Systemic Influence


Project Overview

Grant number, name, and location: Indiana Customized Employment, Indianapolis IN, #E-9-4-2-0092

Grant recipient: The Indianapolis Private Industry Council is the grant recipient and Workforce Investment Board for Marion County.

Project lead: The Indianapolis Private Industry Council contracted with Stephen Savage to manage the project, which targeted three full-service One-Stop Career Centers (called WorkOnes in Indiana).

Subcontractors: Primary subcontractors included Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana, Inc. and Easter Seals Crossroads.

Key Lessons/Accomplishments

Policy and Systemic Barriers

The workforce development system encountered policy barriers at the federal and local levels. Innovative and effective assessment strategies for job seekers with disabilities typically do not included standardized assessment tools, as commonly used within the One-Stop setting. Instead, individualized, person-centered approaches, such as those used in Customized Employment, elicit strength-based information and contributions to employers, providing a solid direction for employment planning. However, policies inhibited the ability of One-Stop staff to engage in this type of exploration, make visits to the individuals' primary environments, and make additional efforts on the front end of service delivery, thereby limiting their ability to meet customers' employment needs effectively. Flexibility in staff roles and functions would facilitate a more collaborative environment for working with disability organizations within the community for joint planning, resource sharing, etc.

At the time of this report, caps existed on all of the Medicaid services in Indiana that restricted new people entering waiver services which restricted, in practice, the use of Medicaid for employment-related issues. Further, many Medicaid case managers often did not understand employment issues for people with disabilities or how to use the funding available to cover those services. Education within the Medicaid system was needed to promote the vision of employment, access to available services, and the potential of job seekers with disabilities.

Influence on Local One-Stop System

The project influenced participating Indianapolis WorkOne Centers in a number of ways. The experiences of WorkOne staff in collaborating on service delivery for customers with disabilities were invaluable. Having had limited experience in serving customers with disabilities prior to this grant, WorkOnes saw a major increase in service use by this population. Additionally, qualified staff with disabilities were hired through the project who increased the comfort level of WorkOne staff. Mentoring to WorkOne staff also took place. Major changes began with a shift from the former way of doing business, which was often to defer customers with disabilities to the public VR system partner. In this situation, grant staff mentored WorkOne staff to avail customers with disabilities of the full menu of WorkOne services.

Through these individual experiences, collaboration increased among partners. For example, joint core service delivery occurred between the Department of Workforce Development and the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) system. VR appreciated that the department had project dollars available to braid with VR dollars. This promoted a sense of trust and an eagerness in VR to act in-kind for servicing co-enrolled customers. This eventually led to local collaborations through pilot projects as described in the section on Partnership and Collaborative Efforts. The success of these collaborations led to discussions at the state level to systematize successes through policy development and modifications. The state established new policies, for example developing Point of Service Agreements between VR and grant employment consultants for providing Customized Employment services to dually enrolled customers.

Influencing Systems to Support Self-Employment

The Indianapolis Customized Employment grant leveraged resources and worked with state and local entities to help One-Stop customers with disabilities achieve self-employment. Previously, self-employment options were limited for people with significant disabilities who were customers of state VR or WorkOne Centers. For example, job coaching supports were not accessed for self-employed individuals. Through education, policy exploration, and leadership, Indiana VR established a small business representative position.

As of this writing, a pilot was being conducted in which VR collaborated with the local WorkOne to assist customers interested in starting their own businesses. Further policy change concerning self-employment was being explored through identifying Rehabilitation Services Administration policy directives for coding of various employment outcomes. This created the potential for a new line item code under supported employment services titled "supported self-employment." VR was supporting entrepreneurs with disabilities to achieve their goals, with creative funding to support start-up costs and job coaching.

Similarly, WIA funding was accessed to allow customers the specific training they needed to begin small businesses. Supporting customers with disabilities in starting and maintaining a small business had not been a common practice within the workforce development system. The demands on the system, continual funding cuts, and the pressure for outcomes created challenges in providing the support that individuals may need to start a business. (Note that self-employment had the additional complexity of proof of tax payment as requirement of wage verification.) For these reasons, WorkOnes did not have the knowledge or resources to support such goals. The grant provided education and support to access WIA training dollars to provide skill development towards starting a small business. As described in the case illustrated in the section on Partnership and Collaborative Efforts, collaboration and leveraging of resources occurred as a result of this project's activity.

Expansion of Policies to Support Customized Employment Services Customized Employment services expanded employment opportunities through the Indianapolis WorkOne Centers. The value of these innovative employment strategies became widely recognized after training, dissemination, and demonstration. Working with VR leadership, project personnel incorporated Customized Employment into VR services and policies. Formalized contracts for delivering services as a VR vendor--called Purchase of Service Agreements--implemented cost-sharing. At the time of this report, Indianapolis VR was financially absorbing 50% of the service costs for individuals who were co-enrolled in VR and the Customized Employment project through local WorkOnes. This clearly had mutual benefits, as VR customers attained employment opportunities not previously realized. VR was exploring additional POSAs with other qualified Customized Employment providers to enhance services and provider choice for job seekers with disabilities.

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