Intake/Eligibility Determination. Generally, a client's first interaction with the TANF program occurs at the point of application and eligibility determination. In some states, there are pre-eligibility requirements - often related to job search or diverting clients from public assistance to other services. These pre-eligibility activities might result in the identification of barriers to successful job search or might also include screening for specific, unobserved barriers. It is also possible that applicants, or new TANF recipients, are required to attend an orientation.
Orientations typically include an overview of program requirements and may offer clients an opportunity to disclose barriers to participation. Orientations might also include the collection of additional information about the individual and her family, but it may or may not include an assessment of barriers to employment. It is sometimes at this step that information is collected to determine if the client should be exempt from work participation requirements. Because the focus of this step in the process is eligibility determination, any information gathered at this point is generally provided as input into the employability planning process.
TANF Employability Planning. The next phase of a non-exempt client's TANF experience is usually focused on employability and service planning. Generally, at this point the client is assigned a case manager who retains ongoing responsibility for service planning and monitoring the client's progress toward meeting the goals outlined in a service plan (sometimes called an employability development plan, self-sufficiency plan, or individual responsibility plan). 75 It is during the employability planning process that the bulk of information about the individual - including education and work history, family supports, and barriers to employment - is collected. If a state or locality is using a screening or assessment tool in an effort to collect information and uncover barriers to employment, it is likely completed at this step in the process.
During the employability planning process, the TANF case manager is developing a relationship with the client. The client and case manager generally have on-going discussions about establishing and meeting, as well as barriers to achieving, work and self-sufficiency goals. Throughout this process, the case manager continues to observe behavior, noting clues to unobserved or previously unidentified barriers. It is also throughout this process that clients have opportunities to self-disclose barriers. If behavior or disclosure indicates a potential barrier, it is at this point that the case manager might use a specialized tool designed to assess a particular unobserved barrier. A screening tool used with all clients is likely to be administered during the employability planning process, as well. It is also at this point that the case manager may rely on specialists to provide further insights into barriers to employment.
Case managers use information during the employability planning process to develop service plans.
Using the information collected through the employability planning process, case managers work with clients to develop service plans that guide future steps. Referrals to additional assessment services or work and self-sufficiency services are outlined in these plans.
Service Referral. Employability plans commonly outline referrals to other services clients are supposed to pursue. In some situations, the plan might indicate that the client is to obtain further assessment or diagnosis of a potential barrier to employment. For example, if screening conducted during the employability planning process indicates the possibility of a substance abuse problem, the client may be referred for more in-depth assessment or diagnosis. If barriers to employment such as substance abuse and mental health problems, domestic violence situations, and learning disabilities are not identified (or not considered to be a barrier to employment), the client is likely to be referred to work-related services such as a job search workshop or a subsidized work activity.
Although the primary purpose of work-related services is not to conduct further assessment, these services might include a formal assessment for barriers to employment. Participation in these work-related services might also serve as a screening mechanism to uncover unobserved barriers. As program staff monitor participation and assess clients' abilities to fulfill program requirements or obtain employment, they may find that the client faces a previously unobserved barrier. Where the client is unable to successfully complete the assigned activity or is non-compliant due to the existence of an unobserved barrier, program staff are likely to refer the client back to the TANF case manager for additional assessment or for referral to another organization that can provide further assessment. This feedback continues the on-going assessment process, guided by the TANF case manager.
Non-Compliance with Service Referral/Program Requirements. As illustrated with the generic client flow described above, there are numerous steps that clients follow as they progress through the TANF system. If at any point they fail to complete a required step (i.e., attend a mandatory orientation, keep an appointment for an assessment), or participate in a required activity (i.e., job search or work readiness workshop) the client may face a sanction. Although sanction policies vary across states, generally, this financial penalty is intended to motivate a client to change her behavior and comply with program requirements. Non-compliance may also serve as a clue or red flag that an unobserved barrier is prohibiting compliance. When considered in this way, non-compliance offers another opportunity at which TANF and partner agency staff can screen or assess for a potential barrier to employment.
75 Some states have moved to an integrated worker model in which eligibility determination and employability planning functions are performed by the same staff person. In these states, eligibility and orientation functions described above might be integrated with the employability planning process.