Screening and Assessment in TANF\Welfare-to-Work: Ten Important Questions TANF Agencies and Their Partners Should Consider. Question Two: Why should TANF agencies consider screening or assessment?

03/01/2001

While a few states have been screening and assessing clients for health conditions, disabilities, and barriers to work for several years, there are a number of reasons why there is a growing interest in identifying and addressing unobserved barriers to employment. The overarching motivation for uncovering barriers is to fulfill the employment objectives of TANF - if a TANF agency is to fulfill these objectives it likely must identify issues that prohibit clients from making a successful transition from welfare to work. Once barriers to employment are identified, TANF agencies and their partners can develop programs and services to assist clients in their quests to successfully obtain employment, retain jobs, and eventually transition off welfare.

Prevalance estimates indicate high rates of unobserved barriers among TANF clients.

As welfare caseloads have declined, many of the remaining TANF clients are considered hard-to-serve and may require more help to obtain employment. Prevalence estimates presented in this section indicate high rates of unobserved barriers among TANF clients. Additionally, as TANF agencies have successfully moved clients from welfare to work, they are gaining new insights regarding the barriers that inhibit job retention and thus are motivated to address barriers in an effort to promote long-term self-sufficiency and reduce recidivism among clients.

With TANF's emphasis on moving clients from welfare to work and self-sufficiency, TANF agencies have more incentive than in the past to identify and address unobserved barriers to employment. No longer are TANF agencies liberally exempting clients facing obstacles to participation and employment from participation requirements. States we spoke with were acutely aware that participation incentives are reinforced by  legislative or policy requirements such as federal work participation requirements, time limits, state TANF policies, and the Family Violence Option. Additionally, civil rights legislation, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, requires that TANF programs make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities, including three of the four unobserved barriers to employment addressed in this report.

Before moving to additional discussion of legislative and policy incentives related to identification of barriers, it is important to note that such efforts should be undertaken with care. Although the incentives to identify barriers to employment are clear, and in many cases early identification allows more time for services to assist clients, welfare agencies and their partners must be cognizant of the potential harm that may result from attempts to identify or mitigate barriers. This is particularly important in the case of domestic violence situations. Although a client may be exempt from certain program requirements if she is a victim of domestic violence, disclosing this fact and taking steps to address this issue must be done in a manner that does not further jeopardize her safety.

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