Providing Mental Health Services to TANF Recipients: Program Design Choices and Implementation Challenges in Four States. Creating a Professional Support Network for Mental Health Staff


In general, mental health counselors working with welfare recipients have a difficult job. The people they see have experienced severe trauma such as childhood abuse, domestic violence, rape, homelessness, and other personal tragedies. The ability to deal with these complex life circumstances requires not only intense clinical and/or problem-solving skills but also a knowledge about the other mental health resources available in the community. Many mental health counselors working with welfare recipients may not have an obvious link to a professional support network, especially in rural locations, where professional support networks may be limited.

Mental health staff in some of the study sites have developed professional support networks to help solve difficult cases and to establish a source of ongoing training and consultation. For example, in Multnomah County, the program coordinator convenes weekly meetings with mental health and substance abuse specialists to discuss agency business and to staff difficult cases. In addition, specialists consult each other or their supervisor when they need professional guidance or support. In Tennessee, the program director holds regular training sessions for mental health counselors and district coordinators. In addition, local contracted mental health agencies provide clinical support to counselors on their staff who are co-located in the welfare office. In Utah, social workers meet every month, alternating each month with statewide and half-state meetings, to staff difficult cases and to talk about ways to improve mental health services. The program director at the state level provides clinical support to the social workers.

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