Informal identification efforts rely heavily on clients to disclose a barrier to employment. By disclosure we mean acknowledgment of the existence of a barrier, or comments that lead staff to suspect the existence of a barrier. Reliance on disclosure presents a particular challenge when considering unobserved barriers to employment. Because of the nature of the disabilities, health conditions, and barriers to employment considered here, many clients are unaware of their condition or may not consider their condition/situation a barrier to employment. Alternatively, clients may be simply unwilling to disclose a barrier to their case worker. Not surprisingly, staff reported that clients are most likely to report a condition that was previously diagnosed.
All staff who are responsible for identifying barriers reported making attempts to elicit disclosure of barriers, or information that may indicate the existence of a barrier, from clients. Staff frequently mentioned that establishing a trusting relationship and good rapport are essential if clients are to feel comfortable disclosing. For many staff, this was a natural and integral part of the case management process—so common that in some cases they had trouble describing their approaches. Many staff noted that they rely heavily on their interpersonal or “soft” skills to make clients feel comfortable. Managers also frequently noted that these soft skills were important for staff responsible for identifying barriers. Based on our interviews it appears that, among other techniques, workers make efforts to establish rapport with clients and develop trust by:
asking general questions about the client, her family, and her employment or interests before delving into personal topics such as substance abuse or domestic violence;
exploring past experiences that clients are more comfortable discussing that may provide insights into current situations or behaviors (e.g., past substance use, experiences with family or sexual violence in childhood);
telling clients something about his/her own experience—particularly when the worker is a single parent or former welfare recipient—in an effort to gain credibility with the client; and/or
normalizing a client’s situation or feelings (e.g., by indicating that anyone in the client’s situation would feel depressed or stressed and could benefit from counseling; by indicating that seeking mental health treatment does not mean the client is “crazy;” or by explaining that being assessed for substance abuse does not mean the client is an alcoholic).
Some staff reported using the provision of supportive services such as transportation assistance, clothing, or dental assistance as a way to develop trust. By providing these services, staff were able to tangibly demonstrate that they intend to help the client. This reportedly encouraged some clients to subsequently disclose additional barriers or be willing to follow through with more formal assessments for unobserved barriers. Many workers acknowledged that building a trusting relationship with clients takes time. Some workers believed they were able to establish a trusting relationship sufficient for clients to feel comfortable disclosing by the completion of the initial interview, while other workers reported that it may take several interactions with the client before such rapport was established.