The study sites rely on specialized staff to assist in the identification of unobserved barriers to employment to varying degrees. Although TANF case managers bear the primary responsibility for initially detecting the possibility of an unobserved barrier, more specialized workers are responsible for additional assessment or diagnosis. In all sites, staff of partner agencies who have more formal training relating to an unobserved barrier, or experience working with individuals with a particular barrier, are involved in the barrier identification and/or diagnosis process. Many of these staff also work with clients to determine appropriate strategies for addressing barriers and may provide individual treatment or accommodations.
Clients who participated in the focus groups indicated that they were more comfortable disclosing to specialized workers (both specialized workers within the TANF office and staff of partner agencies), where they had such interactions. In three of the six study sites, a specialized staff person is located within the TANF agency specifically to assist with barrier identification and the development of service strategies. In two sites (Las Vegas, NV and Kent, WA) the specialists carry the title social worker and are employed by the TANF system, and in the third (Owensboro, KY), the specialist is the TAP assessor employed by the University of Kentucky. Below we describe how these three sites utilize specialists to aid in the barrier identification process.
In addition to the specialized workers mentioned above, all sites rely on experts from partner agencies to further the identification process or diagnose conditions and provide services to clients with unobserved barriers to employment. For example, staff in all sites refer clients to community mental health centers, local substance abuse treatment agencies, domestic violence shelters, and/or Vocational Rehabilitation programs that employ staff who have the skills and tools to determine with certainty that a barrier exists. Specialized staff in these organizations have the formal training required to work with these clients and administer barrier-specific tools. Specialists at community mental health centers commonly hold Master’s or Ph.D. degrees, while staff of substance abuse treatment organizations are commonly Certified Addictions Counselors or have other specialized training. Domestic violence service providers who are partners in the study sites employ an interdisciplinary staff, some of whom are advocates, counselors, or have other specialized training.
Vocational counselors involved in Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) programs typically must possess a degree in vocational counseling. VR programs also work with other vocational evaluators and diagnosticians, depending on the client’s specific disability.
The VR pilot program co-located with one of the employment service providers in Minneapolis, MN initially sought to employ staff who had experience with both vocational counseling and social service provision. This joint requirement was considered important because TANF clients were believed to require a different level of need for support than other VR clients. Thus staff would have to address not just the vocational evaluation and counseling needs of the client, but those needs that affect their ability to participate in or complete VR services. This joint requirement was difficult to fulfill and managers resorted to hiring staff with some social service experience and who would commit to completing their vocational counseling course of study after employed.