Screening and Assessment in TANF\Welfare-to-Work: Ten Important Questions TANF Agencies and Their Partners Should Consider. How do States and Localities Conduct Screening and Assessment at These Different Points in the TANF Client Flow?


States and localities combine these general steps differently, often tailored to the needs of each client. Below we provide a few examples to illustrate how some of the states and localities we reviewed incorporate screening and assessment into the general client flow. However, each state or locality must consider its own client flow, and how to effectively incorporate screening or assessment efforts within the particular combination of steps that comprise their TANF client flow.

Washington has combined eligibility and employment planning functions with a single staff person, a WorkFirst case manager. During the process of working with the case manager, clients are screened for a range of barriers to employment using the Virtual Interactive Evaluation Worksheet (VIEW). If, through self-disclosure or completion of the VIEW, the client indicates she has a disability, barrier to employment, or is considered "hard-to-serve" by the case manager, a social worker may be assigned to the case.76 The social worker will conduct further assessment using the Intensive Services Assessment and recommend referrals to appropriate services. If the case manager does not identify barriers to employment that cannot be overcome by job seeking assistance, the client is referred to a job search workshop. If a barrier is uncovered during the job search workshop, the client may be referred back to the case manager for additional assessment or with the suggestion that the client be referred to specialized services to address her barrier (i.e., mental health counseling or substance abuse treatment). If a client fails to participate in prescribed activities and is sanctioned, a social worker is assigned to the case to conduct further assessment of the barriers to participation.

Washington and Utah use specialized staff within the TANF agency to assist with barrier identification.

In Utah, Employment Counselors administer the Assessment Interview Guide (AIG) during the employment planning process. The AIG is an 8-page tool that explores a range of issues including an employment goal, work history, education and training, family situation, domestic violence, emotional or psychological issues, drug or alcohol use, legal issues, physical health, and resources. Similar to Washington, Utah has another classification of specialized staff in the TANF agency to assist with barrier identification. If, based on the AIG, the employment counselor determines the client can benefit from further assessment, the client may be referred to a social worker.

Social workers in Utah, who have Masters of Social Work degrees, rely on their clinical interviewing skills to elicit self-disclosure of barriers. Social workers may also use other assessment tools such as the SASSI or rely on their understanding of diagnostic criteria from the ASAM or DSM-IV. Officials in Utah noted that using credentialed social workers for this additional assessment provided several advantages. First, social workers have more training on assessment than employment counselors and can better determine barriers to employment. Second, social workers "speak the same language" as many of the organizations or treatment facilities to which clients are subsequently referred so they can effectively communicate with partners about services for TANF clients. Finally, the social workers help to facilitate a continuum of services bridging the gap between employment counselors and service providers.

Other states use experts from outside of the TANF agency to assist with assessment and service planning.

Kentucky and Tennessee also have specialized staff who assist TANF staff in identifying barriers and facilitating referrals. In these states efforts are underway to hire experts from outside the TANF agency to assist with assessment and service planning. Kentucky has established pilot sites in eight designated counties under its Targeted Assessment Project that are provided with Assessors who are experienced masters-level clinicians. The assessors are employees of the University of Kentucky, Institute on Women and Substance Abuse which has a contract with the State of Kentucky for this pilot effort. Assessors serve as advisors on screening and assessment processes, assess clients referred by TANF staff, and help establish community linkages to facilitate services to TANF clients with barriers such as mental health and substance abuse problems, among others.

Tennessee has established a Family Counseling Program through which 11 contractors provide specialty workers - Family Service Counselors (FSCs) - to TANF offices. This program was developed because of a recognition that the existing mix of services might not meet the needs of recipients remaining on Families First, the Tennessee TANF program. That is, Tennessee decided it needed to provide additional counseling and assessment services to address the needs of less job-ready TANF recipients. The FSCs are intended to alleviate the burden of screening and assessment from TANF caseworkers who are not trained on how to conduct in-depth assessments. Although TANF caseworkers will continue to observe behavioral clues and ask questions that elicit self-disclosure, they may refer clients on to FSCs if additional assessment seems warranted. A client will also be referred to an FSC if she is unable to complete work activities, cannot retain employment once placed, or is determined to need further assessment by a service provider (such as an adult basic education instructor). FSCs will conduct further assessment for substance abuse, domestic violence, mental health problems, learning disabilities, child health or behavior problems, and/or other family relationship problems.

Other states rely on contract agencies as a referral resource for clients who need additional assessment. For example, in Arkansas, after financial eligibility is determined by an eligibility worker, clients are screened by TANF caseworkers for barriers to employment using the Transitional Employment Assistance Skills, Employability & Intake Assessment Background Information form. Staff also use a "desk guide" to assist in the identification of behaviors or characteristics associated with substance abuse. If during this screening process a substance abuse or mental health problem is identified, the client is referred to the Department of Health or other local providers for additional assessment or services. Caseworkers also use the Learning Needs Assessment developed in Washington State to screen for learning disabilities. If the learning disability screen is positive, the client would be referred to Rehabilitation Services (the Vocational Rehabilitation program).

In Denver, Colorado, caseworkers screen clients using a multi-barrier tool as part of the Family Counseling Program within the county TANF agency. If a client is thought to have a disability or an unobserved barrier to work based on the screening, the client is referred to one of 13 different community-based organizations with contractual relationships with the Denver County TANF agency. Services available to referred clients include: mental health counseling services for individuals and families, substance abuse treatment, and legal advocacy, shelter, and non-residential services for victims of domestic violence.

76  "Social worker" is the term that is used; however, individuals are not required to be licensed social workers or hold Master's of Social Work degrees.

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