Operating TANF: Opportunities and Challenges for Tribes and Tribal Consortia. Recruiting, Training, and Retaining Program Staff


Tribes have recruitment and training challenges because their members have limited experience working in TANF programs. Tribal programs addressed this problem in several ways. They hired staff with experience working for TANF programs regardless of their tribal membership, obtained training from state TANF staff, trained new hires, and provided ongoing staff development to retain staff and enhance their capabilities.

State training for tribal workers can help develop the tribal TANF staff, but there are limitations. Most of the states worked closely with grantees, providing extensive, often free, training to grantee staff. For example, Washington State sent workers to Port Gamble to mentor the tribe's case managers. Some states, such as Washington and Wisconsin, open training for state TANF staff to tribal TANF staff. Study respondents indicated that often this training was useful. Sometimes, however, the training pertained to specific state procedures and was not relevant to the tribal program.

Another way to deal with the limited TANF-related work experience of tribal members is to employ nontribal members in the TANF program. Tribal officials said there were concerns at first about not hiring more tribal members, and about the possibility of resulting tensions. However, grantees in the study that employed nontribal members reported few problems. After the program was implemented, tribal members tended to feel that the TANF staff were doing a good job, and that the tribe, in general, and program participants in particular, were benefiting from the work of the TANF staff regardless of their tribal status or race/ethnicity.

Tribal members who have participated in the TANF and/or AFDC programs have experience with the needs of program participants and know which TANF services and operations are most valuable. Most of the grantees in this study recruited former TANF participants with the needed skills and desire to work in the program. Tribal officials indicated that former TANF recipients tended to be good employees  they were motivated to do a good job and to make the program successful, and they were models for what program participants can achieve.

Despite ongoing efforts to recruit and retain staff, some tribes (for example, Navajo Nation, Torres Martinez, and White Mountain Apache) reported difficulty retaining staff, especially in employment services. Staff leaving for other jobs accounted for about half the turnover. The other half resigned because of personal problems, such as the need to care for an ill relative or handle a family crisis. Some tribal officials said that former TANF participants seemed to have high turnover rates. Tribal officials said that former TANF participants and their families tend to have few alternatives in dealing with crises. A former TANF participant who has left the program and secured unsubsidized employment is often seen by family members as the best person to help solve critical family problems and to minimize the negative effects of a crisis. Consequently, family members often turn to the former TANF client for support. Sometimes, providing personal support forces the former TANF client to resign her position, which contributes to staff turnover.

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