Screening and Assessment in TANF\Welfare-to-Work: Local Answers to Difficult Questions. Skills and Experiences of Partners


In all sites, partnerships offer TANF clients access to staff with skills and expertise related to identifying unobserved barriers and, in some cases, barrier specific services. Thus, partners’ skills and services complement and supplement services provided by the TANF agency. Common partners include other government agencies and community-based organizations, often specializing in one or two specific unobserved barriers.

Mental health organizations that have experience working with severely and persistently mentally ill (SPMI) adults noted that they have a long history of working with persons with the types of barriers characterized by TANF agencies as “hard-to-serve.”

Community mental health centers are common partners because they have experience diagnosing and addressing the wide range of mental health problems some TANF clients may have. Mental health organizations that have experience working with severely and persistently mentally ill (SPMI) adults noted that they have a long history of working with persons with the types of barriers characterized by TANF agencies as “hard-to-serve.” For example, staff at Four County Mental Health in Montgomery County, KS believe working with TANF clients with unobserved barriers was a natural extension of their services to SPMI adults. By drawing on their experience with these clients and applying lessons learned, they were able to develop services to address the challenges faced by TANF clients. Similarly, staff of the IRIS Program in Minneapolis, MN believe they are able to apply their experience working with SPMI clients through sheltered workshops and other strategies to effectively serve TANF clients with mental or chemical health problems that inhibit fulfilling their Minnesota Family Investment Program employment plans.

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) programs offer another source of expertise to TANF agencies. In four of the six study sites, the VR program was a primary source for obtaining the diagnosis of and services for learning disabled TANF clients.38 VR programs share a common overarching goal with TANF of helping clients with disabilities return to work and become self-sufficient. VR programs focus on moving clients with disabilities to work by providing appropriate training and accommodations. Although their primary expertise generally rests in serving clients with physical disabilities, many VR agencies also have experience dealing with mental health problems and learning disabilities.

Relationships with VR agencies varied across the study sites, in part due to sites’ varied focuses on learning disabilities as an unobserved barrier to employment. VR partnerships were also affected by funding availability. For example the VR agency in Kent, WA was in “order of selection.” This means that they only had funding available to serve the most severely disabled clients which often did not extend to TANF clients with unobserved barriers to employment. However, staff in Kent, WA rely on an alternative partnership, with the Seattle-King County Workforce Development Council, to provide additional assessment and arrange for the diagnosis of learning disabilities. Similarly, Montgomery County, KS used a partnership with the local VR agency to assist with some barriers but also established a relationship with Pittsburg State University to obtain learning disability diagnoses. Finally, the Targeted Assessment Project in Kentucky has served as a catalyst for developing a stronger relationship between the TANF agency and the VR program.

Substance abuse treatment organizations are another key partner in all of the study sites. Although in some sites, other partners participate in determining the level of treatment a client may require, treatment agencies ultimately provide necessary services. For example, in Montgomery County, KS, the Regional Alcohol and Drug Assessment Center (RADAC) serves as a gatekeeper to substance abuse treatment. RADAC assessors use formal assessment tools and their training as certified addictions counselors to determine the level of treatment a client requires (e.g., group meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous, outpatient therapy, inpatient or residential treatment). Based on this assessment, clients are referred to a treatment facility that can meet their needs. Staff from the Department of Community and Human Services/Mental Health, Chemical Abuse, and Dependency Services Division fill a similar role in Kent, WA.

All six study sites have also created partnerships with domestic violence counseling organizations and/or shelters. In Arlington, VA and Minneapolis, MN domestic violence victims may also be assisted by a domestic violence liaison housed within the welfare agency. These liaisons assist clients in obtaining services from a shelter or counseling agency.

38  In Kent, WA, clients thought to face a learning disability are referred to the Seattle-King County Workforce Development Council Learning Disabilities Project (SKCWDC/LD). The SKCWDC/LD is one of the nation’s leaders is developing strategies to address learning disabilities among TANF clients.

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