Supported employment for individuals with mental illness or substance use issues

Local governments can invest in this strategy using State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

  • This strategy can provide assistance to unemployed workers. The U.S. Department of Treasury has indicated that strategies that help achieve this outcome are eligible for the use of Fiscal Recovery Funds.
  • Investments in this strategy are SLFRF-eligible as long as they are made in qualified census tracts or are designed to assist populations or communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Program overview

  • Promoting sustained employment: Individual placement and support (IPS) programs are a supported employment model for individuals with serious mental illnesses and/or substance use disorders. By providing both mental health and employment supports, IPS programs aim to increase participants’ likelihood of employment.

  • Combining mental health and employment supports: Typically, IPS programs are delivered at community mental health centers through a collaboration between mental health providers and employment specialists. Generally, anyone who is seeking employment and has a behavioral health condition is eligible to participate (e.g., individuals are not screened out due to certain conditions, being homeless, etc.).

  • Assistance seeking and maintaining employment: IPS programs assist individuals in securing and succeeding in regular, paid employment, as opposed to subsidized or volunteer jobs. Once an individual begins receiving IPS services, their employment specialist works with them to identify and apply for positions that meet their preferences. The job search process is designed to be rapid, with face-to-face contact with a potential employer occurring within the first 30 days. Once a participant secures a position, they meet with their employment specialist at least once per month as long as needed to maintain employment.

  • Providing support services: While in an IPS program, participants receive any necessary mental health treatment. Each participant’s employment specialist also assists them in obtaining information about and applying for any relevant government entitlement programs, like Supplemental Security Income (SSI)/Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Medicaid.

Cost per Participant
$5,500 per participant

Multiple studies with rigorous designs demonstrate that individual placement and support programs are a well-established strategy for increasing employment among individuals with behavioral health conditions.

  • Design the program for the local context: The IPS model is designed to be flexible, so it can serve nontraditional populations (e.g., individuals with physical disabilities) and operate in nontraditional settings (e.g., at a workforce agency). That said, the evidence for adapted approaches for IPS is more mixed, and programs should seek to retain core elements of the model, such as offering integrated services and prioritizing participants’ preferences in the job search.

  • Staff for small caseloads: The IPS model is more intensive and individualized than traditional employment services programs. Features like a rapid employment search and collaboration with mental health providers require additional time commitments from employment specialists. As such, agencies should limit case loads for employment specialists to 20 individuals, which is lower than the 50 or more that is common in traditional workforce programs.

  • Engage area employers: IPS programs aim to assist participants in securing competitive employment, where they receive the same pay as coworkers with similar duties. By building relationships with area employers, employment specialists may be better positioned to support participants as they transition into their roles, and to resolve any issues that arise during their employment.

  • Measure the fidelity of implementation: When implementing an IPS program, agencies should regularly measure their fidelity to the program model. By doing so, agencies can have greater confidence that their program will have the impacts shown in other iterations of the model. The IPS Employment Center developed a 25-item IPS Supported Employment Fidelity Scale for agencies interested in conducting a fidelity assessment.