Screening and Assessment in TANF\Welfare-to-Work: Local Answers to Difficult Questions. Sanctions, Home Visits, and Approaching Time Limits


Figure 2 illustrates three additional opportunities to identify barriers—sanctions, home visits, and approaching time limits—that apply to some clients depending on their individual situations. One such opportunity is the imposition of financial penalties, called sanctions, for failure to comply with TANF program requirements. In the majority of sites, non-compliance is one of many behaviors that may indicate to workers that the client has a barrier to employment. Often, this prompts workers to contact the client to further explore, often through an interview, why the client is non-compliant and if there are additional or different services required.

In Kent, WA, case managers have the option to refer sanctioned clients to Intensive In-Home Services, provided locally under contract by Rainier Case Management. Rainier conducts home visits with sanctioned clients in an effort to determine the cause of non-compliance and establish a plan for reconnecting clients with services. Staff of Rainier Case Management conduct intensive interviews with sanctioned clients to determine if the cause of noncompliance may be an unobserved barrier and encourage clients to comply with TANF program requirements (see additional discussion of Rainier CaseManagement’s services in Chapter Six).

Home visits also provide an opportunity to identify unobserved barriers. Visiting a client in her home offers staff the opportunity to identify the possibility that a client faces an unobserved barrier to employment. By observing the home environment staff noted that they can gain a richer picture of the client’s situation than is apparent through interviews in an office. Home visits reportedly offer insights into the existence of barriers such as substance abuse or domestic violence situation (i.e., by noting empty alcohol bottles or drug paraphernalia or observing a room in disarray due to violence). Staff in a number of sites who conduct home visits reported home visits as a helpful opportunity to explore barriers.24  Staff reported that visiting clients in their home or a neutral site, or spending time with clients going to appointments, provides the opportunity to continue building a trusting relationship that may lead to the disclosure of a barrier.

Finally, time limits are a primary motivating factor behind developing barrier identification strategies. Some sites use approaching time limits as an opportunity to reexamine the possible existence of barriers. For example, at the time of our visit, staff in Montgomery County, KS were beginning a preliminary review of the caseload in preparation for the imposition of federal time limits and the need to determine who will be granted a hardship exemption. Staff were reviewing long-term recipient cases to determine what services had been provided and if additional assessment could uncover barriers that could be addressed before clients faced benefit termination.

Similarly, the TANF agency in Minneapolis, MN was in the process of implementing new services for long-term TANF recipients. These services, called Tier II services, are to be targeted to long-term TANF clients who have been unsuccessful in finding a job through the existing employment service providers. Although exact service approaches to be implemented through Tier II providers had not been determined, one anticipated component is additional, in-depth barrier assessment.

24  Home visits are conducted by social workers in Las Vegas, NV, Extra Effort case managers in Montgomery County, KS, IRIS social workers in Minneapolis, MN, and TAP assessors in Owensboro, KY.

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