The main purpose of participant assessment is to gain information needed to tailor the wide range of services available under WtW to the specific needs, employment barriers, and goals of each individual. During the intake process--generally beginning on the first day program staff come into contact with the participant--program staff begin to collect background information about the individual through in-person interviews and completion of a printed application form. Though assessment is initiated during intake, tribal programs (like their nontribal counterparts) emphasize ongoing assessment and monitoring of participants (through the case management process) throughout their involvement in the program.
The formality of the assessment process varies across tribal programs. There is no common approach to participant assessment; each grantee develops its own approach--including specific assessment forms, the sequence of steps involved in assessment, and whether standardized tests are used to assess capabilities and needs. Often the assessment process is similar to that used in other tribal programs, such as NEW, JTPA, or TANF. In site visit discussions, WtW program participants said that involvement in the assessment process helps them reevaluate their goals and establish realistic plans for achieving them. Participants also note the important contribution that project staff often made during the assessment process--helping them carefully think through their goals, assess personal strengths and weaknesses, and structure individual service plans.
An important part of the assessment process centers on the identification of specific barriers to employment that make working difficult or even impossible. Information to assess such barriers is typically collected through one-on-one interviews and, sometimes, through administration of standardized tests (for example, to measure reading/math deficiencies). Common barriers identified through this process include a lack of basic skills (especially reading and math), lack of occupational training and work experience, lack of a driver's license or automobile and other transportation-related problems, and inadequate or unavailable child care. Other common barriers identified through this process are substance abuse problems, mental health problems, and family problems (such as a sick or disabled family member). In addition, program staff note that a lack of self-confidence or self-esteem often is a critical underlying employment barrier. For example, low self-esteem may play a pivotal role in an individual's dropping out of school. Once a person drops out of school, finding a well-paying job becomes far more difficult. After long spells of receiving welfare, applicants come to the program believing that, even if a job is available, they will not be hired or they will be unable to acquire the skills needed (through education and training) to secure a good job.
For standardized testing, tribal programs typically rely on the results of formal reading/math scores provided by the referring agency (usually the TANF local office). If such results are not available or are not up-to-date, several tribal programs use standardized test instruments, such as the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE) or the Wide-Ranging Abilities Test (WRAT). Other sites rely upon less formal methods for gauging reading/math proficiency, such as client self-assessments and having participants read materials out loud to the intake counselor. Participants at programs that have an emphasis on education and job training (such as Three Affiliated Tribes and White Earth) often have additional basic skills assessments conducted at tribal colleges or other training facilities to which participants are referred.
Most tribal WtW programs in our study sample identify individuals with substance abuse problems based on self-reports by participants (during intake interviews and ongoing discussions with participants), by observation of participants during activities, and by reports of problems by other human service agencies or employers. Such problems often become evident to program staff when an individual fails to show up for program activities or for work.
Two of the 10 tribal WtW programs (Cherokee and Three Affiliated Tribes) conduct drug/alcohol screenings of participants at the time of entry into the program or at later stages. The Cherokee conduct a hair analysis as part of the individual assessment process. Those who test positive for drugs or alcohol are ineligible for services (until they become drug-free) and are referred to the tribal employee assistance program or a substance abuse treatment provider. Although the arrangement was subsequently discontinued, Three Affiliated Tribes initially contracted with Circle of Life, an on-reservation tribal substance abuse center, to provide an initial alcohol and substance abuse evaluation for all new participants (at a cost of $50 per individual).(1) This assessment involved an interview with a counselor to determine whether the individual needed substance abuse counseling or treatment (no urine tests were administered). Individuals who needed treatment could enroll at the day treatment program at the Circle of Life (run in five-week cycles) or at inpatient programs in other localities in North Dakota (including Bismarck, Fargo, and Minot).