Strategies for Identifying Families in Need
PHA staff and their partners need to be able to recognize clients
who need supportive services. Techniques for making these assessments
include:observation, formal screening, and developing trusting relationships
that encourage clients to confide in someone.
The effectiveness of these methods will vary by participant, so
staff may want to try more than one strategy and tailor their approach
Assessing Participant Performance through Observation
A participant's poor performance in Welfare to Work activities
can be a good indicator of barriers requiring additional attention
and possibly supportive services. Communication between partners
will be important - what may seem like an isolated incident to one
staff person may turn out to be a recurring problem observed by
partners as well.
The following behaviors may indicate a problem:
- Non-participation in required activities. Participants may miss
activities for numerous reasons. For example, they may encounter
problems with their transportation or child care arrangements.
Consistent attendance problems, though, may indicate that a participant
faces one or more serious barriers to employment.
- Failure to make progress. Some people manage to attend and complete
the required activities, but fail to make progress toward achieving
their employment or self-sufficiency objectives. Very often, these
individuals will benefit from supportive services. Assessing the
need for supportive services in the early stages of your program
will enhance your ability to help participants achieve self-sufficiency.
Consider implementing the following protocol to address non-participation
and failure to make progress:
- Establish a threshold. The threshold for non-participation may
depend on the frequency (# per week) or duration (# of weeks)
of activities. You might follow up when the participant has missed
two job training classes in one week or after two consecutively
missed classes. The threshold for failure to make progress may
be the length of time someone has been unable to obtain employment.
It may also be the number of jobs someone has held in a time period.
- Identify follow-up procedures. You (or the appropriate partner)
may want to call the person or visit their home. A mailed notice
may not be as effective when you are trying to assess the need
- Train your staff. Staff knowledge about the need for supportive
services may vary. At minimum, staff (both PHA and partner staff)
should have a working knowledge about:
- barriers participants may encounter;
- questions to ask and how to ask them;
- ways to interpret answers;
- signals to observe; and
- procedures to follow after a potential problem is identified.
You can gather information from established sources (like the
health department, nonprofits, this Web site, or other Web sites)
and distribute it in a handbook or hire someone to conduct a seminar.
- Establish identification and referral procedures. The specific
procedures will depend on the problem. You may offer services
in-house, such as on-site counselors for substance abuse. Alternately,
you may refer participants to partners or outside resources such
as hotline numbers, mobile health service vans, or outpatient
Formal Screening Tools
Formal assessment tools can be useful for screening new participants
or for assessing participants with whom you have not established
a trusting relationship. In either case, you - or the partner conducting
the screening - will need to establish a strong comfort level with
the participant so that s/he will share information openly and honestly.
For instance, you may want to identify participants who are at
high risk of abusing or neglecting their children, particularly
if the risk is heightened by the changes and demands associated
with moving or participating in an employment program or a new job.
The Kenosha, WI JOBS program has used two screening methods:
- The Parenting Stress Index identifies factors that are predictive
of a heightened risk of child abuse or neglect.
Staff counselors administer both tests, but a psychologist analyzes
the results. You may want to determine if these tests are right
for your program or research other options.
Developing Trusting Relationships
Most people in need are eager for help but have difficulty trusting
people, do not like admitting that they feel out of control, or
are fearful of change or repeated failure.
Visiting participants in their homes can be a good way to develop
trust. It also provides insight into how the voucher participant
lives, including how s/he interacts with his/her children.
You may also want to consider developing a series of programs designed
to increase participants' self-sufficiency by:
- identifying their needs;
- setting realistic goals; and
- increasing their awareness of educational and training opportunities.
Such programs would reach a larger number of people, but the relationships
may not allow your staff to work as closely with participants.