Employment Initiatives Aim to Increase Hiring and Retention of Youth and the Mentally Ill

At a time when unemployment rates are at record levels and even highly skilled workers are facing a challenging job market, CASES has launched two new initiatives for court-involved adults with mental illness and youth to help improve their chances for success in the workforce.

The Supported Employment Program delivers a host of new employment services to clients in CASES’ award-winning Nathaniel Project [1], the first alternative-to-incarceration program in NYC for individuals with felony convictions and serious and persistent mental illness. Research has shown that stable employment makes a crucial contribution to an individual’s recovery from mental illness, yet the national employment rate for persons with psychiatric disabilities is only fifteen percent. Through rapid job placement and the integration of mental health and vocational support via evidence-based practices — including individual and group counseling and on-the-job coaching — the supported employment model dramatically increases employment rates and job retention for mentally ill clients.

The addition of a full-time employment specialist to our staff allows CASES to provide these intensive services to an extent not possible before. According to Malroney McLean, the program’s coordinator, the impact of employment on CASES’ clients is far-reaching. “I think for most of our participants, employment is not just about having a job. It opens the door to new opportunities and expands their view of what’s possible in their lives — it’s liberating.”

A second new workforce development initiative offers young people in CASES’ Court Employment Project [2] and Learning to Work/GED program enhanced employment services. With the expansion of CASES’ education services for youth in recent years, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of our participants earning GED diplomas, and the need for post-secondary services has grown. While many of our diploma-holders go on to pursue post-secondary education and participate in CASES’ college-readiness services, for many others employment is a priority.

The new program is designed to prepare these youth to enter the workforce via intensive employment-readiness training and paid internships, and prepares participants to take the National Work Readiness Credential examination. Participants transitioning from the program meet with a job developer to pursue unsubsidized employment and occupational skills training to ensure their continued career development after they graduate from CASES. Joseph McLaughlin, CASES’ director of Youth Programs, underscores the critical need for these services. “The ability to earn a living wage is one of the most important factors that will help our participants become responsible members of their communities and avoid further involvement with the criminal justice system. Connecting young people to post-secondary education and job-training programs that provide industry-recognized certification and unsubsidized employment are essential steps in our participants’ advancement towards self-sufficiency.”