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Breaking Barriers: Implementing Individual Placement and Support in a workforce setting (Freedman et al., 2019)

  • Findings

    See findings section of this profile.

    Evidence Rating

    Not Rated

Review Guidelines

Absence of conflict of interest. 


Freedman, L., Elkin, S., & Millenky, M. (2019). Breaking Barriers: Implementing Individual Placement and Support in a workforce setting. MDRC.


  • The study’s objective was to examine the implementation of the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) model within the Breaking Barriers program. This intervention aimed to provide individualized employment services to low-income adults with disabilities, with a focus on rapid job search assistance and integration of supportive services such as benefits counseling. 
  • The authors conducted an implementation evaluation using data collected through numerous site visits, stakeholder interviews, document review, and program management information system analysis.  
  • The study found that Breaking Barriers largely implemented services with fidelity to the original IPS model, delivering a set of services across the majority of the key components of the program model.  Findings from the program MIS database indicated that participants were engaged with the program and many treatment group members received initial employment services from the program.   
  • The authors provided sufficient explanations of the fidelity assessment, however, the authors did not provide sufficient information on the qualitative analysis methods used following data collection. 
  • The embedded impact study was reviewed by CLEAR in April 2022. 

Intervention Examined

Individual Placement and Support (IPS)

Features of the Intervention

  • Type of organization: Local Workforce Investment Boards and Job Centers 
  • Location/setting: Multi-site in California 
  • Population served and scale: Low-income Adults; Disabled Workers; 1,061 participants. 
  • Industry focus: Not included 
  • Intervention activities: Job search assistance and support services 
  • Organizational partnerships: CalWORKs, California Department of Rehabilitation, and County Behavioral Health Services 
  • Cost: Not included 
  • Fidelity: Included 

Breaking Barriers, an employment services program providing services to low-income adults with disabilities, implemented the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) model to deliver vocational rehabilitation programming.  The model focuses on supported employment, providing rapid job search and placement while receiving supportive services to directly involve employment within the rehabilitation process. Historically, the IPS intervention model has been implemented in the mental health field to focus on rehabilitation for individuals with serious mental illness, however the San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP) adapted the model to provide IPS services in the workforce field.  Services were provided through four American Job Centers (AJCs) in San Diego County and required referral from supportive service agencies such as CalWORKs, California Department of Rehabilitation, and County Behavioral Health Services.  Additionally, clients were required to be over the age of 18, unemployed or underemployed, and self-identify a disability to receive programming. 

Features of the Study

The authors conducted an implementation evaluation that included a fidelity assessment tailored to the IPS model.  Authors collected data through job center and partner site visits, interviews with SDWP staff, job center staff of each program site, and referral partner staff in addition to document review and program data analysis. Program sites included four American Job Centers located in San Diego County, CA, specifically the downtown metro area, Chula Vista, Oceanside, and El Cajon. To conduct the fidelity assessment, a third-party consultant responsible for training program staff on the IPS model completed the fidelity assessments according to an IPS-specific fidelity model.  Fidelity reviews were scored in relation to the 25-item Supported Employment Fidelity Scale and could receive scores to describe fidelity including Not Supported Employment, Fair Fidelity, Good Fidelity, and Exemplary Fidelity. While the authors provided sufficient information regarding data collection and fidelity assessment techniques, analysis methods for the interviews and site visits were not discussed in the study.   


Intervention activities/services:  

  • The study found that the Breaking Barriers program implemented the IPS model as designed.  
  • The study found that program participants had access to a wide variety of job search activities including career profiles, job search plans, supported job searches, interview preparation, and practice interviews. 
  • The study found that assignment to the IPS treatment group had a positive impact on the receipt of many employment services.  
  • The study found that clients indicated the program staff to be responsive, accessible, provide a good level of job search support, and helped participants understand the public benefits they received. 
  • The study found that many treatment group participants received initial employment services at least, while many continued services actively for an average of 10 months. 
  • The study found that the rate of contact with clients declined following the first quarter of service, with several possible explanations such as pursuing non-employment options, relocation, incarceration, or approaching required public benefits criteria. 


  • The study found that the program sites implemented the IPS model with fidelity, with all scores from each assessment round categorized under the good fidelity range or the higher end of the fair fidelity category.   

Implementation challenges and solutions: 

  • The selected fidelity assessment model included 25-points of fidelity; it is important to note that the maximum score attainable was the top range of good fidelity.  This was due to the inability of workforce centers to adequately integrate mental health services and employment services. 
  • Treatment and control program participants were able to access other employment and mental health services through the referral partners and additional organizations in the area.  

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The authors provided extensive information on fidelity assessment methodology; however, the authors did not discuss analytical methods of qualitative data provided through site visits and interviews. Fidelity was assessed by the study authors and not by the CLEAR team.

Reviewed by CLEAR

July 2023

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