In response to the concern that clients remaining on welfare have a wide range of serious barriers that inhibit employment and welfare exit, the Nevada Welfare Division proposed reintroducing social worker positions into the agency staffing structure.29 The state legislature supported the request providing funding for more social worker positions than were requested. At the time of our visit in late 2000, there were five or six
social workers in each of the two offices we visited in Las Vegas. Social workers are required to have a Bachelor’s degree in social work and hold a state license (which requires social workers to complete continuing professional education requirements). They work with small caseloads of approximately 25-30 cases referred to them either by TANF eligibility workers or case managers. Unlike case managers in Las Vegas, social workers are not bound by the federally-defined countable work activities. This provides them greater flexibility to design service plans tailored to address the unobserved barriers of their clients. Social workers have frequent interactions with their clients, including in-person and telephone contact, as well as quarterly (or more frequent) home visits.
Social workers rely on their formal training as well as strong interpersonal skills to conduct a psycho-social evaluation, exploring topics such as household composition, educational background and work history, medical history, childhood background, issues with children, support systems, as well as domestic violence, mental health and substance abuse problems, and relationship issues. These social workers may utilize other tools, such as the SASSI, the Learning Needs Screening tool, a domestic violence screen, or the South Oaks Gambling Screen. Based on this assessment, they refer clients to partners to address the barriers uncovered or provide one-on-one counseling. If, through working with the social worker and partner agencies, the client’s barriers are alleviated or mitigated, she would return to working with the case manager to pursue employment and self-sufficiency.
29 Social workers existed within the welfare system in the 1970s, but later focused primarily on child welfare cases not families receiving cash assistance.