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Best Practice for Staff Qualification in the Older Blind Program

We have three experts joining us today. They are Dr. Adele Crudden, Kendra Farrow, and B. J LeJeune. Here is a snapshot of their experience.

Adele Crudden, PhD. is a professor in the social work program and has been on the research staff at the NRTC since 1994. She has her PhD and MS in Counseling from MSU and her MSW from LSU. The former director of the Addie McBryde Rehabilitation Center for the Blind in Jackson, MS, she has worked for both private and state rehabilitation agencies. Currently, she is the Director of the OIB-TAC and she teaches courses in social work research methods, is investigating issues associated with job retention and career advancement among persons with vision loss, and is supporting the OIB project in program evaluation activities. Adele is a state licensed social worker and counselor and a CRC.

Kendra Farrow is a certified vision rehabilitation therapist. After completing her degree at Western Michigan, she worked for 14 years in direct service. In 2014 she joined the team at the National Research and training center (NRTC) on blindness and low vision at Mississippi State University. In this role, Kendra designs and conducts training activities, develops plain language summaries for the web site, is an integral member of the older blind technical assistance and training team, and leads several older blind program evaluation projects. Kendra’s personal experiences in working with a multi-disciplinary model have convinced her of the importance of providing quantifiable evidence for the results of services provided to individuals who are blind or vision impaired. She strives to promote best practice, contribute to the literature, and validate tools that will benefit direct service staff and their consumers.

BJ LeJeune is the Retired Project Director for the OIB-TAC at the NRTC. She supervised and provided national training activities for the NRTC. She draws from her direct service experience as well as her research experience with Program Evaluation of individual state OIB Programs and her leadership experience as Project Director for a NIDILRR funded project, Persons Aging with Hearing and Vision Loss, to provide leadership for the OIB-TAC. She has a variety of expertise with all ages groups and special populations such as those with dual sensory impairments. She is a Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist, Certified Rehabilitation Counselor, and worked for a number of years as a Certified Interpreter of the Deaf.

Comments

Bill Tomlin's picture

The OIB-TAC conducted a survey of state programs and found that the qualifications to become a direct service provider are quite varied. Programs' qualification requirements included 2 with no minimum standard; 3 with high school graduation or no educational requirement with some experience, 20 with bachelor's degrees; 5 with bachelor’s degree in related field requirements; 6 bachelor’s degree with experience; 6 with bachelor’s degrees with certification; and 6 with master’s degree (3 of the 6 require certification). A total of 9 state OIB programs require certification.
Mark Armstrong's picture

Wow! Great information and research! I am surprised at the numbers and look forward to growth in the field in this area.
Sandy Neyhart's picture

Good afternoon everyone; Bill, of the 9 states that responded to the survey who have a requirement of certification, are any of those states minimally funded?
Bill Tomlin's picture

Sandy, we are comparing the lists. Will let you all know in a little bit.
Sandy Neyhart's picture

I would be very interested in knowing if there are minimally funded states who have the requirement of certification. i don't want to give the impression that i believe funding is the only barrier to certification but I believe it plays a role in identifying resources to help them meet this professional level of expertise. Any minimally funded states who have done this would be able to advise and mentor other state programs on how to work towards staff certification.
Kendra Farrow's picture

Hi Sandy, It is very difficult to suggest that programs require certification, as there are not enough certified professionals to fill all the open positions. However, on the flip side, many teachers are eligible to sit for the certification exam and simply don't, since their programs do not require it. I don't think I know of any states that offer incentives for service providers to be certified, but it does seem like that might be the middle road to begin encouraging certification.
Sandy Neyhart's picture

Thanks Kendra and Bill for the additional information from the survey.
Stephanie Jensen's picture

One issue with certification is that they will want to get paid more, and that is where funding comes in. If the schooling isn't available nearby, they will face another barrier to certification.
Bill Tomlin's picture

Three of the states that responded are minimum funded States. They are all on the east coast, and 2 of the 3 use contractors to provide some of these services.
Bill Tomlin's picture

The best practice for staff qualification is set high, because we all want the best outcomes for our older consumers with vision loss. Keep in mind that this is an aspirational goal, not something that anyone is grading us on. The best practice statement says service providers should be certified and/or licensed in the area of service provision. There is also a statement that suggests that use of uncertified personnel is acceptable if they are supervised by certified staff, and there are goals with timelines to help those uncertified staff become certified. At the OIB-TAC, we recognize that many programs are not currently requiring certification and cannot afford to offer salaries that might attract certified applicants.
Bill Tomlin's picture

How is your program recruiting and training new direct service staff? Have you found strategies that you feel are working for recruiting or growing your own certified staff?
Kendra Farrow's picture

In one state, we found that staff were eager to get certified, but they were not aware of the programs and the funding available to help them get their degree. Do your staff know the path to certification?
Matthew Haynes's picture

In Alabama we have a staff person who is dedicated to the training and recruitment of applicants, Lenore Dillon. She is well informed and often encourages staff to pursue further education beyond the excellent training she provides. Unfortunately, out state Personnel Department ended Educational Leave time that our agency use to offer. That in addition to the cost and the requirement of on campus classes deters people from getting their degree.
Bill Tomlin's picture

Thank you for sharing!
Adele Crudden's picture

Hi Matt, Thank you for your comment. I suppose eliminating leave for education is another way some states or agencies control costs. Other than the training that Lenore providers herself, what other options do you have for certified staff who are attempting to maintain certification? For example, does your agency support their attendance at conferences where staff earn CE?
Matthew Haynes's picture

Yes, Lenore also coordinates with ACVREP on CE for the training that not only she provides but at other trainings such as AER, and agency trainings such as our Blind Services Retreats and Medical Aspects conferences. So once you have your certification, there is no problem getting CE credits.
Kendra Farrow's picture

Your state is unique in providing this support to your staff.
Holly Kaczmarski's picture

I am currently completing my Master's Degree and I'm still not able to become Certified due to rules and regulations. Our field needs workers but because of all of the hoops that people have to jump through, many people do not go into our field. I am rather stubborn and I am going to keep going and try to become Certified. I currently work for minimum wage and would like to earn what my colleagues are earning, those with Master's degrees and more and I soon will be able to do that in the summer of 2019. I will also receive medical benefits, which I currently do not have at this time. These reasons often keep people from going into the field of Blind Rehabilitation, O&M, and other vision-related fields. Most students who go into the field work with children in the school systems and few of us are willing to work with seniors and they are the population that needs it most, in my opinion. The seniors are often left behind and not helped.
Adele Crudden's picture

Congratulations on completing your graduate degree. I commend you for pursuing efforts toward certification. The school system has established salary scales and qualifications for staff that are comparable to teacher qualifications. The idea of requiring staff to be credentialed is more routine to that system. I think it is a matter of qualified staff choosing the system that best supports them financially rather than choosing the population. I hope that OIB programs can move toward offering comparable salary scales to educational institutions so that retaining qualified staff is easier.
Holly Kaczmarski's picture

In my area, southastern Washington State, the state has cut back the funding for the independent older blind program which I find disturbing. I have only allowed to work with clients for three visits which is not enough to teach them the new technologies available to them. In our state, being 55 and older is considered not employable which I also find disturbing because most people I know are working into their mid-seventies and some into their early 80s. Do you have any suggestions to obtain funding for agencies such as mine to be able to work with these seniors and keep them abreast of the latest technology without doing it for free. I often help my clients for free because they need further training. Thank you, Holly Kaczmarski
Mark Armstrong's picture

Holly, I feel your passion! I would like to talk with you with a few ideas. I can contact you after the upcoming holiday.
Holly Kaczmarski's picture

Thank you. My agency is Columbia River Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired. 509-520-3521.
Stephanie Jensen's picture

Are you contracting with the OIB program or are you working for the OIB program (working for the state agency)? Also, if your clients apply for VR, there isn't an age limit. If someone wants to go back to work, VR needs to help them.
Kim Canaan's picture

In the Older Blind program in Washington we provide independent living services to people that are over 55 with a vision impairment. This program’s services are based on client assessments and goals which determines the number of instructional visits provided. If the client has a goal to return to work these clients will be referred to the state’s VR program. The VR program has no age restriction as long as the client meets the program requirements.
Bill Tomlin's picture

The universities that currently offer programs that lead to certification for most vision rehabilitation professions can be found at the following link, www.ntac.blind.msstate.edu/information-and-resources/cup/. The first step to certification is to make staff aware of the benefits of certification. After that, we can share the list of universities that have programs. Many of these programs have grant funding that may cover a portion of tuition and other expenses.
Bill Tomlin's picture

Do you have anyone who has attended an online program while doing their full time job? What have been some of their experiences?
Matthew Haynes's picture

Yes, here in Alabama we have had this in the past, more often back when we were allowed to give educational leave.
Adele Crudden's picture

Hi Holly, Thank you for extending yourself even beyond the limits of funding. The agencies are forced to make some hard choices about service delivery when the budget for OIB services is so small. Various agencies choose different ways to contain costs. It sounds as if we need to do a future forum on some of the strategies states use to do this and explore which are the most palatable.
Adele Crudden's picture

What will be the impact on your agency if you try to move toward hiring only certified staff?
Matthew Haynes's picture

For us, it would mean that positions would be unfilled for lengthy periods of time as we try to recruit applicants with certification. And when we did hire somebody, it would likely come from another agency, leaving another vacancy somewhere else.
Bill Tomlin's picture

Matt, this is not the first time we have been told this, and it is a legitimate point. We have observed states requiring new folks to pursue certification, but that is rare due to the cost in resources (time and money) that it takes to get and maintain the certification.
Coby Livingstone's picture

What if staff is being diverted from OIB programs to be utilized in the Pre Employment Training activities?
Adele Crudden's picture

Hi Coby, I am somewhat unclear about your question. Salary assignments are determined by state agency administrators. I am sure many agencies struggle to meet consumer needs. The OIB programs typically represent a much smaller percentage of the agency budget than the Pre ETS. Potentially that puts OIB at risk when staff is short.
Kendra Farrow's picture

Yes, we have seen many examples of direct service staff that serve multiple age groups under a variety of funding streams. It is challenging to find efficiencies that insure all are being served. I think this should be addressed one-on-one, as each state has a variety of factors that play into the solutions.
JANE WARD SOLOMON's picture

I know we're talking about direct service providers, however, I wanted to share that my position as OIB program director, among other duties, was advertised earlier this week and did not specify that any certification was required or preferred. Graduation from an accredited college or University was specified as well as experience working with programs for the blind -- just FYI as I am retiring after 40 years in this position . . .
Bill Tomlin's picture

Jane we know that you have at least 15 more good years to provide your guidance and professionalism to the great people of Virginia!! You will be missed by the folks here at the OIB-TAC!! Thank you for all that you have done for our program.
JANE WARD SOLOMON's picture

thank you Bill -- I'll miss everyone too
Adele Crudden's picture

Thank you, Jane. Does the OIB Program Director provide direct services or is it 100% administrative? I think the qualifications might vary, depending on the expectations of the position. If you were writing the job announcement, what qualifications would you see as most important?
JANE WARD SOLOMON's picture

100% admin, and I am a CRC. in my agency, budget management and creative writing skills are very important. I also would like to see previous experience managing federal grants as well as developing policy and procedures.
B.J. LeJeune's picture

Jane, congratulations on your upcoming retirement, but boy will you be missed! You are such a wealth of information and expertise. This is happening in several states as we boomers are retiring. Wishing you the very best and hoping Virginia has some success in filling those big shoes you are leaving behind!
B.J. LeJeune's picture

Below are some of the Best Practices responsibilities of the Program Managers. They do not necessarily coincide with the professional service provider qualifications that are outlined elsewhere in the document. Administrative responsibilities often require a different skill set. We see that new Program Managers are coming from 2 different streams - those with administrative skills and those with direct service skills. Both will have a lot to learn about managing the program. The OIB-TAC is developing short courses that are available on-line for program managers to assist them in learning some of the basic skills as often specific training is not available. Check out the continuing education portion of this website for more information on those courses. Program Management from the Best Practices Executive Summary. (available on this website) The manager of the state OIB program must have the leadership and administration skills to oversee the OIB program and maintain rigorous control over all aspects of service delivery, including the ability to recognize and support qualified staff. The program manager will develop, in conjunction with designated stakeholders, a strategic plan that includes short and long-term programmatic goals, timelines for service implementation, and procedures for program evaluation. The program manager will ensure that service providers, whether employed by the agency or by contract, are appropriately licensed or certified, have clear deliverables with appropriate timelines, and adhere to a quality assurance process. The program manager will ensure compliance with all federal guidelines for the program, support program evaluation, and engage in activities to promote quality service delivery. The program manager will attend the annual OIB program managers meeting. When direct services are provided (beyond information and referral), regardless of service delivery model, the program manager will ensure that service providers conduct functional assessments and develop individual service plans, with consumer input, consistent with issues identified by the assessment. The program manager will ensure that individual staff training plans are developed and that those plans address individual or programmatic goals and support staff licensure or certification. Agency resources will support development activities for staff to obtain or maintain appropriate licensure/certification. The program manager will ensure that staff refer consumers who indicate an interest in or respond positively to suggestions about potential employment to VR counselors trained to assess and work with older consumers.
Bill Tomlin's picture

Our time is expired, so we are ending the formal part of the “Live” Forum. We will keep an eye on this thread and answer any questions or comments that appear. Remember that you don’t have to be present during a “Live” event - we look at the forum on a routine basis and answer comments as they come in. We encourage you to do the same, or to post questions/comments that you would want to share with your peers. Please fill out the survey that will be emailed to each of you in the next few days.