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Individual Placement and Support

Background and Directions for Future Research

11/2020
| Sam Elkin, Lily Freedman

This paper describes the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) model, a framework for providing employment services to those facing barriers to work. IPS was originally designed for individuals with serious mental illness served by community mental health centers but has gained interest as a strategy to promote employment for a range of disadvantaged populations seeking jobs. Features of the model include a focus on rapid job search, competitive employment, and client job preferences; small caseloads; benefits counseling; and coordination between employment services staff members and mental health care providers.

MDRC, in partnership with MEF Associates and Abt Associates, is studying IPS as part of the Building Evidence on Employment Strategies for Low-Income Families (BEES) project, funded by the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation within the Administration for Children and Families. Through a series of rigorous evaluations, BEES aims to increase understanding of interventions that are effective in helping low-income individuals find jobs and advance in the labor market.

Purpose

Low-income populations often face significant and complex barriers to finding and keeping jobs. A range of employment and training programs is available to help these populations, but few strategies demonstrate long-lasting and more-than-modest improvements in employment outcomes. Practitioners, policymakers, and researchers continually seek new approaches that may prove more successful than existing strategies.

IPS is one approach that may be promising for some struggling job seekers. There is extensive evidence of IPS’s success with people who have serious mental illness. Given the model’s success with this group, policymakers, practitioners, and researchers are interested in whether it can achieve similar success with individuals facing other types of employment challenges, such as some low-income populations and those dealing with health conditions other than serious mental illness. This paper provides background on IPS to consider when exploring expansions of the model to other populations.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • IPS is defined through eight principles and a Fidelity Scale, both of which leave room for flexibility in implementing the model. However, the IPS label generally implies that programs at least reflect the principles of rapid job search, systematic job development (working with employers to place clients), competitive employment, and integration between employment services and mental health services.
  • Typically, IPS programs help people search for jobs, help them identify appropriate job openings, help them understand how working will affect their public benefits, and support them after they find employment. Dedicated employment specialists deliver these services. Traditionally, IPS services have been delivered in a community mental health center and the employment specialists collaborate with the client’s mental health treatment team.
  • Researchers have studied the effectiveness of IPS services for people with serious mental illness using randomized controlled trials. Most of these studies found that people who were offered IPS services were more likely to find jobs than similar people who were not offered IPS.
  • The IPS model has also been extended in a few different ways from its traditional implementation: It has been used with populations who have conditions and disorders other than serious mental illness, in settings other than community mental health centers, and with certain adaptations to or enhancements of the model. A growing number of studies are exploring the effectiveness of these extensions. Early results have been mixed.
  • Researchers have also studied IPS in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and workforce settings. Evidence from studies of these IPS implementations has been mixed and highlights important considerations about expanding the use of the model more broadly. These considerations include whether IPS will be successful for clients of these agencies who face different barriers to employment from those with serious mental illness, whether certain elements of IPS are relevant in these contexts, and whether adaptations to the model may be needed.
  • More research is needed to understand how IPS can be applied in other settings and with other groups of people and whether such applications will be successful in connecting people to employment. The BEES project provides opportunities to explore IPS as a strategy for serving low-income populations, including those who receive mental and behavioral health services in Federally Qualified Health Centers, low-income individuals receiving services for substance use disorder, people served in community mental health centers who have challenges other than serious mental illness, and individuals served in other human services contexts.