The case study sites offer a number of lessons regarding the issues and challenges associated with creating strategies to identify substance abuse and mental health problems, domestic violence situations, and learning disabilities. Perhaps one of the most important findings from the case studies is that the study sites have developed approaches that integrate barrier identification throughout a client’s TANF experience rather attempting to identify unobserved barriers at a single point in time. By involving a variety of staff (including staff of partner agencies) and using multiple identification strategies (formal and informal), the study sites have created a variety of opportunities to uncover unobserved barriers to employment while remaining focused on the employment and self-sufficiency goals of welfare reform.
Some welfare agencies that perceive their remaining welfare clients to be hard-to-serve are beginning to rethink their Work First approach. However, the study sites have found ways to maintain a work focus while also incorporating barrier identification strategies. It is important to note that these sites have not reverted to a pre-welfare reform strategy of exempting clients from participation. In all of the study sites, clients may be allowed to engage in non-work related activities in an effort to remove or mitigate barriers. However, these activities are considered a necessary step for a client to ultimately become employable and leave welfare.
TANF clients with substance abuse and mental health problems, domestic violence situations, and/or learning disabilities, will continue to present identification and service delivery challenges to TANF agencies and their partners. The case study sites have made great strides into relatively uncharted territory by developing the identification and service strategies described here. If such strategies are to continue, and new efforts are to be developed, TANF agencies and their partners will require the resources to support staff by maintaining or establishing workloads that facilitate barrier identification efforts, involve specialized staff and/or partner agencies, and provide staff training. If the progress made toward identifying and addressing barriers faced by the hard-to-serve is to be sustained, it will be important for policymakers not to succumb to pressures to reduce funding or limit the flexibility provided to states and localities when considering the reauthorization of TANF in 2002.