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Sonder Implements the IPS Model to Support Vulnerable Communities

With a wealth of experience in understanding community needs and delivering mental health services, Sonder successfully implements the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) model.


What does the local employment landscape look like in South Australia?

Over a number of years, SA has had some of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

Currently, there are no other organisations in Adelaide who employ vocational staff who are fully integrated with their mental health services.


Our purpose

At Sonder we believe in improving our clients’ journey through providing integrated and coordinated care to ensure clients get the right service at the right time.

Sonder’s wealth of expertise and institutional knowledge allow us to assist vulnerable communities overcome varied and complex barriers to employment.

Sonder’s employment programs are based on a successful evidence-based model known as Individual Placement and Support (IPS) which has been implemented in Australia and internationally with outstanding results.


What is the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) model?

IPS is a successful evidence-based model delivering outstanding job outcomes in Australia and internationally. IPS employment services are typically integrated within community mental health teams supporting people with mental health issues to find suitable employment based on their goals and aspirations.

The Individual Placement and Support model is founded on nine principles:

  1. Focuses on competitive employment
  2. Rapid job search
  3. Targeted job development
  4. Client preferences guide decisions
  5. Zero exclusion
  6. Job supports are individualised & long-term
  7. The service is integrated with other services
  8. Benefits counselling is included
  9. To ensure clients receive truly individualised support, the traditional IPS model recommends a maximum of 20 clients per full-time employment specialist.

This enables the employment specialist to provide all phases of vocational support including intake, engagement, assessment, job placement, job coaching and follow-along support (including providing support to employers).


What is the evidence?

The IPS model of employment services has been demonstrated to effectively improve employment outcomes in populations with mental illness.

More than twenty randomised trials have been completed over more than two decades of research. A recent meta-analysis found that people receiving IPS support are 2.4 times more likely than comparison groups to be employed.

Additionally, Individual Placement and Support programs assist participants to attain jobs faster, hold jobs longer and work more hours. IPS has been proven to be more effective regardless of background factors (e.g. socio-economic status, gender, and ethnicity) than alternative vocational approaches.

The IPS model has proven effective in a wide variety of populations including, post-traumatic stress disorder, severe mental illness, older adults, substance abuse, and continues to be extended into other populations such as those with chronic medical conditions.


What makes IPS different?

There are many innovative aspects of the Individual Placement and Support model. The model adopts an integrated approach, providing both employment services and mental health services. The model also provides what is known as an ‘artisan’ approach rather than a ‘production line’ approach.


Integrated approach

Integration between employment and mental health services are achieved by:

  • Co-locating employment specialists in the same offices as mental health clinicians
  • Keeping client files on the same medical records system used by mental health clinicians
  • Including employment specialists in mental health team meetings
  • Employment specialists coordinating vocational support with mental health clinicians.

This integrated approach differs from the service delivery model currently used by many Jobactive and DES services, where private mental health clinicians visit employment services to provide counselling.

Mental Health clinicians are typically not employed by job service providers and arrangements are generally limited to providing a consulting room and a steady supply of referrals.  It is common for the mental health clinician to consult from the employment service as little as once p/week or fortnight. This arrangement allows limited time for the clinician to coordinate services with employment services workers.


The Artisan Approach

An artisan approach has one employment specialist carrying out all phases of the employment support.

In comparison, a production line approach involves clients being passed onto different employment services workers throughout the process.

This service model resembles the approach commonly utilised by many Jobactive and DES providers.

Whilst the division of labour and specialisation of roles associated with this production line approach is very effective in building cars, evidence suggests is it not the most effective approach to provide employment services for people with values, goals, emotions, self-esteem, identity and complex barriers.

Our model ensures job seekers are placed with one employment specialist for every stage of vocational support from resume writing to post placement support.

And by enforcing the low caseloads stipulated by the IPS model, we ensure we deliver an artisan approach to every client we support.


How does Sonder deliver IPS?

headspace Employment Support

As the lead agency of headspace Edinburgh North, Sonder has been delivering IPS services integrated with youth mental health services since 2016. headspace Edinburgh North was chosen as one of fourteen sites to take part in this IPS Trial supported by the Commonwealth Department for Social Services.

Sonder is excited to be involved in this trial and it has fundamentally changed the delivery of services within headspace for the better.

An independent evaluation of the IPS trial gave a very favourable assessment of the trial and Sonder is proud of the fact that headspace Edinburgh North achieved the highest fidelity rating of all IPS trial sites.


Sonder Employment Solutions

Building on the expertise developed whilst delivering headspace Employment Support, Sonder has developed a modified version of IPS designed to support migrants and refugees experiencing significant barriers to employment.

Sonder received funding from the Department of Social Services via the Try, Test and Learn fund. This enabled Sonder to recruit 11 Career Coaches who are co-located with mental health services in Edinburgh North and Port Adelaide. Clients have the option of attending appointments at one of these offices or in a convenient community setting.

In addition, two Wellbeing Coaches, who are trained mental health professionals, work together with clients and Career Coaches to provide culturally appropriate mental health support. There remains a lot of stigma about ‘mental health’ and accessing mental health services among many migrant communities.

This program provides migrants and refugees with effective vocational support whilst also reducing stigma toward mental health and increasing client access to professional support.

This program has received funding from February 2019 to December 2020.