SUZANNE PLANS HER FUTURE IN SUPPORTED EMPLOYMENT

To learn more about supported employment in practice, Maryvonne Galleau spoke with young office worker Suzanne Lyons, her mother Valerie, her work supervisor Marie Griffin of Aon Insurance Managers (Dublin) Ltd., and Catherine Kenneally, Coordinator of Employment Support Services at STEP Enterprises.

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STEP Enterprises, a service of the Hospitaller Order of St John of God, provides a variety of work options to approximately 140 men and women with a learning disability. Work options are provided through three commercially managed businesses: Property Services, the Cosy Kitchen and MERC. Over the last number of years STEP Enterprises has also established an Employment Support Service (ESS), which affords the opportunity of supported employment as a career option for STEP service users and school leavers from St Augustine’s School in Blackrock, Co. Dublin. Supported employment assists a person to get a job in the open marketplace, with training and support being provided by a job coach for as long as is necessary. There are over 60 people presently availing of supported employment through STEP Enterprises, throughout the Dublin area—some work full-time and others choose part-time work.

Working closely with Employment Services is STEP Recruitment Agency (SRA), whose main role is to find suitable jobs for those seeking supported employment. SRA also secures (non-paid) work experience placements/job sampling to permit individuals with the opportunity to try out different jobs before making informed work choices.

Supported Employment is a holistic approach which includes:

Positive futures planning (PFP)—a person-centred approach to help job seekers to identify their abilities, strengths and choices. This involves in-depth consultation with the individual and members of his/her support group to establish the career options which will best suit his/her abilities and preferences.

Job development and job placement—involving finding a suitable job-match and putting in place the required supports. A job coach works closely with the individual, ensuring the required supports are in place.

On-the-job training and support—the job coach facilitates skills training for the job-holder and supports the employers and co-workers.

Maintenance and support—job-coach support on the job as required. Supports may be gradually reduced once the job holder becomes competent in the key skills of the job. Twice-yearly evaluations are completed.

Career review—job holders are encouraged to develop careers with the support of their employer and job coach. A career review meeting is held 12-18 months after the person commences his/her job.

SUPPORTED EMPLOYMENT—SUZANNE’S STORY

My name is Suzanne. I am presently working with Aon Insurance as a secretary. Before taking up supported employment, I attended school at St Augustine’s. I received the highest marks in my school for my Junior Cert. During my last year in school I was very unsure of what would become of me after I had finished school.

I heard about supported employment at an information day in St Augustine’s School. It was my first time hearing of such a service. My mum and dad thought it was a great idea to have a job with the support of a job coach.

I applied for supported employment and a few weeks later there was a meeting organised for me, my family, my friends, staff from my school and staff from STEP Enterprises. This meeting was great as it helped me to plan my future. It was agreed t the meeting that I should try some job sampling so that I could get to know a little about the world of work.

My first job sample was in a record shop, which I did not like. I then moved on to ‘job sample’ in an office for four weeks. They liked me so much that they gave me a full-time job with the company. I have been working there since September of 1998 and I love it.

My duties are filing, faxing, typing and delivering the post- The people I work with are very friendly. That is really important for me.

My advice to students leaving school today is not to worry, there is a job out there for everyone. Just because you come from a special school does not mean you can’t work!

VALERIE LYONS AND CATHERINE KENNEALLY

How did the whole thing start, Mrs Lyons?
There was an information evening in St Augustine’s School after Suzanne had done her Junior Cert. Catherine Kenneally [Coordinator of Employment Support Services at STEP Enterprises] explained what supported employment is all about. Having talked about the meeting with Suzanne, there was a Positive Futures Planning meeting for her, with her family and friends and staff from St. Augustine’s and from STEP. Several options were discussed including childcare, but that wasn’t really feasible because specific qualifications are needed. Suzanne’s support group suggested she should try out different jobs [job sampling]. The first one was in a record shop, which she thought was going to be brilliant. As it happened, that job didn’t work out very well—she felt lonely and there wasn’t enough for her to do there. The next job sampling was in an insurance office where she was able to try out different tasks. They were pleased with her and she was happy too, and after Suzanne’s evaluation with the employers and the job coach, she was offered a job there She’s been with Aon Insurance Managers (Dublin) Ltd. since late last autumn.

How does job sampling work, Catherine?
Job sampling is a short-term placement in a company, the purpose of which is to offer the individual the opportunity of experiencing a particular type of job (non-paid work). If the job seeker decides they would like to continue in that area of work, then STEP Recruitment Agency will look for similar longer-term work for them.

Tell me a little more about Suzanne’s first job sampling experience, Mrs Lyons.
In the record shop? She was left to do her own thing. Nobody would ask her to go for lunch or anything. The second job was a different story. The first day she was out for lunch. Now if new staff come in, she will bring them out and show them where to go for lunch. It’s brilliant. She really loves this job. Hopefully, she’ll stay. During the job sampling period, she didn’t get paid, but now she gets £50 a week and still has her benefits. It makes a wage for her—she is very good with her money. She keeps some for spending and saves some.

What other changes has the job made for Suzanne, and for you, Mrs Lyons?
It’s made her a little more outgoing, a happier person. She is able to deal with people a lot better than she was before—she can have a conversation with people. That has made a difference to her. I’m not worried anymore about her, you know. STEP has taken that pressure off me. I know if this job doesn’t work out, there is another one that she’ll like as well. So I’m quite pleased about that.

What do you think about the future, Mrs Lyons?
At the moment she is fine. Suzanne doesn’t think about what’s going to happen in a year’s time, and I suppose I’m a bit like that too. I just take every day as it comes. I don’t really look to the future that much. As long as she is happy for now, that is all that matters. I used to be worried about the future, but I don’t worry anymore. I know that if this job goes, there’s another. It is funny how things happen like that. All the years wondering, ‘What about school?’, ‘Where will I bring her next?’ We were always bringing her somewhere, having her assessed—it wasn’t as if someone would say ‘She is cured’, but at one stage we even thought about going to America with her, for what, I don’t know. I’m sure a lot of parents in my position just don’t know what to do.

Did you know about STEP Enterprises before the school’s information evening?
[Mrs Lyons] No, I thought the only option for Suzanne would be a sheltered workshop, or to try to get a business ourselves. I don’t think a lot of people know about STEP. When we had the information day at school. FÁS came, Rehab, I felt nothing was suitable, they all seemed to be doing the same thing. STEP was there and I was given a brochure with information about supported employment, but I was still confused about it all. But when we went to the Positive Futures Planning meeting, I felt that was it.

[Catherine] I think the PFP meeting gave Suzanne a very real opportunity to plan her future.

If you wanted to give some advice to parents, what would you say, Mrs Lyons?
There are people who can get jobs and they can work outside sheltered workshops. All our children are different; some of them need sheltered work, but if you think your child could work outside a workshop, I think my advice would be to go with STEP [Employment Support Services]—for open work. Suzanne wanted out. When she left school she wanted to work.

Did it change her life, and yours?
[Mrs Lyons] Yes, it did, most definitely.

INTERVIEW WITH MARIE GRIFFIN, Personal Assistant to the Managing Director of Aon Insurance Managers Ltd.

How did Aon Insurance Managers get involved with STEP Enterprises?
Our Managing Director, Eamon O’Brien, was aware of STEP and he was asked if our company would be interested in employing somebody. We are a small, young company and we thought it might be the type of company structure which might be very easy for somebody to come into. We met with Catherine, and then we interviewed Suzanne and had a chat with her and her job coach about the type of things we might need her to do. She was quite shy at the interview, quite unsure of herself at the time.

Was she aware of the type of work she was going to do?
She had not actually been in a company like ours, so of course it was all new for her. I did describe the nature of the work, the things we would need her to do, but I’m not sure she had the full grasp of how that would work out. But she did recognise that I was going to be her supervisor and that she could come and ask me anything.

How did you react when your boss suggested employing somebody from STEP?
Initially I had some apprehension because I have a busy role in the organisation. I didn’t feel I could ‘hold somebody’s hand’ for a long time. I also had concerns that in some way we could end up damaging the confidence of somebody, if we didn’t have the time to support them. However, the job coach put our minds at rest and explained that she would provide Suzanne support for as long as she needed it.

How long was the job coach here?
In Suzanne’s case, a very short time. I understand that it can be much longer. With Suzanne, three days, then the job coach came and went. She only visits maybe once a month now; Suzanne has become very independent.

So you don’t maintain very much contact with STEP at this stage?
No. We took Suzanne on a one-month job sampling. At the end of the month we realised it was very beneficial for us and she seemed happy. So we asked her if she would like to stay with us. She has been here for six months now.

What was the reaction of her co-workers?
I sent an email to all staff saying that Suzanne would be joining the company on the Monday morning, to assist with office work as an Office Junior, and I invited everybody to welcome her when she arrived. I said she was a young school-leaver and I did mention that she was coming from STEP, on supported employment. I had a STEP leaflet on our newsletter, so in some way staff knew that Suzanne was a bit different, but I didn’t wish to make an issue of it. I discussed with the job coach how to introduce Suzanne to other staff members.

Did you feel Suzanne was going to be fine?
She relied on her job coach for the first day or two, but she very quickly became independent. Some staff members brought her out with them to buy sandwiches and to the canteen for lunch and tea breaks—little things like that meant an awful lot to Suzanne. She started to become far more confident in herself and over time she just seemed to blossom. She went through a rough period when we relocated in mid-December. It was a huge change in geography for her and she became very unhappy, but fortunately she found her balance again, and she is fine.

You said you are happy with her. Has she ‘got the job’?
Her first month was job sampling, but then we put her on our payroll; she is a paid employee. We want to put her on a contract so she has the same benefits as everybody else. As far as Aon Insurance Managers are concerned, she is a full-time employee.

Anything else?
I would always be aware that Suzanne does need supervision, but she has her routines, her responsibilities, and she follows those. But it is important to check things. There are fifteen or sixteen people asking her to do things, so I have encouraged her to make out a list of her jobs and mark them off—I’d like maybe to encourage her to have a little bit more structure in her work.

Do you feel she would come to you if she had a problem?
I always say to her, if you are not sure of something, check with me. If there is a problem, let me know. On one occasion, there was an issue but it was only when her job coach came in, that Suzanne was able to tell me what it was. I said: ‘I am glad you highlighted this, because now I can do something about it.’ Maybe we don’t have enough time to encourage and give confidence to people.

Do you think Suzanne will get better at talking to you about problems?
I would hope that it would be the case. She has gained tremendously in confidence—I see a huge difference between Suzanne now and the Suzanne I met last summer.

Does she mix with her colleagues?
We have a lot of visitors on a regular basis. She is now able to walk in and out of the boardroom with photocopies or coffees when she’s paged. She doesn’t come in the evenings for drinks. At five-to-five she has her coat on and she is on her way out. At lunchtime, she would join in for a birthday or something else, but not in the evening. She is confident with the staff, particularly the younger ones, but she wouldn’t really initiate conversation.

What about learning more skills?
Suzanne hasn’t been taking or making telephone calls. That would be something I would like her to take on—to order a courier or a taxi, make a restaurant reservation, little things like that.

Becoming a full-time employee, what influence would it have on her wages, her DA?
Suzanne and her parents have asked for the moment for her not to lose her entitlements. I think they were not sure if the job was going to work out. At the moment, we are paying her the maximum she can get without affecting any benefits. I am due to have a meeting with Suzanne and her job coach.

Do you think the experience has been beneficial for your company?
Oh yes. If I were to relocate to another company, I would keep STEP in mind. Suzanne was out sick last week and she was sorely missed. She is a very useful player and an important link in the organisation.

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