Screening and Assessment in TANF\Welfare-to-Work: Local Answers to Difficult Questions. Validated Tools Used by TANF Agencies


Generally, TANF agencies in the study sites use few validated tools to identify unobserved barriers to employment. This is due in part to the general lack of availability of validated tools designed for use with the TANF population.19 While none of the TANF agencies in the study sites relied on validated domestic violence or mental health screening tools, we found that several of the study sites did use validated tools to help identify substance abuse and learning disabilities.

Across the sites the most commonly used substance abuse tools were the CAGE and the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI). It is important to note that, although commonly used in a variety of settings, neither of these tools were designed specifically for use with TANF clients. Each of these tools is described further below.


A short, self-administered tool used in three sites—Montgomery County,KS, Owensboro, KY, and Minneapolis, MN.

Consists of four “yes” or “no” questions.

Comes at no cost and requires no specialized training for staff to administer or score.

CAGE questions can be incorporated into tools or forms that are collecting other information or attempting to uncover additional barriers.

Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory(SASSI):

A longer tool used in Montgomery County, KS and is an option for usein Las Vegas, NV.

Consists of seventy-eight questions.

Must be purchased and requires some training to administer and score.

Two learning disability screening tools have been developed and validated for use with TANF clients. The Adult Learning Disability Screen (ALDS) was developed at the University of Kansas, and the Learning Needs Screening tool, was developed by the State of Washington. These tools are used in a total of four of the six sites and are described further below.

Learning Needs Screening:

Used in Arlington, VA, Las Vegas, NV, and is an option in Kent, WA.

A short, 13 question tool.

Comes at no cost and requires little if any training to administer.

Adult Learning Disability Screen (ALDS):

Used in only one study site—Montgomery County, KS.

A three part tool—Part 1 of the ALDS is a self-rating scale that has twenty five questions about social, spelling, reading, and organizational skills. Part 2 is a self-administered inventory that has questions on learning problems, fraction skills and mathematical operations, educational experience, and mental health. Part 3 is an interview where there are questions on topics such as family history, learning problems, and comprehensive skills.

Must be purchased and requires some training to administer and score.

19  It is important to note that measures determined valid or reliable for other populations may not generate the same results when used with TANF clients.


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