Screening and Assessment in TANF\Welfare-to-Work: Ten Important Questions TANF Agencies and Their Partners Should Consider. How should the questions be worded and in what context should they be asked?


States and localities can get many ideas for questions and wording from existing tools. We heard varying opinions about whether clients should be asked directly about a problem or asked about how a problem impacts the ability to function. For instance, a question could be worded: Do you have a drinking problem? or Have you ever been late for a job because of drinking? Some experts we interviewed said, if asked about an activity directly, many people will be less likely to be truthful because they are used to being asked the question in this form. However, it was also noted by one expert that asking questions directly is more likely to elicit a truthful response in situations where the respondent believes there is nothing wrong or atypical about her behavior.

In general, experts we spoke to favored asking questions in the context of moving TANF clients to work rather than gathering unnecessary details about a disability or barrier to work. In particular, domestic violence experts suggest that domestic violence questions should be asked only as they pertain to the ability to obtain employment, child support, transitional housing, or education.70 They suggest avoiding asking about specific aspects of the violence such as punching, slapping, or kicking. As stated earlier, asking only about barriers as they limit or prevent work is consistent with the language of the ADA which stipulates that "a public entity may not make unnecessary inquires into the existence of a disability."71

Welfare clients should also be encouraged to self-disclose a problem at any point during the process of receiving welfare. Providing a private space, although difficult in many offices, may make a client more likely to reveal a problem more easily. Experts also emphasized the importance of trust and developing rapport with a client. While this may not always be possible when caseworkers have high caseloads, repeating a screening tool later on in the process may make clients more likely to reveal a problem.

70  Raphael and Haennicke 1999. 

71  U.S. DOJ undated.

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