Screening and Assessment in TANF\Welfare-to-Work: Local Answers to Difficult Questions. Chapter Four: When Identification Occurs


An important question facing TANF agency administrators and staff is when to undertake efforts to identify unobserved barriers to employment. Some argue that because a primary objective of TANF is to assist clients in obtaining employment, clients should first attempt to find a job thus allowing the labor market to determine if they are employable. Following this Work First philosophy, barrier identification would not take place until after the client has attempted to find a job and failed. Others believe that because of declines in caseload, remaining welfare clients may have a variety of barriers to employment and thus be “hard-to-serve.” In an effort to alleviate these barriers so that clients can successfully obtain and retain jobs, some argue that identifying barriers early in a client’s experience is the best approach. Early identification of barriers allows staff to direct clients to resources to alleviate or mitigate barriers prior to job entry.

The case studies indicate that attempting to establish a single point when barrier identification should occur may be shortsighted. The study sites illustrate that a client’s experience in the TANF system offers a variety of opportunities to identify unobserved barriers to employment. These range from the initial intake/eligibility interview, through service planning, and referrals to partner agencies for work-related or other services. The important question is therefore, how TANF agencies should integrate barrier identification into this multi-step process, taking into consideration the various steps involved, the staff with whom clients interact at each point in the process, and the TANF policy context. In this section we discuss when barrier identification occurs in the study sites.

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