Screening and Assessment in TANF\Welfare-to-Work: Ten Important Questions TANF Agencies and Their Partners Should Consider. What Screening Tools are Used to Identify Disabilities OR Unobserved Barriers to Work?


Although screening and assessment are on-going and dynamic processes (as discussed further in Question Six), our efforts to identify tools focused on those that are currently being used, or that can be used, by TANF agency staff. Additionally, it bears repeating that this review of tools is not intended to be an exhaustive review of screening, assessment, or identification tools used in all states.56 It is also not intended to suggest the use of particular tools. Instead the objective was to identify examples of tools used in TANF agencies and to expand thinking by states and localities that have not established or are considering changes to their screening or assessment approaches. Overall, there are few studies and even fewer evaluations of these tools' effectiveness, particularly when used in welfare to work programs.57

Appendix A provides profiles of the screening and assessment tools we identified. The actual instruments are not included because many tools are copyrighted or, in some cases, our state contacts were not comfortable with the distribution of their state-developed tool.58 For each instrument identified, the profile notes the following key features:

barriers identified;

number and types of questions (form and content);

target population;

methodological information;

notes about implementation (i.e., time required, self-administered, administered in an interview setting);

cost (of purchasing necessary tools);

source or publisher; and

states known to be using.


While the profiles describe key features of the instruments, they do not fully capture the variation in wording of the questions, perhaps one of the more distinctive features of each instrument. Some questions carefully inquire about the experiences considered characteristic of an individual with a particular barrier. Others simply ask whether or not a barrier exists. Still others do not include questions at all. Instead, they provide a topical interview guide, leaving it to the interviewer to determine appropriate questions given the client and the ensuing conversation. Such a guide may or may not be considered a screening or assessment tool by its users and other observers but is included here.

The tools we identified also vary in how they are administered. The majority are designed as paper and pencil instruments and are meant to be self-administered (with some offering computer administration options). Others are meant to be completed in an interview setting, where a staff person poses questions and records responses. The paper and pencil tools often include 'yes' or 'no' or scaled questions ranging in length from one question to more than 75 questions. Tools designed to be completed in an interview setting may be 'yes' or 'no' or scaled questions but are also more likely to be short-answer, open-ended questions. We also identified a couple of tools that are notifications to clients about their rights that require an affirmative acknowledgement of a barrier and, in so doing, serve as a screening tool.

Each state or locality must determine which tool best meets their needs.

We present this diverse set of tools to document the array of screening and assessment tools that exist and so that states may consider which approach best meets their needs. Although, as illustrated in this section, some tools are more widely used than others, this should not be considered an endorsement of a particular tool or approach. Each state or locality must determine which particular barrier (or combinations of barriers) they wish to identify and consider tools or approaches that best meet the needs of their clients and capacity of their staff.

56  The American Public Human Services Association has undertaken a 50-state survey that includes identifying the screening and assessment tools in use in TANF agencies.

57  We also present a few screening and assessment tools that were recommended for use with TANF recipients by subject matter experts, although like the examples of tools used by states, little is known about their ability to accurately identify barriers among TANF clients.

58  In some cases, this was because the state is in the process of revising its tool.


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