Screening and Assessment in TANF\Welfare-to-Work: Ten Important Questions TANF Agencies and Their Partners Should Consider. What are the implications of different program philosophies or requirements?

03/01/2001

Regardless of the type of agency, all partnerships must contend with inherent challenges. These include fostering effective communication across agencies and between staff, ensuring that program objectives and requirements are understood, and addressing differences in organizational cultures or program philosophies that affect service delivery. These differences may require TANF agencies to use some of the flexibility granted by PRWORA and may require partner agencies to adjust their approaches when serving TANF clients.

The use of different language and terminology create challenges to effective collaborative efforts.

The challenges associated with speaking the same language pervade collaborative efforts. As noted at the outset of this report, even seemingly simple terms like "barriers" and "screening" may be subject to differing interpretations. Misunderstandings or miscommunication about program requirements can also impede effective collaborations. Cross-training, discussed in Question Eight, can assist in educating staff about program requirements and philosophies and can also serve to open the lines of communication across agencies or organizations.

New Jersey offers an example of the challenges of inter-governmental collaboration. In New Jersey, the Divisions of Family Development (DFD) and Mental Health Services (DMHS) are collaborating to implement a pilot to screen TANF recipients for mental health problems. In discussing this effort, officials in New Jersey noted that the challenges arising from the fact that the two Divisions have different objectives - specifically that DFD is focused on resolving issues so that clients can obtain employment, whereas DMHS seeks longer term solutions to mental health problems. A long-term approach is not well-suited for clients facing time-limited benefits and strict work requirements, an issue that DMHS recognizes and is addressing.

Another example of agencies and programs with differing goals and not bound by similar programmatic requirements is offered by looking at TANF and VR. Although VR programs share the common goal with TANF of helping clients obtain (or return to) work, VR is a voluntary program that is not bound by limits on the duration of service or "allowable" activities. Further, eligibility for VR programs is not based on income and the program has neither the resources nor the mandate to serve everyone that is eligible for services. Working intensively with TANF recipients may require adjustments on the part of VR staff and program. The VR assessment process is much more lengthy and thorough than typically found in TANF welfare-to-work programs and there is no time limit on services. Moreover, a VR client's service package (i.e., types of services, duration, and intensity) is not shaped or constrained by considerations that are central to TANF programs such as time limits, work requirements, and sanctions for failure to meet program demands. For example, the VR program in Rhode Island is trying to accommodate TANF policies by developing service plans for TANF recipients that are considerably shorter than the typical four years for traditional VR clients.

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