In PARTNERS Program, General Assistance Clients Overcome Addiction Problems, Move into Jobs

Trenton, Mercer County, the State of New Jersey and various public and private agencies have collaborated to establish the PARTNERS in Addiction Recovery Program which provides screening, assessment, treatment and employment assistance to employable General Assistance recipients who are at high risk of addiction. The program has been successful in reducing the welfare caseload by helping these hard-to-place recipients move into jobs following treatment.

The PARTNERS in Addiction Recovery Program is a comprehensive addiction screening, assessment and treatment program initiated by the Mercer Trenton Addiction Science Center (MTASC) and the City of Trenton to rehabilitate employable adult, chemically-dependent, General Assistance recipients who reside in the City. Sixty percent of Trenton’s General Assistance population has a history of addiction that prevents them from becoming productive workers and keeps them chronically dependent on welfare. This represents an enormous challenge to the City, County and other organizations whose goal is to steer as much of the GA population as possible into jobs and productive lives. Mercer County Executive Robert D. Prunetti called the MTASC "a true City/County/State collaboration" and "the resource of choice for moving General Assistance recipients with addiction problems into the workforce."

The PARTNERS program, which began in January 1995, is funded by the State Department of Human Services. It is a collaborative effort of the City of Trenton, Mercer County, the New Jersey State Department of Health and Senior Services, and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) which is the lead agency for the program and provides administrative and clinical oversight to the treatment agencies. UMDNJ is responsible for the screening and assessment instrument, monitoring the status of all clients through each phase of the rehabilitation process, collecting data, conducting periodic case reviews with provider agencies, and ensuring that the treatment modality matches the severity of the addiction problem.

MTASC began the PARTNERS program in the belief that investment in intensive outpatient addiction treatment would 1) reduce overall welfare expenditures and lighten welfare’s cost burden on taxpayers, 2) shorten the length and number of "welfare spells," 3) reduce recidivism from employment back to welfare; and 4) improve the long-term health and economic stability of the General Assistance population.

The goal of the PARTNERS program is to provide addiction treatment to individuals who have been identified with high addiction risk, who are employable and who are not actively seeking a disability designation. The underlying principle is that once the barrier of addiction is removed and life skills addressed, the client stands a better chance of leading a productive life.

Treatment Phase

All General Assistance recipients are screened at the City’s Division of Economic Opportunity upon intake and City case workers monitor referrals and treatment. Various social, health and housing services are provided to clients. Those deemed at high addiction risk (by voluntarily responding to a health habits questionnaire) are referred to one of two local community-based agencies for full American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) assessment and treatment referral. Based on the ASAM Patient Placement Criteria, intensive outpatient treatment is provided.. Those in need of more intensive treatment are referred to appropriate care within the State. When they complete that treatment, they continue to receive services through the PARTNERS intensive outpatient program.

Services provided by the PARTNERS program include individual counseling, group counseling, life skills education, recreational activities, drug and alcohol education, the "12-Step" program, HIV/AIDS education, community outreach, detoxification/rehabilitation referral, relapse prevention, drug and alcohol testing, parenting skills, meals, transportation, case management and aftercare services. The treatment program lasts 90 days and operates from 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Transportation and lunch are provided.

Performance – Between the program’s inception January 1, 1995 and April 30, 1998, a total of 3,939 General assistance recipients were screened, and 1,843 (47 percent) of them were identified as being at risk for addiction. Of the1,843 at-risk clients who were referred, 203 (11 percent) refused to speak to a PARTNERS case manager and 911 (49 percent) refused either to accept a referral for a diagnostic work-up or were maintained in motivational counseling. Referrals for diagnostic work-ups were accepted by 729 clients (40 percent), and of these, 494 complied with the recommended treatment. Those completing the treatment program represent 27 percent of those initially identified as being at risk.

Employment Phase

The employment phase of the program has traditionally begun after the treatment phase is completed. Prior to graduation, the client and the case worker have a discharge meeting, in which they focus on next steps. What comes next is driven by the client’s interests and capabilities. Activities can include further life skills training; education, including obtaining a GED or community college courses; training for a particular job, such as in the hotel industry; or job search assistance. Clients may also be referred to a private job service (Curtis and Associates) for help in job-seeking skills, in areas such as interviews, resumes and proper dress. Following the services and training, the clients go to a network center where they have access to phones and can have messages taken, have access to computers to prepare resumes, can learn about job leads and are given a monthly bus pass to use in going to interviews. Officials report that at least half of the people who complete the program become employed. Probably the greatest indicator of success is that many of the program’s graduates encourage their friends and acquaintances with addiction problems to take advantage of it.

Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer said the PARTNERS program ensures that at-risk individuals are helped before addiction takes hold of their lives. "The PARTNERS program is a critical component of our aggressive effort to help reduce our welfare caseload and get lives back on track."

Program officials anticipate that the focus of the post-treatment education/training/employment phase of the program will change as New Jersey’s Work First program, which puts more emphasis on going right to work, is implemented. Efforts already have begun to strengthen job skills training during the treatment phase of the program and make employment a treatment goal.

Contact: April Aaronson, Director, Trenton Department of Health and Human Services, (609) 989-3331, or Liz Hoeger, Clinician, Mercer Trenton Addiction Science Center, (609) 396-4526

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