Screening and Assessment in TANF\Welfare-to-Work: Ten Important Questions TANF Agencies and Their Partners Should Consider. What Kinds of Training Should States and Localities Consider?


The kind of training needed to screen and assess for barriers to employment depends on the types and methods of screening and assessment and the skills of existing staff. By its nature, a screening tool is generally sufficiently brief and self-explanatory that it requires little or no training to use. To the extent that TANF case managers are responsible for administering assessment tools, they will likely require training on the instrument, how it should be administered, how it is scored, and how data are to be used (i.e., interpreting test scores, understanding diagnostic information).

We spoke to many states who developed training programs - generally referred to as "domestic violence 101" or "substance abuse 101" - to make caseworkers and other frontline staff aware of barriers to work. The "101" programs vary but often include teaching caseworkers what visible signs or "red flags" may indicate a problem. For instance, caseworkers may be asked to look for "red flags" such as lack of energy or feelings of hopelessness as signs of a mental health problem. Red flags for learning disabilities may be confusing similar letters such as "p" and "q," or the client misspelling common words, being easily distracted, or unable to pay attention. Red flags for substance abuse may include alcohol on the breath, slurred speech, or evidence of needle tracks, among others. This introductory training also provides an opportunity for staff to become aware of the characteristics associated with particular barriers, while also recognizing stereotypes or biases. Because few states had engaged in complicated assessment or testing processes, we heard little about training on the administration of specific tools. However, if states or localities choose to use a formal assessment tool, they should consider the training requirements associated with administering the tool.

Training can help staff become aware of characteristics associated with barriers, while also recognizing stereotypes or biases.

State TANF officials and subject-matter experts also discussed the need for training to help caseworkers who, once trained to screen or work with TANF recipients with barriers, realize they have a similar problem. Some states indicated that caseworkers who are exposed to "domestic violence 101," or have a client who is a victim of domestic violence, may realize that they have also experienced domestic violence. Thus, some states are designing part of their training to helping caseworkers deal with their own history with domestic violence, substance abuse, or another issue that may arise when they are working with recipients.

Finally, information obtained through screening and assessment efforts should also be used to determine appropriate services and/or treatment for recipients. Therefore, caseworkers need to be well informed about how to respond to a client disclosing a problem. Specifically, the TANF agency needs to have clearly outlined policies and procedures for referrals to services and/ or treatment, effects on benefit receipt and time limits, and confidentiality (discussed in more detail under Question Nine). This allows caseworkers to clearly relay these policies to the recipient before screening or disclosure so that TANF clients are fully informed of their rights and are clear about the incentives and disincentives associated with self-disclosure. Having such policies and procedures in place also allows staff to respond to identified barriers with service or treatment options.

The cost of training is an obvious consideration for states adopting screening and assessment approaches. In Missouri, a national training organization provided one pilot site mental health and substance abuse awareness training. However, the cost of this training required the state to consider conducting regional training to reach staff in rural areas in a more cost-effective manner. Other states have done this sort of professional training in one site and then have designed "train the trainer" programs where TANF staff from the original site travel around the state repeating the training for other local offices. Other states find that partnering with a local community-based organization or service providers offers a knowledgeable, inexpensive source of training.

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