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Use Of Natural Supports in Supported Employment

From Supported Employment Consortium Resources, November 3, 1997

To date the available information about natural supports in supported employment is almost exclusively qualitative information and case studies. Some professionals are concerned that the lack of quantitative information on the efficacy of natural supports does not provide a sound empirical basis for policy and program decision making. Only recently has quantitative information begun to be available about the features of employment and natural supports. West, Kregel, Hernandez, and Hock recently surveyed 385 supported employment provider agencies on their use of natural supports in time-limited and extended services. Of the 385 agencies surveyed, an overwhelming majority of 85% of all respondents reported that natural supports are emphasized by their agency in the delivery of supported employment services. These supported employment provider agencies indicated the use of natural supports have generally been successful and useful for all individuals on their caseload.


The survey participants were representatives of 385 randomly selected supported employment provider agencies in 40 states. The service catchment areas reported by respondents were: 17.9% urban, 38.8 % suburban, 3.4 % rural and 39.8% a mixture. The mean number of supported employment customers served per agency was 47.6 individuals. Of these respondents, 50.4% indicated that they use the individual placement approach only, while 48.3% indicate they use individual and groups approaches. In addition, 32.5% of the respondents indicated that they serve a single disability group, with 67.5% reportedly serving multiple disability groups. Respondents were typically coordinators of the supported employment program or executive directors of the agency.


Most programs feel that the use of natural supports has contributed to the overall success of supported employment. Almost all of the respondents indicated that natural supports were used in job site training (93.3%)and extended services (96). Fewer reported that natural supports were used in consumer assessment (66.1%) or job development activities (78.3%). Respondents report that they have used coworkers or supervisors to provide initial training in work skills and behaviors for 41.5% of their caseload. In addition, they repot coworkers or supervisors are providing ongoing monitoring and follow-along services for 56.3% of their caseload.


There appears to be consensus among provider agencies regarding what constitutes a natural support. However, the natural supports that are being utilized for supported employment agencies appear to be limited in scope. When local programs describe their use of natural supports, they are almost always talking about involvement of coworkers in the provision of job skill training or ongoing monitoring. Programs are far less likely to describe efforts at involving employer resources (such as employee assistance programs), family members or friends, customer resources, or community involvement.


Over half (51.5%) of the survey respondents indicated that the role of the agency and its staff had changed substantially since it began to emphasize natural supports. Most frequently they reported that the functions of staff had changed in that they engaged in less direct job site training and monitoring, and more time facilitating coworker training and other supports. Approximately one-third indicated that staff spend less time at the job site, either in terms of reduced presence during the customers daily work hours or a reduction in duration of time-limited services. Approximately one fourth of the providers indicated they had made modifications in the types of commitments or promises that had been made to employers during job development, such as reduced crisis management. A small number of agencies indicated they had changed their staff job descriptions to emphasize facilitation of natural supports.

For Additional Information Contact:
RRTC Research Department
Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Supported Employment
Virginia Commonwealth University
VCU Box 842011
Richmond, VA. 23284-2011
Voice: 804-828-1851
TTY: 804-828-2494
FAX: 804-828-2193
Web: |


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