Staffings provide an opportunity for staff to share information regarding a client and receive input from others regarding possible strategies for addressing the client’s needs.
As TANF agencies tackle the challenge of addressing unobserved barriers to employment—and in many cases, multiple or co-occurring barriers—some have introduced or reintroduced case staffings. Staffings are a common tool used among those in the social work field to share information and brainstorm solutions. Generally, staffings provide an opportunity for staff to share information regarding a client and receive input from others regarding possible strategies for addressing the client’s needs. Their primary purpose, as used in the study sites, is to exchange information regarding barriers, discuss a client’s situation, and determine the appropriate next step for a client. The composition of staff involved in the staffings varies from site to site, as well as by individual meeting, that are often are called in response to specific events in a client’s TANF experience.
For example, in Kent, WA, staffings are often called when a client fails to make progress toward finding a job. If the Employment Security Department (ESD) job counselor determines that, after engaging in job search for approximately nine weeks, the client is not likely to obtain employment, he or she may call a staffing. Likely participants at this staffing are the ESD job counselor, TANF case manager, a DSHS social worker, and the client. If the client is involved with other organizations, staff of those partners may also be invited. At this meeting, staff explore the reasons the client is not making the expected progress and determine appropriate next steps, which may include additional assessment for, or diagnosis of, a possible unobserved barrier. Staffings may also be called by social workers or staff of other agencies involved with the client in response to barriers faced by clients or the need to coordinate service strategies.
As noted earlier, staffings in Owensboro, KY are also called in response to an event. In Kentucky, clients who are sanctioned six out of 24 months face benefit termination. Prior to this, staff involved in the client’s case meet with the client to attempt to uncover the reasons for non-compliance and offer the client one more opportunity to avoid benefit termination. Along with the client, staff who participate in such meetings include the TANF case manager, the TAP assessor, and staff of partner agencies who work with the client. If, at this meeting, the client agrees to take the steps necessary to come into compliance, she can avoid benefit termination. Formal staffings are not the only way staff share information in Owensboro. Staff also reported frequent interaction between the TAP assessors and case managers in an effort to share information about clients’ barriers and needs.
In Las Vegas, Nevada, staffings are referred to as Individual Disciplinary Team (IDT) meetings and are convened by social workers for clients determined to be in need of this type of intensive, focused look at their specific situation and service needs. For example, an IDT might be conducted for a client who is not progressing with her assigned plan of action for reasons that were not clear. In addition to the social worker, the meeting might include the social work supervisor, staff from other agencies who have worked with the client (e.g., substance abuse counselor, mental health counselor), and the client. Generally, no more than three other partner agencies are represented at a single meeting. During the IDT meeting, staff discuss and explore the client’s specific situation and determine appropriate steps to be taken. These meetings are not convened for every client; rather, they are called at the discretion of the social worker.
In some sites, the opportunity to discuss cases and strategies also serves a cross-training purpose. As staff who have less formal training or who are less involved in barrier identification have the opportunity to review specific cases or situations with more specialized staff, they often obtain important information about characteristics or indicators of barriers. These staff also further their understanding of appropriate responses to such barriers and thus believe they are better able to identify and address barriers when they work with other clients.33
33 It is important to note that such cross-training does not only occur during formal staffings. Staff reported that the opportunity to work with specialists on an on-going basis furthered their understanding of barriers to employment. Further, in some sites, specialists conducted more formal training session for TANF agency staff regarding barriers to employment.