The extent to which TANF case managers are able to undertake efforts to identify barriers to employment is affected by the size of their overall workload. Although staff consistently reported that each case requires a different level of attention and involvement, caseload size can serve as a proxy for understanding individual workloads. In four of the six study sites case managers were responsible for 80-100 or in some sites even more cases.27 Commonly, staff reported that they do not have the time necessary to explore barriers or develop relationships with all of their clients. Given this, in-depth efforts to identify barriers may require smaller caseloads that allow more time to be spent with each client. Smaller caseloads were incorporated into special efforts to identify barriers that were carried out in the study sites. For example, Extra Effort pilot staff in Montgomery County, KS each work with five to six families, IRIS social workers are assigned ten clients and vocational counselors work with 20 clients, and social workers in Kent, WA ideally work with 60-80 clients.28
Workers responsible for both eligibility determination and case management/service planning functions may have a difficult time integrating efforts to identify barriers to employment into an already heavy workload. Staff in these positions reported feeling on-going pressure to fulfill the functions associated with benefit eligibility determination—including timely eligibility redetermination and imposing financial sanctions for non-compliance—and some noted that this may inhibit disclosure of barriers by clients. If remaining TANF clients have multiple barriers to employment, there are several drawbacks to relying on integrated workers to identify barriers. If staff are to retain both eligibility and case management responsibilities, including barrier identification, they may need to be responsible for smaller caseloads or receive significant support from more specialized staff. Given the complex nature of many unobserved barriers to employment, even TANF case managers who are not responsible for eligibility determination may benefit from the support of additional identification efforts carried out by specialists and having responsibility for smaller caseloads.
27 The two sites with smaller caseloads are Montgomery County, KS, which is the smallest rural community in the study with a smaller overall TANF caseload, and Arlington, VA, which has a small proportion of TANF clients required to participate in work activities due to more liberal application of exemption policies.
28 At the time of our visit, the social work unit in Kent had recently been reorganized and had a staff vacancy resulting in higher than planned caseloads.