Screening and Assessment in TANF\Welfare-to-Work: Ten Important Questions TANF Agencies and Their Partners Should Consider. What Should Be Considered About Red Flags?


Another method of identifying potential barriers to employment within the case management context is the reliance on clues or "red flags." Red flags are verbal or behavioral cues a TANF caseworker observes that may indicate a disability or barrier to work. For example, some examples of red flags include a client who smells of alcohol when arriving for appointments, has unexplained bruises, or has trouble distinguishing letters such as "p" and "q." For states that have not developed screening and assessment approaches per se, self-disclosure and red flags are a means of identifying clients with disabilities or barriers to work.

Observing red flags is a very inexpensive policy for TANF agencies to implement and a technique used commonly by experienced caseworkers. However, red flags alone are unreliable measures and present many opportunities for caseworkers to incorrectly identify barriers (including by relying on stereotypes or personal biases). Although from the TANF agency's perspective it might be more advantageous to refer clients to further assessment based on red flags, this option must be weighed against the financial and time costs associated with the possibility of sending a client down the wrong path based on a "clue." Some localities have addressed this by educating staff about the behaviors associated with particular barriers and some use formal behavioral checklists to document these "clues."

Observing "red flags" can be a method used to decide who gets screened or assessed.

For states who do not screen every TANF client, red flags are often a method of deciding who gets screened or referred for further assessment. Using red flags in conjunction with self-disclosure or professionally- or state-developed tools is more likely to correctly identify TANF clients with disabilities or unobserved barriers to work. Officials in Minnesota reported shifting from relying on behavioral indicators in an effort to identify clients with problems towards developing a more structured approach to screening and assessment because they wanted a more objective approach. Similarly other states noted that more formal screening efforts were implemented in response to caseworkers' reports about recipients' behavior.

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