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Summer 99 Table of Contents
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The ABCs of CSPD for TCB

By Scott Bowman, Director of Human Resources
Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind)

The Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) , along with other vocational rehabilitation agencies around the country, is responding to federal requirements referred to as CSPD (Comprehensive System of Personnel Development). When the 1992 Rehabilitation Act amendments were passed, we were introduced to a new Section 101(a)(7), which is the CSPD initiative. The intent of Congress in this legislation - which was reinforced with the 1998 amendments last summer - was to ensure that consumers are receiving services from qualified rehabilitation professionals. The current effort is focused on vocational rehabilitation counselors, which, in TCB, extends to transition counselors.

The federal regulations have required state agencies to establish personnel standards that are "consistent with any national- or state-approved or recognized certification, licensing, or registration requirements." In Texas, we have not required certification or licensing for applicants or employees, so we began looking at the national standards. The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification is the entity which issues the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) certification to rehabilitation counselors who demonstrate a certain level of proficiency by passing a rigorous exam after achieving certain educational and employment (work experience) requirements. To be eligible to sit for the CRC exam, one needs to have a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling or a master's degree in a related field combined with specific work experience and supervised practicum experience.

So what does all this mean for counselors at TCB, and what impact will this initiative have on services to blind and visually impaired Texans? At TCB, we have redesigned job vacancy notices, starting in April 1999, to allow applicants with a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling (and the necessary supervised practicum hours) to be considered for a counselor position with no paid work experience. In situations where it is not possible to recruit such individuals, applicants with other related degrees, combined with paid work experience, may be considered for openings. Individuals who are hired without the master's degree in rehabilitation counseling must agree to meet the CRC eligibility requirements within five years of their date of employment.

For current vocational rehabilitation counselors and transition counselors, the agency is allowing a five year period, starting in September 1999, for those staff members to acquire the necessary educational and experience requirements necessary to sit for the CRC exam. Although it is anticipated that some staff will choose to take the exam, TCB is not requiring CRC certification as part of the CSPD initiative. Employees will be expected to meet a two year "payback" requirement following completion of their master's program in instances where the agency or the university provides financial assistance for tuition or fees. This payback is an agreement that the employee will pay back the taxpayers by agreeing to work for TCB for this two year period, or reimburse any expenses paid on their behalf. The payback period, of course, is no guarantee of employment since TCB and most other Texas employers operate in an employment-at-will environment.

You're probably thinking to yourself, "There must be some type of grandfather provision, whereby a counselor with demonstrated success on the job could save the taxpayers some money and be exempt from all of this!" Our federal partner has been very clear on their position that, since this notion to increase qualifications in the profession originated from consumer input around the nation, there will be no exceptions to the general requirements. Individual agencies must develop plans to systematically develop their workforce to a point where counselors are considered "qualified". At TCB, as in many other agencies, we are very sensitive to the fact that counselors may have family obligations, geographical considerations, second jobs, or other legitimate barriers which affect one's ability to return to school. As one counselor recently commented to me, "I want to continue doing my job - working with consumers and employers - but I just don't have the energy or interest in returning to school at this point in my career."

Other counselors are excited about the possibility of increasing their professional credentials with significant financial support from the agency. TCB has not funded participation in degree programs before, so this is a real opportunity for staff who otherwise would not be able to complete a master's degree in their field. In the not too distant future, people interested in vocational rehabilitation counselor positions - whether in private rehabilitation or in the public program - will probably have to be certified (CRC) and/or have the necessary master's degree in rehabilitation counseling or a closely related field. In the short run, though, the challenge is matching interested staff with the limited slots available in the accredited educational programs in Texas and around the country. In many instances, agency staff will be experiencing "distance learning" courses in order to balance school requirements with the demands of a full-time job.

If you've followed along so far, you are probably ready for the answer to the other question, which was the projected impact on our consumers. TCB's administration has made it clear to counselors and supervisors that the current focus on providing quality vocational rehabilitation services to the blind and visually impaired people of Texas will not be diminished by this initiative. The agency's consumer satisfaction surveys are at an all-time high, which means that consumers are generally very happy with the services they receive from the agency. Can we improve? Of course we can. Will the CSPD initiative improve services? Only time will tell, but the hope is that counselors will gain more than a sheet of paper to hang on the wall. The universities, especially in our federal Region VI, are aggressively working with us to make their courses accessible, practical, and affordable to our staff. We're optimistic that this CSPD initiative will help us improve the credentials of our workforce and ultimately will improve the quality of services to Texans who are blind or visually impaired.


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