The purpose of the Colorado Mental Health Consumer Case Manager Aide (CCMA) Program is to train and employ persons with chronic mental illnesses as providers of case management services to other chronically mentally ill clients in the public mental health system. The project was designed to address two major problems. First, there was an identified need to create challenging, meaningful employment opportunities for high-functioning "consumers" of mental health services who are not appropriate for the low-level job placements that have commonly been offered in mental health vocational programs. Second, the project addresses the problem of limited resources to serve people with severe, disabling mental illnesses by using primary consumers as paraprofessional service extenders.
The CCMA program is based on the belief that individuals who have been consumers of the mental health and social services systems should have special knowledge of these systems and therefore have some advantages as potential trainees over others who have not had direct involvement. In addition, consumer providers are seen as having the potential to more quickly establish rapport and understanding with their clients than non-consumers.
Consumers who are selected for the project participate in a structured, five- to six-month training program, which combines classroom work, specialized individual instruction, and on-the-job training. Participants in the program earn college credits, and graduates of the program receive certificates from the Community College of Denver. The training curriculum is based on a psychosocial rehabilitation approach which emphasizes identification of each trainee's specific skill strengths and deficits, and the development of an individualized education plan to remediate these deficits. The core training program focuses on direct case management skills such as outreach, advocacy, counseling and communication. Most trainees also receive remedial instruction in basic reading, writing and math focused on skills directly related to their jobs (e.g., writing client records, assisting clients in budgeting). This remedial instruction is necessary because severe mental illness often strikes during adolescence, interrupting an individual's basic education. Finally, special training and support is provided to help participants recognize and deal with aspects of their illnesses that might interfere with their on-the-job performance.
After classroom training is completed, trainees serve an internship period with a local community mental health center or other service agency. They are subsequently employed as direct service providers in programs throughout the state. In most cases, they act as assistants to mental health case managers and other professionals. They are actively involved in assisting clients with obtaining benefits, providing transportation, teaching daily living skills, helping them get housing, and providing monitoring and follow-up services. Some CCMAs serve in specialized roles such as vocational services assistants or residential supervisors. After the CCMA is employed, ongoing education and support is available to the worker, as well as their supervisor, to assist the CCMA to integrate into the workforce and maintain employment.
Since the program began in late 1986, over 100 mentally ill persons have participated in the CCMA training program. About 50 are currently employed in 10 of Colorado's 17 community mental health centers. Other CCMA graduates have gone on to other human service positions and jobs in other fields. Several have returned to school to prepare for "professional" mental health work.