Screening and Assessment in TANF\Welfare-to-Work: Local Answers to Difficult Questions. Challenges to Establishing Trust and Rapport


Many believe that clients may be more comfortable disclosing barriers to staff who do not control their benefits.

Workers who are responsible for determining benefit levels or imposing sanctions understood that these responsibilities may make it more difficult to establish a trusting relationship. All staff interviewed acknowledged their responsibilities to report child abuse or neglect, but generally did not believe that their status as “mandatory reporters” affected clients’ willingness to disclose unobserved barriers to employment.

Staff of partner agencies reported, and many TANF agency staff agreed, that clients may be more comfortable disclosing barriers to staff who do not control their benefits. Partner agency staff reported this despite their status as mandatory reporters. TAP assessors in Owensboro, KY, as well as staff of the IRIS Program in Minneapolis, MN and Rainier Case Management in Kent, WA reported that they regularly try to distinguish themselves from welfare agency staff in an effort to build trust with clients and elicit disclo- sure. By being able to honestly report that they have no direct control over benefit termination or the imposition of sanctions, and that they are not bound by the same rules or program requirements as TANF staff, these workers believed that  they were able to gain a higher level of trust than TANF agency staff could achieve and serve as a mediator between the client and TANF agency staff.

A less commonly used technique to establish trust and elicit disclosure is to explain to clients how information will be used. Although TANF staff indicated their awareness of confidentiality guidelines and the need for signed releases from clients before sharing information, few seemed to take care to explain how information would be used or the implications of failure to sign an authorization to release information. For example, staff did not commonly explain that information could be used to make a referral to other services, how participation in a barrier-specific service would affect requirements to participate in work-related services, or what information would lead to a referral to the child welfare agency. The extent to which TANF agency staff reported making efforts to indicate—prior to disclosure—the range of services available, or the possible negative repercussions of disclosing a substance abuse problem or other barrier to employment, varied widely.

Many advocates for TANF clients take issue with this approach and encourage TANF agency staff to fully inform clients regarding how information will be used so that clients can make informed decisions regarding disclosure. As will be noted in Chapter 5, clients who participated in focus groups also reported that not knowing how information would be used affects their decisions to disclose.

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