Finding Employment: Help from the County Mental Health Department
I’ve had jobs on the brain lately. A few weeks ago Nathan finally seemed ready to try joining the workforce, saying things like, “Mom, can you find me a job before the end of the month?” He has since backpedaled, mostly because he remembered he hates people and time commitments. Every once in a while he will do an odd job for money – but the conditions have to be to his liking, or it’s a no-go.
Meanwhile, Alan, away at school, has had trouble finding a part-time job. He was contacted to be on call for a mobile auto detailing service – and has not been called once. Finally a buddy hooked him up with a job in a shoe store in a mall – but the pay is several dollars below minimum wage, with commission. The manager hasn’t given him many hours, and he hasn’t sold many shoes when in the store. Alan is continuing to put applications out.
It is tough enough for any young person to break into the job market today, although economic conditions are gradually improving. But for young people with mental health challenges, a negative outlook and low internal motivation, it is really tough. The right job could actually turn some of that around; the wrong job could be poison. Help!
The first place we turned to for help, a few months after Nathan graduated from high school, was the TAY Center in San Bernardino. “TAY” stands for “transitional age youth”, which they define as people between the ages of 16 and 25. The TAY Center is run by the San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health. I just looked at the websites for three other random county mental health departments in California, and none of them seemed to have a program like this (but young adult programs may be buried under a more general heading that I didn’t investigate).
If you read the brochure in the link, you’ll see that the TAY Center is mostly geared for young people facing really big challenges, like homelessness, or coming out of foster care or the juvenile justice system. It is also open to young adults with mental health challenges who live in the community at large, and that’s where Nathan fit in.
For a few months, we took him once a week so he could meet with an employment counselor. (Note that the TAY Center provides many other types of services besides employment assistance.) Most of the time, she worked with him one-on-one, helping him understand how to identify goals, search for job openings, fill out applications, and create a resume. Once or twice, she worked with him along with a few other TAY clients as they practiced interview skills.
She recognized that Nathan didn’t really want a job, but she was unfazed. “Just let me work with him a few months, and I’ll bring him around.” Music to our ears! We had just started the SSI application process, and how I wished we could bail out of that. “Never mind; Nathan has become a responsible member of society after all.”
The employment counselor was also excited about a strong possibility for employment for several TAY Center clients. She had been in contact with a person who was proposing to convert an abandoned plant nursery into an environmental education center. He had written grant proposals to fund the project. For one of the grants, the deal was he would employ several at-risk youth from the TAY Center to do the labor. It would be guaranteed employment for three years, training included, and the counselor would include Nathan in on it. She was 98% sure it would happen. We really liked the sound of that!
Unfortunately, she stopped hearing from the fellow who would convert the nursery. Also unfortunately, one day we were told by the Center’s director that the counselor had decided she would no longer see Nathan because it was obvious he didn’t want a job. We told the director about the counselor’s promise to change his attitude, and the director replied, “She shouldn’t have said that.”
So, our little balloon of hope deflated once again. (I’m sure many of you are familiar with that feeling!) But, while waiting in the lobby on some days, I did see TAY Center clients who were excited about the help they were getting, hopeful about landing jobs at places that were hiring.
Later on, we turned to a couple of other places for help with employment: the State’s Department of Rehabilitation, and a few of the vocational assessment workshops that deal with clients with mental challenges. Neither of them could ultimately help Nathan, as will be discussed in later blog posts. (Should I have inserted a “spoiler alert”?)
I should back up to when Nathan was in special education in high school. There was a “transition” program that offered the special ed students a chance to work at a job while in school. The transition person came to the classroom in the fall and asked Nathan if he wanted to work. Nathan said “no”. End of story. We didn’t even hear that Nathan had been given the chance – we didn’t really know about the transition program – until months later, when he was close to graduating. Some of his classmates did participate. Under different circumstances, this could have been Nathan’s first exposure to guidance entering the workforce.
In any event, the TAY Center was a good starting place for us, because the intake process was minimal and a big, formal commitment wasn’t required. You might want to start with your county’s mental health department too, and hope for a better outcome than we had, before enrolling in programs that are larger and more structured.