A Study of Work Participation and Full Engagement Strategies. El Paso County, Colorado A Focus on The Family Unit


El Paso County, Colorado, operates under the philosophy that human services delivered to TANF recipients should focus on the needs of the family unit rather than the needs of the individual recipient. The stated vision of the Department of Human Services (DHS), which administers the TANF program, is "to eliminate poverty and family violence in El Paso County," and the mission is "to strengthen families, assure safety, promote self-sufficiency, eliminate poverty, and improve the quality of life in our community." The county puts this philosophy into practice by (1) requiring that all TANF recipients be engaged in activities that will best improve their families' circumstances and providing no exemptions from this requirement; (2) providing access to a range of activities and services to meet the families' needs; and (3) customizing case management to individual family needs.

El Paso County's menu of work-related activities and services reflects this family-oriented approach to engagement. Recipients may participate not only in federally countable activities but also in a variety of other activities that address barriers to work and family well-being. These activities may include attending domestic violence counseling, taking a child to mental health treatment, and/or attending parenting classes. To improve access to these activities, the county co-locates a number of partner agencies in its service centers and has developed strong partnerships with community service providers.

The county backs its "no exemptions" policy by providing highly individualized case management to a diverse set of families. A large proportion of the TANF caseload in El Paso County consists of individuals with serious and multiple challenges to work, such as substance abuse or mental health issues. Other recipients are more "job ready." The former receive intensive case management services through in-house DHS staff, while the latter receive case management and job search services through Goodwill Industries, a contracted service provider. Both county and contracted case managers have the flexibility to vary recipients' hours of participation to reflect individual circumstances and abilities.

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