LEADOn! Article

Many hands together in a cirlce

Missouri and Illinois Departments of Mental Health and Vocational Rehabilitation: The Power of Collaboration

Spring 2021 | Mental Health


The Missouri Departments of Mental Health (DMH) and Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) oversee the implementation and expansion of Individual Placement and Support (IPS) throughout the state. Their community IPS providers contributed to the expansion of Missouri’s IPS program. In 2009, Missouri began with six IPS sites in the state, which grew to 13 sites by 2015. Today, 31 IPS sites serve Missourians with mental health conditions across the state. The employment team consists of VR and DMH staff with team members from both agencies conducting IPS reviews together. Several VR counselors received IPS Ambassadors training and educate others on the importance of IPS as a supported employment evidence-based practice. A Missouri State IPS trainer tracks and coordinates all IPS reviews and provides employment trainings to providers. Regional DMH staff, located throughout the state, provide training and technical assistance to their providers. Staff from both agencies are trained as lead reviewers. Providers coordinate trainings provided by AJCs, in which job center staff come onsite to explain services and provide general trainings on job seeking and job retention. VR and DMH promote and recognize these partnerships with the workforce system.

Collaboration is key. The IPS employment team holds quarterly IPS collaborative meetings between VR, DMH, and the IPS supervisors. These meetings provide opportunities for guest speakers from American Job Centers, housing authorities, benefits specialists, and other service providers. During these meetings, the team reviews the supported employment training schedule and providers share success stories, promising strategies, and challenges in their regions. They also provide updates on upcoming fidelity reviews. IPS programs use standardized fidelity reviews that measure the level of implementation of the evidence-based IPS practices. These collaborative meetings host breakout sessions that focus on specific IPS principles and serve as a forum to discuss the challenges and successes regarding each principle. Established IPS teams partner with newer teams to discuss challenges and successes related to each fidelity component. They also provide opportunities for teams to learn from each other.

Finally, these meetings help DMH and VR get a sense of areas where they can work with IPS providers to develop and implement employment trainings to improve fidelity and outcomes.


In 2005, the Illinois Division of Mental Health (DMH), Department of Human Services and Vocational Rehabilitation (DRS) began the implementation of Individual Placement and Support (IPS). At that time, Illinois had only six IPS teams that served about 80 people. Now, 16 years later, they serve more than 3,500 people per year and have over 50 IPS teams across the state, including seven IPS trainers that make up the IPS review team.

Illinois partners emphasize the essential role of normalizing employment and interagency collaboration in their work. They also consider employment as a social determinant of health, which can lead to other gains that help people feel connected, integrated in their communities, and fulfilled in life.

The Illinois agencies also moved from a medical model to a recovery model. This shift reinforces that recovery is possible. DMH and DRS continue to expand their partnership. They work with the Division of Developmental Disabilities and their Employment First community. The Employment First community works with more than 15 different collaborative partners, including the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which oversees the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

Messaging is critically important to the cross-agency collaboration. DMH and DRS engage their WIOA partners and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to help others understand that people with disabilities can and want to work. DMH and DRS emphasize the business case for hiring individuals who have disabilities to their partners. For example, they engaged with Cornell’s Diversity Partners, American Job Centers, DMH, DRS, and community rehabilitation providers to discuss their collective shared mission. As a group, they created mutual talking points that made the business case to support IPS clients and other job seekers who have disabilities.