A Study of Work Participation and Full Engagement Strategies. Using Performance Standards to Hold Staff Accountable

09/01/2004

Set by the state or the county, performance standards for local offices and front-line staff identify preferred recipient outcomes, such as obtaining a work placement or permanent job, and program priorities, such as a specified level of engagement. By measuring case managers' performance against these standards, supervisors and team leaders promote accountability and motivate case managers to stay on top of their caseloads. The process also identifies staff who may need additional support to perform their jobs  for example, more training or a revised workload.

In most of the study sites, supervisors appear to be actively involved in monitoring case managers' performance. Several sites have formal performance review processes; other measures include case management reports, monthly meetings, and case reviews. In Utah, for example, supervisors conduct monthly or quarterly performance reviews with each case manager in their team, assessing such areas as knowledge of the basic core services, policies, and computer systems; teamwork; recipient outcomes (for instance, job referrals and number of cases closed for earned income); and professional conduct. Supervisors also review case files monthly. They review files for each recipient assigned to a newly hired case manager for six months to a year. For more seasoned workers, they review a small sample of files each month.

One local office in Utah uses a peer review system under which caseworkers exchange files. This not only helps ensure accuracy and appropriateness but also facilitates cross-training and the dissemination of best practices. In addition, program administrators and supervisors use management information system reports to monitor the quality and timeliness of case management and to identify training needs (see box below). If there is a problem, supervisors immediately contact the case manager to explore ways to more effectively manage the caseload. Supervisors said that they review case management alerts generated by the system to determine whether case managers make changes in the system within the required timeframe.

In Wisconsin, office performance is judged by 10 standards, the most prominent being progress toward "full and appropriate engagement." To meet this standard, counties must demonstrate that 80 percent of their overall TANF caseload is engaged in at least 30 hours of work or work-related activities. All activities in the employment plan  nonfederal or otherwise  count toward this standard. According to program administrators in Wisconsin and elsewhere, performance goals make offices more accountable with respect to achieving program outcomes. The drawback is the burden imposed on staff by performance monitoring and reporting requirements.

Tracking Worker Performance

Utah's YODA reporting system pulls information from the state eligibility and case management systems to describe caseload information at all levels of service delivery (e.g., state, region, office, team, and individual case manager). It allows program administrators, supervisors, and front-line staff to generate a variety of monitoring reports. For example, the "Case Management of Active Cases" report provides information on the amount and types of cases (e.g., open program enrollments, cases with open employment plans, cases without notes in the last 30 days) by case manager. The "Case Management Customer" and "Ultimate" reports provide detailed information about the amount and types of activities to which recipients are assigned, progression within each activity, and the frequency of recipient-case manager contact. Information in YODA is based on scheduled, rather than actual, hours.

Endnotes

(1) Examples of collateral contacts include mental health counselors, substance abuse treatment staff, and classroom instructors for those enrolled in education or training programs.

(2) Formal contracts with outside service providers help to ensure that the data they report to TANF program staff is consistent and timely. Contracts often contain language that binds providers to comply with specified tracking procedures at the risk of financial or other penalties.

(3) Oswego and Riverside counties implement partial sanctions, El Paso County and Utah impose gradual full-family sanctions, Franklin and Montgomery counties impose immediate full-family sanctions, and Wisconsin bans individuals from a paid tier after three strikes (or periods of nonparticipation). In addition, Oswego County closes the TANF grant for noncompliance with Pathways case management meetings and Wisconsin uses a pay for performance structure within paid tiers.

(4) Fictitious name.

(5) Many sites will not allow recipients to cure second or subsequent sanctions immediately, but require that recipients remain in sanction status for at least a minimum period of time.

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