Boston WorkFORCE Action Grant:
Partnership and Collaborative Efforts
Grant number, name, and location: Massachusetts WorkFORCE Action Grant; Boston MA, #E-9-4-2-0113
Grant recipient: Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at the University of Massachusetts Boston
Project lead: Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston
Subcontractors: South Coastal Workforce Board; Work Inc., a community rehabilitation provider; Disability Law Center; New England Council, a business alliance; and Career Point, a One-Stop host for local demonstration
The Massachusetts WorkFORCE Action Grant expanded competitive Customized Employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities to participate fully in their communities. Two One-Stop Career Centers served as host sites and employment resources for the demonstration project. They were responsible for the individualized employment planning and job placement of individuals with significant disabilities into integrated competitive employment.
- It is critical to address the values and expectations about employment for people with significant disabilities prior to introducing specific employment services or models. Not all systems or providers have adopted the presumption that everyone can work or undertaken the subsequent problem solving to achieve that vision. This was found to be a critical first step in progressing toward systems change.
- Capitalizing on the relationships and accomplishments of previous and existing initiatives is invaluable for fostering systems-level collaboration and pursuing the goal of enhancing employment outcomes for people with disabilities.
Focus on Key Partnerships
A number of major partnerships were engaged at the WorkFORCE Action Grant (WAG) inception. Their roles included:
Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI)
Grant recipient; provided training and technical assistance to the host One-Stops, facilitated braided funding and use of community resources.
Quincy Career Center
Host One-Stop for local demonstration in Quincy, MA, and disability program navigator site; participated in training and collaborative service delivery.
Host One-Stop for local demonstration in Holyoke, MA; participated in training and collaborative service delivery.
Community rehabilitation provider; contracted through ICI WAG to provide Customized Employment services through the One-Stop.
Disability Law Center
Provided consultation and training on disability regulations and policy issues such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Olmstead decision.
Department of Mental Health
Access Committee member; provided consultation to the project, referred participants, disseminated project information, and collaborated on service delivery for project participants.
Department of Mental Retardation (DMR)
Referred project participants, promoted collaboration by contracted providers on joint service delivery, and participated in system- and individual-level demonstration activities.
Boston Center for Independent Living
Provided consultation, participated in Olmstead and Community First planning, referred project participants, and collaborated in training.
Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC)
Access Committee member; referred participants, provided joint service delivery and braided funds, and participated in both local and system-level demonstration activities.
Department of Workforce Development (DWD)
Access Committee member; collaborated on workforce development and disability issues, active on the Executive Office of Health and Human Services task force.
Division of Career Services
Collaborated with disability program navigator and conducted examination of business services unit.
Building on Existing Partnerships/Initiatives
By capitalizing on the relationships and accomplishments of previous initiatives, the WAG contributed to advancing the employment agenda for people with disabilities at the state level. The disability program navigators, for example, which were funded through the Department of Labor and the Social Security Administration, assisted with improving One-Stops by coordinating individuals' and organizations' services and resources. The Quincy site had a disability program navigator, who facilitated the Quincy Career Center Access Committee and worked closely with project personnel to ensure that participants had access to the range of services and partners available.
Another existing initiative was the Massachusetts Medicaid Infrastructure and Comprehensive Employment Opportunities grant, which aimed to maximize employment opportunities for people with disabilities who wanted to work by improving the Medicaid and employment services infrastructure. In partnership with ICI and the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), the grant facilitated collaboration and influenced the attitudes, behaviors, policies, and practices of stakeholders.
The Medicaid grant brought additional opportunities for systems change through WAG activities and experiences. By their presence at the table, WAG personnel ensured that these activities integrated the workforce development system, Customized Employment efforts, and systems improvement issues. For example, DWD representatives participated in the Medicaid Infrastructure initiative through project brokering. Enhancing staff competence supporting job seekers with disabilities would continue that grant's efforts. Most recently, a local community created an employment benefits network using a peer support model.
The EOHHS task force had representatives from all health and human services agencies plus DWD. The group provided a critical foundation for employment discussion and decisions. The WAG and Medicaid grant supported this collaboration by staffing the task force, coordinating meetings, and providing assistance with overall project management. Subcommittees addressed the development of training for EOHHS agencies/staff on JobQuest and Talent Quest, two internet job search tools used by the workforce development system (job seekers and employers). Service providers and agencies were becoming savvy with these systems.
The benefits subcommittee developed plans for a training on SSI/DI benefits and work incentives to be offered by the EOHHS Center for Staff Development for all EOHHS direct service staff. Additionally, the group provided the Center for Staff Development with guidance on employment- and disability-related content for a resource tool being developed for EOHHS staff. The outcomes subcommittee proposed a common definition of employment and selected outcome measures to be used by all agencies. Agreement on these standards would be a critical first step towards establishing benchmarks for employment services across state government, and monitoring these services.
The employment agenda was further strengthened in January 2006 when DMR entered into an agreement with ICI to implement a statewide effort to increase community-based integrated employment for individuals the department served. This created the opportunity to increase dissemination of Customized Employment information and outcomes, build the capacity of providers to offer Customized Employment, and demonstrate effectiveness further. Providers involved with the WAG were recruited to participate, and were involved on both the regional and statewide employment solutions teams within this broader systems change agenda. These initiatives began to shift the system away from heavy reliance on sheltered workshops and segregated day programs, as employment gained momentum as a statewide priority.
A concerted effort was made to enhance the capacity of the host One-Stop Career Centers, public human service agencies, and community rehabilitation providers to provide quality employment services to job seekers with disabilities. Generally, One-Stop staff did not have experience providing services to people with disabilities. For this reason, the WAG provided training to One-Stop staff and community partners on career planning for job seekers with disabilities, alternatives to standard assessments, assistive technology, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Customized Employment strategies.
Through its involvement with the WAG, the Department of Mental Health recognized the value of Customized Employment strategies. The department intended to adopt the principles of Customized Employment and incorporate related language into their RFP processes for employment providers. Ultimately, they would raise their expectations for the role clubhouses would take when addressing employment. The department identified a philosophical alignment between Customized Employment and the Individual Placement and Support evidence-based practice model.
The WAG held two statewide conferences in an effort to bring attention to Customized Employment and other innovative employment strategies. Approximately 250 disability, employment, and workforce development professionals learned about a variety of topics to enhance their employment systems, practices, and outcomes. Supported by the WAG, the Massachusetts Medicaid Infrastructure and Comprehensive Employment Opportunities grant, and the Workforce Investment Grant, the "Mission: Employment" conference planning committee brought together a wide range of mandated and non-mandated partners. This process gave agencies a better understanding of common issues and an opportunity for them to work collaboratively. The conference, in conjunction with the commissioner's meeting held previously, generated energy and enthusiasm for employment issues. This enthusiasm then gained further momentum, as described above.
Prior to the WAG, the South Coastal Workforce Investment Board was awarded Strategic Network Access Plan funding to enhance existing employment services for individuals with disabilities at One-Stop Career Centers. Through this funding, representatives from MRC, the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, the Department of Mental Health, DMR, and other appropriate parties formed a committee to identify barriers and explore ways to increase services to individuals with disabilities at the local One-Stop.
Now facilitated by the disability program navigator, this access committee provided a mechanism for advisory to the WAG. The committee expanded to include an array of mandated and non-mandated partners, including the Department of Workforce Development, project personnel from the community provider, and Father Bill's Place (a local housing provider). In its advisory role, the committee solicited stakeholder support to implement Customized Employment activities; assisted in monitoring project activities to ensure that a comprehensive evaluation structure incorporated the perspectives of individuals with disabilities; provided feedback on project design and implementation; and offered a means to involve stakeholders as liaisons between their agencies and the project, thereby promoting collaboration and flexible use of resources to enhance Customized Employment outcomes.
The committee's case consultation activities provided one mechanism for fostering this creative use of resources. Team members, including One-Stop staff, used the team to come up with available resources and strategies, and to solve problems around specific barriers to employment individuals experienced. The team identified resources, facilitated access to innovative funding pools, and braided services for successful outcomes.
Through the disability program navigator's resources, the committee planned to continue addressing systematic and programmatic issues around access to the workforce development system by people with disabilities, such as customer satisfaction and quality improvement, integrating disability initiatives into the system, accommodations, etc. They also planned to provide a vehicle for maintaining collaborative efforts and making the expertise of mandated and non-mandated partners available to the One-Stop. The One-Stop used its staff meeting as an opportunity for professional development activities, as committee members from various agencies provided training on topics to support the employment of customers with disabilities. Efforts were being made to systematize the access committee strategy across the region.