Screening and Assessment in TANF\Welfare-to-Work: Local Answers to Difficult Questions. Fears of Repercussions


“The eligibility tech, I wasn’t honest with her. I needed money. I needed Food Stamps. I was not going to sit there and say I’m an active alcoholic. I wasn’t going to do anything to disrupt that money coming.”

“You can’t tell them. They come take your kids.”

“It’s always a threat that they’re going to take your kids. A threat is close enough for me.”

“Even though we have a good relationship, I wouldn’t tell her. Because of
the position they hold, they’ve got the power.”


Clients’ decisions to disclose to barriers are significantly affected by their fears of

Clients overwhelmingly reported that their decisions to disclose barriers to employment are significantly affected by their fears of repercussions. The most common repercussions that clients fear, and which reportedly deter disclosure, are the involvement of child protective services or child welfare agencies, and the potential loss of benefits. Clients noted giving careful consideration to what information they would provide and the possibility that disclosure would result in having their children removed from the home. Clients reported that some concerns about repercussions could be alleviated if they were told how information would be used and with whom it would be shared, before being asked to disclose.

Focus group respondents reported that the fear of repercussions applied equally to different forms of disclosure, including discussions with workers as well as completing screening or assessment instruments. The foundation beneath the fear of repercussions related to disclosing barriers is the belief that TANF staff have “power” over clients’ situations insofar as they can initiate actions to remove children from the home or impose financial sanctions (i.e., reduce or terminate benefits). Some clients acknowledged that this control of benefits is a fundamental part of the worker’s job that cannot be changed, and as such some clients associate these responsibilities more with eligibility workers than case managers or specialized workers.32

32  However, where eligibility and service planning functions are combined, the concerns about disclosure would diminish the likelihood of the client disclosing to this integrated worker.

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