LA2050 Grants Challenge applications are open now through June 28th, 2024.
2023 Grants Challenge

Giving Returning Citizens Opportunities to Win (GROW)

Idea by Islah LA

A peer-led employment support program to improve employment and mental health outcomes among systems-involved individuals in South Los Angeles.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

Opportunities for People Who Have Been Incarcerated

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

South LA

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Pilot or new project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

LA County is home to the largest jail system in the U.S. that disproportionately impacts communities of color. Structural racism, reflected in discriminatory criminal justice policy, accounts for why Black Angelenos comprise 29% of the jail population despite only representing 9% of LA County residents. These structural inequalities result in significant barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated individuals. The unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated individuals is nearly 5 times higher than that for the general U.S. population with Black adults experiencing even higher rates than their white counterparts. Furthermore, the re-entry population commonly experiences mental health challenges worsened by difficulties reintegrating into society due to widespread discrimination against individuals with a criminal record. Employment is increasingly understood to be a critical mental health intervention as it offers purpose, dignity, and community along with a consistent paycheck.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

Our intervention will pilot peer-led employment support groups and workshops for individuals with any history of systems involvement who are seeking stable, meaningful employment. Each session will comprise of didactic workshops for all participants followed by small peer-group discussion led by peer facilitators. Phase 1 of the pilot will entail an individualized biopsychosocial needs assessment, a comprehensive skills and experiences intake, and interest and skills self-evaluations for each participant. Participants will reflect on their qualifications, including previous work and volunteer experiences in peer groups. Each participant will develop an individual employment plan with self-directed employment goals. Phase 2 will focus on employment preparation and tailored referrals to employment, training, or educational opportunities based on participants' individual employment plans. Participants will also attend employment support workshops that cover job application assistance and professional development workshops teaching appropriate workplace communication skills. Phase 3 will monitor employment progress and incorporate peer-led behavioral health support. Participants will continue to meet regularly in peer groups for progress check-ins and to share employment successes and challenges. Peer facilitators will encourage the sharing of coping, emotional regulation, and mindfulness skills to address past and recurring psychosocial traumas affecting employment.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

This pilot will address the current unmet need for employment support in South LA by supporting individuals with a history of systems-involvement who have trouble navigating the LA job landscape and its siloed workforce development initiatives. Our pilot would be the first to integrate employment and behavioral health support within a peer-group environment in a trusted community-based setting in South LA. Overall, given the success of this model in improving employment outcomes per literature review, the therapeutic benefits of peer support groups for mental health, and the demand for such a program by both the ISLAH LA community and its leadership, this intervention holds great promise for addressing employment and mental health disparities among systems-involved adults in South LA. To scale this pilot, further funding opportunities could be explored through MediCal coverage via the CalAIM Justice-Involved Initiative, which covers re-entry community-based care coordination.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

The primary long-term outcome for evaluation is employment status. Employment will be defined as consistent paid work for at least 2 weeks, either full- or part-time. At the 3- and 12-month follow up post-intervention, participants will be contacted by the program coordinator to answer a brief survey about their current employment status. Given the bidirectional relationship between employment and mental health, an important short- and long-term clinical outcome to evaluate will be mental health symptoms before and after the intervention as well as at 3- and 12- month follow up intervals. Self-reported depression and anxiety symptoms will be assessed through the PHQ-9 and GAD-7 clinical questionnaires, respectively. A short-term process outcome for evaluation is the knowledge gained about employment preparation. Participants will be asked to complete a 20-question multiple choice test with 1 to 2 questions per session topic at the end of the pilot.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 40

Indirect Impact: 200