Screening and Assessment in TANF\Welfare-to-Work: Local Answers to Difficult Questions. Furthering the Identification of Unobserved Barriers to Employment


Most TANF agencies make referrals to partners based on information that leads them to suspect that a client may have an unobserved barrier to employment. Even where sites utilize formal assessment tools, these assessments determine that an unobserved barrier to employment likely exists, but does not constitute a diagnosis or definitive determination of a condition.

Partner agencies are in many cases better positioned to identify unobserved barriers to employment than TANF agencies because their staff possess the skills, tools, and expertise to diagnose barriers to employment and determine the exact nature of the barrier. For example, mental health partners in the study sites typically conduct a series of in-depth interviews, and may utilize formal psychological tests, to determine the exact nature of the suspected barriers. Screening conducted by TANF agency staff may indicate that a client shows signs of depression or an anxiety disorder, but this cannot be confirmed without further assessment by professionals trained in applying clinical criteria.

Similarly, TANF agency staff who learn that a client occasionally uses drugs or alcohol would use this as the basis for a referral to a substance abuse partner agency. Substance abuse partners would engage in further assessment to determine the extent of the substance abuse problem, if the usage level constitutes abuse, and the level or type of treatment required. For example, in Kent, WA, TANF clients suspected of having a substance abuse problem based on the VIEW questions or behavioral observations are referred to the on-site substance abuse specialist who conducts a thorough assessment to determine the extent of the problem and recommends an appropriate course of treatment.

In the case of domestic violence situations, referrals are often the result of a victim’s disclosure and willingness to seek assistance. Therefore, domestic violence partners are not typically required to determine if the barrier exists, rather they move immediately to exploring the specific nature of the situation and assisting the victim in developing an appropriate safety plan.

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