Before moving to the questions of how, when, and by whom TANF clients can be screened or assessed, there are important questions that must be asked that set screening/assessment in its appropriate context. This context is particularly important for TANF agencies just beginning to consider the challenges associated with identifying unobserved barriers to employment, and for partner agencies who may not be familiar with the details of TANF policy. There are a wide range of barriers faced by TANF clients that generally fall under the heading of hard-to-serve. Examining issues related to identifying barriers to employment is complicated by the lack of common terminology. TANF agencies and their partners should take care to ensure they are using terms in the same way to lessen this complication, and in this spirit, Question One notes how terms are used for the purpose of this paper.
Many TANF agencies are already tackling the challenges associated with identifying barriers to employment and need no convincing of the importance of this issue. However, some staff or partner agencies may be less familiar with the objectives of TANF or prevalence of barriers such as substance abuse and mental health problems, domestic violence situations, and learning disabilities. Question Two provides an overview of incentives to screen or assess clients within TANF as well as a review of prevalence estimates for these barriers. Question Three builds on this discussion, outlining key aspects of TANF policy that provide TANF agencies flexibility in how they meet the needs of TANF clients, while also pointing out the requirements that TANF agencies and their partners must consider when developing screening, assessment, and service approaches.