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Integrating Mental Health & Substance Abuse Strategies

Welfare-to-Work Initiatives

Strategies for Overcoming Mental Health & Substance Abuse (MH/SA) Related Problems


Colleen Keenan, M.B.A., Project Director, Work First New Jersey Substance Abuse Initiative, New Jersey Division of Addiction Services, Trenton, NJ.

Sandra Naylor-Goodwin, Ph.D., M.S.W., Executive Director, California Institute of Mental Health, Sacramento, CA.

This session highlighted innovative strategies that two States are pursuing to increase the success of their welfare-to-work initiatives by building in strategies to address the MH/SA needs of the individual and families making this transition.

Colleen Keenan, the Director of Work First New Jersey Substance Abuse Initiative, described this statewide program, which is a joint initiative between the State's Departments of Health and Senior Services, Human Services, and Labor. Among the program's key features are:

  • An assessment and treatment placement process completed within the welfare offices.
  • A "managed care look-alike" agency providing clinical gatekeeper services and provider networks meeting special program requirements.
  • Services covering a unified continuum of care.
  • Treatment recognized as a work activity.

Sandra Naylor Goodwin of the California Institute of Mental Health then discussed the State of California's CalWORKS project that is involved with testing a number of different approaches to addressing the mental health, substance abuse, and domestic violence problems of persons who transition from welfare to work at the county level.

Both Dr. Naylor and Ms. Keenan shared with participants the early lessons learned from the programs in their States, including features that problems encountered (e.g., those associated with having caseworkers do assessments in the welfare office), the need for flexibility in the design and delivery of services, and the importance of and challenges associated with interagency cooperation in addressing problems.


Making Welfare Reform Work: Tools for Confronting Alcohol and Drug Problems Among Welfare Recipients. Legal Action Center Report. Funded by Annie E. Casey Foundation. Sept. 1997.

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