A thorough assessment can be one of the strongest tools to aid families in removing barriers to employment and achieving self-sufficiency. Once the initial screening and assessment have been completed as described in Section 101 of the Work First policy, then it is necessary to engage the family in ongoing assessments to ensure the most appropriate family case plan (MRA-Plan of Action) is designed and the family is connected to the most appropriate services. The purpose of this section is to provide guidance on working with more difficult situations such as those cases containing individuals with physical or mental disabilities, issues of substance abuse, domestic violence, limited education, and other barriers to self-sufficiency.
A. Employment and Assessment Planning
This assessment and planning process begins with an Employment Services assessment with each Work First family. The information gathered during the assessment will assist the caseworker and the participant to establish immediate, short-term, and long-term goals. Use the information and goals from the assessment and planning to develop the Plan of Action of the Mutual Responsibility Agreement (DSS-6963B).
B. The Purpose of Employment Services Assessment
The purpose of assessment and planning is to identify a family’s strengths and resources needed to achieve employment. Assessment should help each family identify and begin to resolve the circumstances, which have contributed to their need for Work First benefits. These strengths and needs should be identified on the Mutual Responsibility Agreement (DSS-6963A) and documented in the case record. In addition, the Plan of Action of the MRA should reflect expected outcomes of employment and self-sufficiency.
Planning is a process which should prepare the family for independence from the welfare system by the end of the 24-month time limit, where applicable, and after longer periods of time in some instances. Therefore, the planning process should:
• Identify family strengths to build upon. Strengths are current family resources available to help alleviate barriers and assist with overcoming challenges. Identifying barriers determines resources needed to assist families with achieving employment and self-sufficiency, i.e., transportation, day care, uniforms, substance abuse counseling, etc.
• The result should be an appropriate plan for immediate, intensive program participation (35 hours/week), with expected begin and end dates for each activity. For example, Job Search/Job Readiness: begin MM DD YY and end MM DD YY. Assign each activity with the purpose of improving a participant’s employability. This includes the initial plan and any reassessment necessary to evaluate a participant’s progress and participation in assigned activities.
• Help the family learn to identify the specific circumstances that have contributed to the family’s need for Work First Family Assistance.
• Help the family learn to identify specific activities required and resources needed.
C. Assessment Requirements
When a work eligible individual has completed his/her first twelve (12) weeks in the Work First Employment Services program and remains unemployed or continues to exhibit signs and symptoms of substance abuse, domestic violence, or other barriers to self-sufficiency, then a more structured assessment may be required. The strategies and work requirements may need to be refined as the family begins to assume increased responsibility for its future independence. At a minimum, the MRA Plan of Action must be updated every 12 weeks, although more frequent ongoing contact may be necessary, particularly for more challenging cases.
Assessment and planning should be done throughout the family’s Work First experience. It is important to recognize that assessment is an on-going process, not a one-time event. The process is described here as it should initially occur and reoccur with each subsequent discussion with the parent. It is important to access all available, relevant information prior to the first assessment and planning interview. Reviewing existing information will help the caseworker focus on the family's strengths and needs and prevent the need to ask for information already available. Use information already gathered about the family during the application process for Work First Family Assistance (i.e., WFFA Eligibility Workbook, initial screening forms, county-developed intake forms, etc.). It is not appropriate to collect information the family has already provided to the agency.
An MRA Plan of Action is required to initiate Employment Services. It should be comprehensive and individualized. This process will guide mutual decisions regarding the strategies to promote the family's independence from the welfare system in the context of time-limited benefits and cash or cash-like resources. As an ongoing process, assessment and planning allows modification to a family’s plan for self-sufficiency as the family transitions from one activity or set of activities to another in pursuing self-sufficiency. It is not possible to get all pertinent information about a family in the initial interview. As the caseworker becomes better acquainted with the family and develops a relationship, which promotes mutual trust and shared responsibility, the family's course to achieving self-sufficiency will become more clearly defined. For example, during this process, the caseworker and the family might jointly evaluate job retention skills such as conflict resolution, interpersonal skills, budgeting, and parenting skills, as well as the family members’ ability to adapt to full-time employment, which can sustain independence. As such, the assessment and planning process is ongoing and should be modified as family circumstances change. Even once the family stops receiving Work First Family Assistance, the planning process may continue.
The planning process should also inform both the caseworker and the family of existing job-seeking and job-keeping skills as well as any potential barriers. The initial assessment of the participant's ability to complete the following tasks may be evaluated by providing actual opportunities to demonstrate job-seeking and job-keeping skills. This will offer the participant a chance to "learn by doing." Some of these competencies include:
• Completing a Job Application - A participant should be able to complete a job application accurately, which includes an accurate work history and references.
• Researching Job Opportunities - A participant should be able to identify job openings that match his or her particular skills and interests. This requires a participant to identify existing skills that were acquired through work experience and life situations that can be transferred to a new or different work setting.
• Demonstrating Interviewing Skills - A participant should be able to participate in a mock interview that reflects appropriate demeanor, the ability to respond to an employer’s questions, and the ability to ask questions regarding job requirements, work environment, and other pertinent issues.
• Demonstrating Appropriate Interview Attire/Demeanor - At a minimum, a participant should be able to demonstrate appropriate attire and behavior to conduct a job search or participate in a job interview.
If a participant does not have the skills or resources to accomplish the above responsibilities, refer the participant to community and agency resources.
Information can be gathered in many ways -- from standardized tests to face-to-face interviews. Regardless of the method used, they should be "packaged" in a way that best suits the needs of the family. Participants who have a strong work history and are clear about occupational interests may not require the same level of assessment or job preparation as individuals with little or no prior job experience. There are a variety of instruments that can provide important information to both the caseworker and the participant. Instruments such as interest inventories can help define a participant’s occupational interests and serve as a useful tool for providing valuable information early in the assessment and planning process. Other tools that evaluate educational and occupational skill levels can promote realistic and attainable employment goals. As earlier stated, the Mutual Responsibility Agreement (DSS-6963) may be a useful place to record some of this information in addition to documentation in the case narrative. A sample job application is a particularly useful tool. These are inexpensive, readily available, and can provide significant clues to an individual's skills and employability. Preliminary determinations can be made regarding the individual's ability to read, write, and follow instructions. In addition, information provided on a job application can reveal education level, work experience, interests, and prior experience in securing and retaining employment.
Employers may require a high school diploma, or the equivalent, to perform a specific job. If this credential is a job requirement, the caseworker should assist the participant to obtain and provide the necessary documentation.
If the job does not require a high school diploma, or if the participant’s educational skill level is not equivalent to the required high school skill level, the caseworker must assess the individual’s current skill level and identify strategies to upgrade those skills as appropriate. A high school diploma or other credential may be an appropriate goal for the participant but may require more time than is feasible under time-limited benefits. One goal of assessment and planning is to assist participants to recognize the need and opportunities for life-long learning. For example, an individual may seek employment with a company that supports a workplace literacy program that would enable his or her continued skill development while also providing wages. In addition, an individual may need to work and pursue educational goals at the same time. This may be realistic, particularly when family support systems/resources are available. Among other things, the assessment process should reveal:
• Whether the individual has sufficient knowledge of an occupation in which he has expressed interest;
• If the individual is aware of the skills required to perform the job;
• If his current skills are adequate to perform the job; and
• If the individual is aware of the training required to prepare for the job/occupation
It is critical that the caseworker assists families in establishing realistic goals in the context of time limits, work requirements, and available resources.
The need for Supportive Services can be identified early in the assessment and planning process. Since participation in Work First should be intensive, the appropriate support for accessing program activities must also be in place. The family should be the first resource as the caseworker and the participant explore transportation, childcare, and other supportive service needs. Whenever possible, participants should be responsible for identifying these needed services and resources. The caseworker may need to discuss their responsibility for securing these services early on; however, the caseworker should continue to set the expectation and guidance to enable the family to accomplish this independently. The caseworker’s role is to provide information and guidance, which eventually enables families to:
• Identify and evaluate existing resources;
• Make informed decisions which best meet their needs; and
• Secure the necessary services to support program participation and employment.
D. Screenings, Assessments, and Referrals
The following screenings should be completed for Work First applicants and/ or recipients as defined below:
1. Substance Abuse (Audit/DAST-10)-required at application refer to Work First policy Section 104B. The Audit and DAST-10 can be complete at review, if appropriate refer to Work First policy Section 201.
2. Substance Abuse Behavioral Indicator Checklist is a tool available for use if the participant is exhibiting signs that may be consistent with substance abuse. Refer to Section 104B for further guidance.
3. Mental Health-The Emotional Health Inventory (EHI) is a voluntary mental health screening for Work First applicants and recipients. Refer to Section 104B for further guidance.
4. Family Violence Option-Work First applicants are required to be notified of Family Violence Option. Case managers should refer to Work First Section 104D for further guidance on the notification and screening process.
5. Family Assessment-The Work First Assessment Form DSS 6901 can be used as the initial assessment of entrance into the Work First Employment Services Program. This tool will assess the individual’s ability to participate in the work program.
6. Vocational Assessment- A referral to Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), if appropriate. An appropriate referral would include the individual’s interest in becoming work ready.
7. Reassessment-The Work First Family Strengths and Needs Assessment Form or the DSS 6901 are appropriate for reassessing the family’s situation. The Work First Family Assessment of Strength and Needs may be more appropriate for an ongoing assessment. Refer to II below.
For questions or clarification on any of the policy contained in these manuals, please contact your local county office.