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


Self-disclosure occurs when a TANF client voluntarily reveals a problem to a TANF worker, often in response to a direct question or prompting. All TANF staff rely on self-disclosure as a method of identification to some extent. Although in some ways a natural part of the case management process, self-disclosure may be limited in its ability to identify barriers to employment. For example, if the unobserved barrier is unknown to the client, or if she does not have an incentive to disclose the problem, agencies may need to combine self-disclosure with other methods. However, if the client is aware of but does not have an incentive to disclose the problem, there are additional steps TANF agencies and staff can take to facilitate self-disclosure.

Much of the discussion around the disclosure of barriers focuses on the environment within which barriers are discussed and uncovered. TANF agencies can create a supportive environment for self-disclosure by making sure staff are prepared to absorb and respond appropriately to information about barriers. In some cases, this means staff need additional training to better understand the barrier, its causes, and consequences. As staff learn more about the characteristics of a barrier, they might also begin to recognize it or a similar problem or experience in their own lives. TANF agencies must acknowledge this possibility and provide a supportive environment for staff, so that staff can, in turn, provide a supportive environment for clients. Whenever possible, conversations should take place in a relatively quiet and private space. Case managers may need to develop trust with clients over time, and should continue to reinforce issues of safety and confidentiality in each meeting with a client. (A separate discussion of privacy and confidentiality is found in Question Nine.)

A common concern among welfare recipients is that disclosing a barrier may result in their children being removed from the home.

Further, TANF staff can alleviate fears clients may have about disclosure by outlining how state or local policies will affect benefit receipt and the services provided. Experts we spoke to emphasized the importance of clearly explaining the consequences of self-disclosure rather than vaguely referencing a policy. Clients must feel confident that disclosing a barrier to work will not have negative repercussions, or be clear about what the repercussions are, so that they can be weighed in the decision to disclose. As noted previously, one common concern by welfare recipients is that disclosing a barrier might result in having their children removed from the home. Other concerns include effects to benefit receipt due to sanctions or other TANF policies. TANF agency staff and their partners should ensure that clients understand expectations related to work, job search, child support enforcement, and the potential for exemptions or extensions, as well as how disclosing a barrier may affect their TANF benefits or their families. Additionally, TANF agencies should have, and should inform clients about, service strategies to address barriers, including referral for further assessment, diagnosis, and treatment for clients who self-disclose.

Creating this ideal environment for self-disclosure may require training of staff and significant changes to the existing TANF office environment. Such a situation requires that staff utilize interpersonal skills to create relationships with clients that foster trust. In many localities, or for some specific workers, this may be a significant departure from existing relationships with clients that are focused on accurate benefit determination, monitoring, and sanctioning. Facilitating such relationships may require substantial training efforts, or even the hiring of staff with different skills or qualifications. However, this level of training or staffing changes may be more than the TANF agency can or will accept.55 In such situations, non-TANF staff might be needed to perform this function. (See Question Seven for further discussion of who should be involved in identifying unobserved barriers.) Finally, creating such an environment may require structural changes to the welfare office (i.e., creating private offices instead of large rooms housing multiple workers) that in some cases are beyond the agency's control.

In some cases, regardless of attempts to create supportive environments or clearly explain the consequences of self-disclosure, clients might not feel comfortable disclosing barriers to any staff within the TANF agency. Combining self-disclosure with other methods of identification, such as red flags or professionally- or state-developed tools in enhanced case management, may increase the likelihood that barriers to work will be correctly identified.

55  For example, some states face hiring freezes and strict state hiring guidelines. Another challenge to
such a change may be union negotiations regarding changes in job responsibilities for some staff.

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