In all sites, TANF case managers play a key role in initially determining that a client may face an unobserved barrier to employment. TANF agencies must consider the extent to which such key TANF staff will be responsible for further assessing barriers and making appropriate referrals. Such decisions need to take into consideration the skills and training of these staff members, their workloads, and the availability of specialists to provide additional identification services.
Staff overwhelmingly believed that strong interpersonal and good communication skills are most critical for staff responsible for identifying barriers to employment.
It is worth noting again that staff and managers overwhelmingly believed that strong interpersonal and good communication skills are most critical for staff responsible for identifying barriers to employment. Although formal, clinical training may assist in the identification of barriers it may not be necessary to have clinically trained staff within the welfare agency, if this skill is available through partnerships. If the primary responsibility is to determine with reasonable likelihood that a barrier to employment exists and make an appropriate referral to a specialist, formal education or training may not be required and informal identification strategies may be adequate. Staff with strong interpersonal skills that allow clients to feel comfortable disclosing barriers, or who have received enough training to be aware of the general characteristics of barriers, may be wholly capable of obtaining enough information to make an initial referral to more specialized staff or partners. Specialists and staff of partner agencies in the study sites reported that, in general, referrals they received from TANF case managers were appropriate.
TANF agency staff in the study sites consistently commented that they were pleased to have the support of individual specialists in their offices, as well as more specialized staff from partner agencies. Although clarifying respective roles and responsibilities, establishing effective referral protocols, and making appropriate referrals may take time, each of the study sites had addressed these challenges and were utilizing specialists to further the barrier identification process.
Finally, because TANF clients—particularly those with multiple barriers to employment—are likely to become involved with a number of different staff persons, efforts must be made to keep the lines of communication open. Communication and clarification of respective roles and responsibilities among staff and with clients can minimize potential confusion for clients. Communication within the bounds of confidentiality guidelines can also result greater levels of barrier identification, better services to clients, further education of staff regarding barriers, and knowledge of services available to address barriers.