A Study of Work Participation and Full Engagement Strategies. Work-Focused, Client-Centered Approach to Case Management


Full engagement strategies are built on two primary principles--(1) self-sufficiency is achieved through work and (2) each TANF recipient's capacity to work is different. The work-focused, client-centered approach to case management was best expressed by a program administrator in Utah and a case manager in Wisconsin. In the words of the former:

  • All parents can and should participate in their maximum ability in program activities that increase their family income. . . .The ultimate goal is to get the person employable. We shifted from someone saying they can't work and exempting them to saying, 'What can they do?'

The latter expands on these ideas by describing the W-2 program as "a work program that is about meeting the needs and goals of clients."

The principle that underpins both statements is that if work is the final goal, then achieving it means creating an employment plan that responds to a recipient's needs and capitalizes on her strengths. Case managers throughout the study sites have been able to develop such plans by (1) thinking outside the "work-first box," (2) encouraging recipients to set their own goals, and (3) considering the recipient's family.

Thinking outside the work-first box means addressing barriers to work in ways that are innovative and client specific. For example, in developing a service plan for an agoraphobic TANF recipient who did not have access to private transportation, a case manager suggested that she ride the bus each day for one week for as long as she was comfortable, extending the time each day. The recipient eventually became more comfortable on the bus, expanding the range of employers to which she was able to travel. Another case manager encouraged a TANF recipient to volunteer at her child's school as part of her participation requirement, which taught her appropriate workplace behaviors such as showing up regularly and on time.

This approach to case planning depends on how much latitude case managers have in designing employment plans. In several sites, flexibility is the rule. One program administrator in Utah said, "The reason why the program has been a success is that we do have flexibility. It's hard to fit everyone into the same mold and require everyone to meet the same expectations." A Wisconsin program administrator echoed these thoughts, "You have to give case managers discretion and provide a full menu of options for clients."

The second component of a work-focused, client-centered approach to case management is to allow TANF recipients to set their own goals. According to program administrators and front-line staff, this technique makes recipients more willing to participate in an employment plan because they have a greater sense of ownership in the plan. Administrators in El Paso County emphasized the importance of letting recipients make choices about their employment plans. "We believe that clients should make that choice with us. . . . We may have people with the same barriers wanting to do different things." A case manager noted, "I take into account everything that would impact participation and the clients' ability to work. . . . I try to understand where the client is at. The more barriered, the more I look at alternative activities."

The third component of a work-focused client-centered approach is expanding the focus of the case from the client to the family unit by allowing case managers to address child-related problems that may interfere with a client's ability to participate in work or work-related activities. The "holistic" approach, as described by the El Paso County Department of Human Services is intended "to strengthen families, assure safety, promote self-sufficiency, eliminate poverty, and improve the quality of life in our community." A TANF program administrator in Montgomery County also noted that staff make an extra effort to determine what is important to families. Similarly, in Oswego County, recipients are encouraged during monthly Pathways meetings to set goals that include their children--for example, taking them to the doctor or dentist, obtaining a immunization records, and attending sporting events.

View full report


"report.pdf" (pdf, 777.29Kb)

Note: Documents in PDF format require the Adobe Acrobat Reader®. If you experience problems with PDF documents, please download the latest version of the Reader®