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Mercy Professors Collaborate on Study of Employment Supports for Marginalized Populations

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The opening statement of the abstract is startling. “Women of parenting age from typically marginalized socioeconomic, ethnic, and racial groups are underrepresented in rehabilitation research.” Now three Mercy professors have coauthored an article exploring solutions to the issues that these women face accessing workforce training and job placement services, slated for publication in the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation.

The article, “Predictors of employment among underrepresented women and TANF recipients that completed vocational rehabilitation services,” is the outcome of efforts by a multidisciplinary team of Mercy faculty researchers. TANF stands for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a financial assistance program for low income families that have children and for pregnant women in their last three months of pregnancy.

From the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences are co-authors Rebecca Trenz, associate professor of psychology, and Francine Seruya, professor and program director of graduate occupational therapy, and from the School of Health and Natural Sciences Kaitlin Dondorf-Brooks, assistant professor, communication disorders. The three found commonality in the cause of parents returning to work and in need of job training, job search assistance and other supports to which they typically have limited or no access.

The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research and awarded to the Langston University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Research and Capacity Building for Minority Entities. The authors drew on existing data from programs that provide job and life skills for families living in poverty and individuals with disabilities and other barriers.

“Our findings showed that on-the-job training, help with job search and job placement and other key supports and services were significant predictors of employment,” said Seruya. “Such interventions can help people — particularly women who want and need to return to work — to achieve their goals.”

The authors emphasize the need for additional research that can foster systemic change. “Our study focused on parents who are juggling multiple responsibilities,” said Seruya. “When you’re new or returning to the job market, you need skills — not just how to write a resume, but practical knowledge along the entire path to employment and independence. This is best accomplished in educational settings.”

The authors hope that education policymakers will view their study as a tool for addressing societal deficiencies. “What are we doing to help women of parenting age from typically marginalized socioeconomic, ethnic and racial groups? Have we first ensured access to basic needs like food, clothing and shelter?” Seruya asked. “Society’s goal should be to support individuals in meeting basic needs: to find employment, care for their families and build meaningful lives.”