There are a number of points in a client's TANF experience when screening and assessment can occur. However, most TANF agency officials we spoke to noted that despite these discrete events, barrier identification is an on-going process. In addition to specific points in time when attempts are made to uncover barriers, the employment objectives of TANF encourage TANF agencies to continue focusing on barriers to employment until each barrier is identified and addressed (or the individual leaves welfare).
Early identification of barriers allows more time to be spent addressing such barriers.
Time limits and work participation requirements provide incentives for screening to be conducted as early in a client's experience as possible. By identifying barriers early, agencies can spend more time and resources focusing on assisting a client address or overcome her barrier as she attempts to transition to work. Earlier identification can also save valuable resources otherwise expended if a client is referred to activities she cannot successfully complete because of an unobserved barrier. Substance abuse experts note that identifying this barrier early in a client's TANF experience may allow the agency to address the problem in its early stage, possibly before it develops into an addiction. TANF agencies must weigh these advantages against the cost of referrals of individuals who are ultimately determined to not have a barrier (referred to as "false positives").
Of course, efforts to identify a barrier early in a client's TANF experience do not guarantee that the client will successfully address the barrier or obtain and maintain employment. Many unobserved barriers cannot be easily overcome and require on-going efforts to accommodate the challenge. Additionally, clients must be willing and able to participate in services designed to address their barriers and follow through on prescribed courses of action. Finally, transitions to work are challenging for any welfare client and particularly so for a client facing one or more of the unobserved barriers to employment discussed here. Therefore, program administrators and staff may need to prepare strategies that allow time for small steps toward progress as well as set-backs.
"Work First" approaches rely on the labor market as the first screen of a client's job readiness.
It should be noted that "Work First" program approaches adopted by many states may not be consistent with early identification of barriers. Such approaches rely on the labor market to be the first screen of whether or not a client is job-ready instead of incorporating formal screening or assessment early-on. In these situations, clients are likely to be required to participate in work or job search activities, and assessment may be conducted if they fail to find or keep a job.
Below we describe common steps in a generic, TANF client flow process (see Figure One) and note how screening or assessment might be conducted at these points. These steps include intake/eligibility determination, employability planning, and referrals to assessment and services (including non-compliance with program requirements). However, Figure One does not represent all of the possible steps in a TANF clients' experience, nor does it illustrate all of the possible combinations of these generic steps. States and localities use these steps in different sequences, depending on local policies and program approaches. Further, many localities individualize services such that no two clients follow exactly the same path. This discussion is intended to illustrate how screening may occur at these points, with examples of how some states or localities we talked to implement their screening and assessment approaches across these steps.
Figure 1: Possible Screening or Assessment Points in the General TANF Client Flow