This study looked at a wide range of identification efforts to uncover unobserved barriers to employment.
Efforts to identify barriers to employment faced by TANF clients are described and discussed using various terminology. Common terms such as “screening” and “assessment” are sometimes used interchangeably. However, the term screening is also used to describe a less rigorous effort to determine the possible existence of a barrier, while assessment often connotes a more structured, in-depth approach to barrier identification. Still others use the term assessment to describe the on-going process of uncovering barriers that occurs throughout a client’s experience with the TANF system. For the purposes of this report, distinguishing between efforts to screen as compared to efforts to assess is not as valuable as understanding how identification approaches are carried out in practice. Therefore, this study looked at a wide range of identification efforts—including those that may be described as either screening or assessment—to uncover unobserved barriers to employment.
Identification approaches utilized by the study sites can be generally described under two headings—formal and informal. Formal approaches include the use of a tool, instrument, or test. Informal approaches rely on discussion, disclosure of barriers by clients, or observation of behaviors that may suggest the existence of a barrier to employment. The use of formal and informal identification approaches are not mutually exclusive. In fact, many staff responsible for implementing formal identification approaches reported that they implement a tool or instrument as a part of a much larger process that includes informal identification strategies as well.
The primary goal of identification approaches employed by TANF agencies is to provide an initial indication of the likelihood that a barrier to employment exists. Generally, this information is used to refer a client to a more highly trained specialist for additional assessment and confirmation of the existence of this barrier. In some cases, these more specialized partners undertake more detailed assessments that may guide treatment or service strategies, but generally do not include a formal diagnosis. However, in some situations TANF agency staff refer clients to partner agencies where staff can assess, diagnosis, and treat a particular barrier.16 In the next sections, we examine both formal and informal approaches to barrier identification and conclude with a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.
16 Efforts undertaken by barrier-specific experts to formally diagnose conditions were not reviewed as a part of this study.