Screening and Assessment in TANF\Welfare-to-Work: Ten Important Questions TANF Agencies and Their Partners Should Consider. What tools are used to identify multiple barriers to work?


Because many clients face multiple barriers to employment, some states have developed tools intended to identify several barriers.

Although TANF agencies have always screened for barriers, there is now greater interest in tools to assist in identifying a wider range of barriers to employment than might have been included in existing assessment tools. Because many welfare clients do not face a single barrier to work, some states have developed a single tool that is intended to identify several different barriers. In some cases, states are adding questions that probe for the existence of a possible barrier to employment but do not go so far as to incorporate questions from a targeted screening tool or questions commonly used by experts in a specific field. Other states are incorporating questions from a separate, targeted screening instrument into their existing employability assessment tool.

For example, Rhode Island's "Family Needs Assessment" collects information about immediate subsistence needs (i.e., housing, utilities, food, health-care needs). This tool also includes an item requiring the Social Caseworker to indicate whether or not a client uses alcohol or drugs and if such use prevents successful participation in required activities (in this case the worker is instructed to refer the client for professional/medical evaluation to determine the best treatment plan). As discussion points, this document lists the four questions from the CAGE, a well-known substance abuse screening tool. The Family Needs Assessment also has discussion questions
regarding the need for mental health services.

Montana also uses a single assessment tool to collect information on a variety of different barriers to employment including substance abuse and mental health problems, learning disabilities, limited English proficiency, legal issues, health conditions, availability of transportation and child care, and existence of an employment goal.59 Although this tool collects information about employment experience and the client's ability to search for work, it differs from Rhode Island's tool in that it is much shorter and collects responses to only 'yes' or 'no' questions, not detailed information about past employment or educational levels.

Washington uses a combination of tools that address a range of issues. During the initial intake interview with Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) WorkFirst case managers, clients not only complete eligibility related requirements, but are also asked a number of questions regarding their ability to participate in Washington's WorkFirst program. Questions range from basic employment and education histories and child care and transportation needs, to questions about physical, emotional, or behavioral barriers to obtaining and maintaining a job. Barriers might include health conditions, domestic violence (discussed under the heading of "Family Support"), substance abuse problems, and literacy or learning problems. Based on responses to these questions, the case manager offers follow up questions and can also choose to involve a DSHS social worker.60 Social workers use a different tool that covers many of the same issues and is also administered in an interview setting. This "Intensive Services Assessment" is divided into 16 sections that collect information ranging from basic information about the client, how to contact her, and her education and employment history to detailed questions about her health, family planning, parent-child relationships, domestic violence, and other issues.

59  As of March 2000, Montana was in the process of revising this tool.

60  "Social worker" is the term that is used; however, individuals are not required to be licensed social workers or hold Master's of Social Work degrees.

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