Connections is a provider of Vocational Assessment, Direct Placement, On-the-Job Training, and specific training in culinary arts and janitorial services for the Delaware Department of Labor Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Connections also operates an evidence-based supported employment program (Individual Placement and Support) that has been the most successful such program in the state in placing and maintaining individuals with serious disabilities in employment. Since 1988–when we began to be a provider of these employment services for DVR–in most years, Connections has placed more people with behavioral health problems in employment than all other DVR providers combined.
We have an agreement with the Delaware Department of Labor Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) in which DVR funds a supported employment specialist for each ACT team (Connections has six ACT teams). Our Director of ACT Services, Director of Housing and Veterans Services and Director of Employment and Empowerment Services work together to identify the individuals who are most in need of and most likely to benefit from Individual Placement and Support.
Every Connections ACT, group home, and community reintegration client has the opportunity to work with an employment specialist from within the Connections’ larger organization to establish a vocational plan which identifies his/her strengths, needs, abilities, and preferences; interests; past experiences; education and skills. The outcome of the plan is to identify any gaps that may need to be filled by education and training support before s/he can obtain the job of his/her choice. We work with the Delaware Department of Labor Divisions of Employment and Training and Vocational Rehabilitation, the libraries, and with DTCC, to identify training programs open to our residents that can lead to achieving their identified career goals. We help the residents to enroll in these programs and to continue in them as part of their long term plan for success.
Connections has a long history of providing vocational and pre-vocational services to adults with disabilities, helping more than 500 individuals get and keep employment over the last 3 years. In 1988, we became a provider of Supportive Employment Services for the Delaware Department of Labor, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, and have been the largest vendor of those services for most of the intervening 28 years, often placing more people in employment in a year than all of the other providers of similar services put together.
Core employment services include:
- An individualized Strategic Employment Plan which addresses each resident’s hopes and dreams, strengths and preferences as well as any services or supports needed to get and keep employment
- A team approach with the person, the housing staff, and any treatment program to help each person to identify non-work issues which may affect employment success
- One-to-one assistance from a qualified employment specialist to help each resident to identify career choices, match their expressed interests and competencies with an appropriate employment situation, opportunities for social integration, benefits and wages, and a potential career ladder for advancement or additional training
- Advisement on the financial impact of employment on public benefits such as SSI, SSDI and Medicaid and assistance to address any perceived or real loss of income or benefits.
Employment services are based on the following tenets:
Preference-based employment. Research shows that people who work in areas of their preference and choice tend to stay longer and perform better. The employment specialist will prioritize a person’s preference for their employment or educational experience and incorporate preferences into vocational plans.
Competitive employment. Research has shown that persons with behavioral health conditions want to work, and they want to work in integrated, competitive settings. It has also been documented that participation in extensive vocational preparation programs or evaluations does not necessarily lead to successful job placement or tenure. The evidence promotes practices that create or carve out work in competitive settings and provide the appropriate, individualized support necessary for the person to manage his or her illness and be successful at work.
Individualization of support. Residents require different kinds of supports to succeed in employment. The employment specialist will strive through assessment and careful planning to identify the types of support activities that will be most effective for each individual to help them seek, obtain, and maintain work.
Ongoing, time-unlimited supports. Especially in the case of employment, it is essential for people to know they can rely on the employment program when problems arise, life circumstances change, or jobs end. Simply knowing that they are not alone in their employment endeavors helps people to face and address problems, implement coping strategies to minimize problems which might interfere with work, and make efforts to keep employment. Time-unlimited supports are also important to employers. When the employment specialist can say to an employer that they will be available for as long as they are needed, it offers a sense of security and confidence to the employer for developing the employment relationship.
Another one of our strategies to help our clients to obtain employment has been the development of a robust social enterprise, with revenue of more than $4 million per year. In an attempt to ameliorate high rates of unemployment and a lack of job opportunities generally in the depressed economy, Connections formed Connect to Work in 2009–an economic development company with the mission to create jobs for individuals who are hard to employ because of criminal records, disabilities and/or low rates of educational attainment.
Connect to Work, Inc.’s primary focus is the development of small businesses in which persons served in the programs offered by Connections (reentering prisoners, homeless persons, individuals with mental health, substance use conditions and cognitive impairments) can obtain competitive employment. Our social enterprises businesses, which have been recognized by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as a best practice nationwide, include 1) a janitorial service business; 2) a construction clean up business; 3) a medical transportation business (working as a Logisticare provider); and 4) a commercial catering business. We are currently the second-largest provider of non-emergency medical transportation in Delaware after the DART.
Business development has been augmented by contracts with state agencies that are ‘set aside’ under Delaware law and are required to be given to organizations that employ people with disabilities. We have obtained ‘set aside’ contracts to clean state office buildings and have been awarded multiple contracts to provide school lunches, ‘summer food,’ and CACFP meals to at-risk children and adults in homeless shelters, day care centers, charter and alternative schools, adult day centers, and other similar locations, providing more than 600,000 meals per year.