Screening and Assessment in TANF\Welfare-to-Work: Local Answers to Difficult Questions. Non-Validated Tools Used by TANF Agencies


The limited use of validated tools does not indicate a general lack of use of tools or instruments to collect information and explore barriers.

The limited use of validated tools among TANF agencies does not indicate a general lack of use of tools or instruments to collect information and explore barriers. On average, TANF clients in the study sites typically encounter four or more non-validated tools that include questions regarding unobserved barriers to employment. Some of the sites use state or locally-developed tools that identify multiple barriers to employment while others rely on separate, barrier-specific tools.

The non-validated tools used in the study sites vary widely across many dimensions. For example, they vary in the number of questions asked and the type of questions (i.e., open or closed-ended). TANF case managers in Las Vegas, NV use the Post-Approval Assessment to identify a wide range of barriers early in a client’s interaction with the welfare system. This state-developed tool is a topical interview guide that requires the interviewer to formulate specific questions rather than presenting a series of structured questions to be read to clients. The topics covered include the client’s physical condition, mental condition, family relationships, housing/living relationships, and social issues. TANF case managers in Montgomery County, KS use a similar guide to assess clients. Kansas’ Assessment Guide is a multi-barrier tool that includes a mix of “yes” and “no” and open-ended questions. The instructions for this instrument explicitly state that the text is designed to serve as a guide and that questions may be added or changed depending on an individual’s circumstances. Questions inquire about a variety of topics such as education, work history, health information, domestic information, and support services. Within each topicthere are questions that inquire specifically about unobserved barriers. Additionally, this tool includes a section for workers to note observations of the client’s attitude and behavior.

Not all of the non-validated tools used in the study sites address as many barriers to employment as those described above. Many of the study sites’ “assessment” forms are centered around collecting employment and financial information and have integrated only a few “yes” or “no” barrier identification questions. For example, one tool includes the question “Have you experienced alcohol/substance abuse?” after asking “Have you experienced any difficulties finding or keeping a job?”


How Tools are Used — Two Examples

Validated Tools at Orientation

In Montgomery County, KS several validated tools are used during client orientation to identify barriers including substance abuse and learning disabilities (see additional discussion of client orientations in Chapter Four). Decisions about additional referrals are based on the results of the tools implemented during orientation. These decisions are guided by a state-developed protocol that outlines when referrals should be made and to which partners. During orientation, clients complete the SASSI as well as the CAGE questions (which are incorporated into an interest inventory). Additionally, clients complete the Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System (CASAS) appraisal, a fifty-question test that examines basic reading and math skills related to the work environment. Finally, staff also administer the Adult Learning Disability Screen to identify possible learning disabilities.

After orientation, clients meet with their TANF case manager and review the results from their screening and assessment tools. During this time, clients also complete the state-developed Assessment Guide. As mentioned earlier, this comprehensive assessment inquires about various barriers to employment. Staff use the results of the tools administered during orientation, responses to the Assessment Guide, and additional information from the interview with the case manager, to determine appropriate next steps for the client. Next steps are guided by an assessment referral protocol that instructs staff on appropriate referrals in response to results of various screening instruments.

Automated Screening

Kent, Washington is another example of a study site’s specific effort to use tools to  identify unobserved barriers to employment. In each of the local welfare offices in Washington, including Kent, case managers use a state-developed, automated screening tool called the Virtual Interactive Employability Worksheet (VIEW).20 The VIEW is a multi-barrier tool that uses a progressive series of questions on a number of different issues including: domestic violence, current employment, child care,  transportation, housing, listening and learning, substance abuse, criminal history, pregnancy, family planing, health, and clothing needs. Under each heading there are a number of questions that probe the issue in greater detail. For example, under the broad heading of domestic violence a “family violence screening script” is provided for case managers. This script gives several examples of opening lines to use when talking about a sensitive topic such as domestic violence. These “ice-breakers” set the stage for the case manager to ask a series of seven questions which inquire about family violence.

If a client answers “yes” to any of the questions, the computer screen indicates that a client should be referred to a social worker or family violence counselor. From the results of the VIEW, case managers then decide whether to refer the client to job search, bundle services like treatment and counseling with work activities, or defer the client from job search and refer the client to a social worker for additional assessment and services.

20  In mid-April 2000, the automated VIEW replaced the paper forms that were used as the initial screen for barriers to job search.

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