Screening and Assessment in TANF\Welfare-to-Work: Local Answers to Difficult Questions. Intake/Eligibility Determination


Sites vary in the extent to which identification occurs at a client’s initial intake/ eligibility determination appointment. In part, whether a locality uses this step in the client flow to identify barriers depends on whether or not the site has adopted a Work First philosophy and the responsibilities of staff involved. In some sites, such as Minneapolis, MN and Arlington, VA, separate staff perform eligibility and service planning/ case management functions (recall Table 2). In these sites eligibility workers are not as integrally involved in the barrier identification process as other workers.23

However, barrier identification at the intake/eligibility determination appointment is not precluded by the focus of a staff person’s responsibility being financial eligibility determination. For example, in Las Vegas, NV, eligibility workers who are not responsible for ongoing case management perform an initial screen for barriers and may identify barriers that warrant a referral to an in-house social worker.

In other sites, such as Owensboro, KY, Montgomery County, KS, and Kent, WA, eligibility and case management functions are integrated under one worker. This worker is responsible for both eligibility determination as described above, and developing a service plan that will guide the steps a client will take on her path to self-sufficiency. In these sites, the worker’s case management responsibilities require that she or he also engage in barrier identification. Because this worker wears multiple hats and is expected to identify barriers to employment, barrier identification begins with his or her first interaction with the client—the intake/eligibility determination interview.

The IRIS program in Minneapolis, MN specifically decided to conduct barrier assessment early in a client’s interaction with the program. IRIS staff have found that clients often require immediate barrier removal assistance in order to be successful in IRIS’s vocational services. Therefore, when clients first enter the IRIS Program, they meet with a social worker who is responsible for “social stabilization” (i.e., taking care of immediate needs such as housing, food, or child care). The IRIS Program also requires that clients take part in formal psychological assessment with an on-site psychologist. Clients are required to attend six sessions with the psychologist with the first session beginning soon after intake and before involvement in vocational services. Although some clients have failed to complete these required sessions, staff believe that by engaging clients in this process as early as possible, they are better able to uncover and assist clients with their substance abuse or mental health problems.

During their interviews with clients, these integrated workers not only collect information about household composition, income, and assets, but they also explore the reasons the client is applying for or remains on public assistance, and determine the steps she should take to transition from welfare to work. For example, in Owensboro, KY, staff complete the Targeted Assessment Project Orientation Screen at the initial eligibility interview to determine if the client should be referred to the University of Kentucky TAP assessor as part of the service plan. This opportunity to identify barriers at the intake and eligibility stage is illustrated in Figure 2 where a two way arrow links the Intake and Eligibility Determination box to the Assessment/
Diagnosis box. Similarly in Kent, WA, staff complete the VIEW assessment to determine if a client should be referred to an in-house social worker for a more intensive  assessment or service referrals.

In Las Vegas, NV the orientation sessions vary across local offices. In one office visited, the orientation is a week-long session used to both provide information about the New Employees of Nevada program requirements and as an opportunity to identif y barriers to employment. The session was described as involving a significant amount of discussion of barriers, particularly domestic violence and substance abuse. It was also reported that the orientation facilitator uses the session to explore clients’ situations and to observe behaviors that may indicate the existence of a barrier to employment. Further, the interaction among orientation participants was believed to facilitate disclosure as clients bond with each other and become comfortable disclosing barriers to a group of their peers. Information gathered during the orientation in this office is passed on to the TANF case manager responsible for developing a service plan, which may include a referral to an in-house social worker for additional assessment or barrier-specific services.

23  However, in all sites if a client discloses a barrier or a worker suspects the existence of a barrier, this information would be relayed to staff who are more involved in barrier identification or alleviation.

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