This article was written by Mi Casa staff member Stephanie Noll (M.S.W.) and was originally posted on the National Council of La Raza’s blog.
Effective workforce development training programs include modules that focus on job readiness, such as helping people write a strong resume, develop effective job search skills, prepare for interviews, and hone soft skills. However, beyond a lack of workplace skills, many jobseekers experience barriers that interfere with their ability to acquire or retain employment. These barriers are often many and complex, such as a lack of affordable or accessible child or elder care, transportation, health care, or housing. Other limitations might include a negative credit report, a criminal background, a history of chronic unemployment, or mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, or unresolved trauma. For this reason, Mi Casa Resource Center believes that intensive case management is a key component of any workforce development program to help participants achieve their full potential and sustained employment.
While it is true that many workforce development programs offer case management, Mi Casa lays a special emphasis on the quality and depth of the case management services it provides. One unique aspect of case management at Mi Casa is that case managers are trained professional social workers whose approach to case management is based on the core values defined by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) code of ethics: service, importance of human relationships, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, integrity, and competence. The social work core values provide a foundation for best practices in workforce development case management, even for case managers who are not trained as social workers.
Here, are some practical suggestions for how to incorporate these core values into your organization’s case management techniques:
The primary goal of social work is to serve people in need and to address their social problems. This is an important reminder for all case managers who face time constraints, limited budget, and piles of paperwork. What matters most is to provide high-quality, individualized service to those in need. In order to ensure quality service, Mi Casa case managers use the following best practices:
• Conduct comprehensive intake interviews with all participants. Gather information about their background and any challenges they currently face.
• Write an Individualized Service Strategy (ISS) for each participant. Identify action steps that will be taken to resolve the barriers.
• Meet weekly with each participant to monitor progress toward the ISS.
• Develop relationships with other service providers to create a network of high-quality resources and referrals.
2. Importance of Human Relationships
The social work profession emphasizes the importance of human relationships as a primary agent of change. People create positive change in their lives when they have positive relationships based on trust and respect. As a case manager, this means that the relationships established with participants may often be more significant than any of the specific resources or referrals provided. Case managers are most effective when they establish rapport, are authentic, and demonstrate the sincere belief that people can change. In order to develop and maintain strong relationships, Mi Casa case managers use the following best practices:
• Meet weekly with participants to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to them. Offering regularly scheduled case management meetings not only allows for follow-up on the ISS but also shows participants that they matter.
• Maintain additional regular contact with all participants, even if brief. Stop in the classroom for daily announcements or quick check-ins with participants.
• Include relationship and communication skill-building activities in the workforce development curriculum. This provides participants with the opportunity to get to know each other and develop a community of support among themselves.
3. Dignity and Worth of the Person
Social work emphasizes the importance of treating each person with respect and honoring individual differences and diversity. This includes the concept of self-determination, which is the belief that people know best what they need and how to meet those needs. This strengths-based approach to case management demonstrates trust that each participant has the capacity to solve their own problems. To honor participants’ dignity and worth, Mi Casa case managers use the following best practices:
• Involve participants in the development of the ISS. Case management is most effective when it is a collaborative process between participant and case manager.
• Give participants time to tell their own story. Everyone has a story to tell and they have the right to tell that story in their own way. Sometimes the most powerful aspect of case management is offering people a chance to feel heard. Listening nonjudgmentally to someone’s story can be the best way to show someone respect and honor their dignity.
4. Social Justice
Social workers pursue social change on issues of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice. Case management rooted in social justice is sensitive to the reality of systemic oppression, including racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, and ageism. While it important for people to be held accountable for their own choices, it is equally important to not blame individuals for circumstances caused by greater social problems. To offer case management rooted in social justice, Mi Casa case managers use the following best practices:
• Recognize any differences in identity and life experience that may exist between the case manager and participants. Be sensitive to differences in levels of power and privilege and how they might impact case management.
• Provide space for participants to discuss their experiences of discrimination. Offer empathy for the challenges that participants have faced. Acknowledge the resilience, determination, and strength they have shown in overcoming challenges throughout their lives.
• Speak up about social injustice. Advocate for services, procedures, and laws that are fair and create more equitable access to opportunity for all people. Attend community events to stay informed about greater social justice efforts. Inform participants of opportunities to get involved as well.
At the end of Mi Casa’s training program, it is not uncommon for participants to share that they gained much more than they expected from their experience at Mi Casa. They often report a higher level of confidence and sense of self-worth than when they first entered the training program. Mi Casa strives to provide not just a training program, but an opportunity for empowerment and personal growth as well. High-quality, intensive case management is an essential component of that process.
National Association of Social Workers (2008). Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. Retrieved from http://www.socialworkers.org/pubs/code/code.asp.