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2004 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 9, No. 3
April 2004

What Child Welfare Workers Need to Know about Work First (TANF) Workers

Successful collaboration doesn’t happen on its own. Rather, it develops over time as people build relationships and learn to trust and respect one another. Listening and learning play big roles in this process. As a contribution to this process in your county, here are some of the things we heard Work First workers say they wanted child welfare workers to know about them:

We respect you. Some of those working in economic services have attended child welfare training courses, and they have learned about your work in other ways. One economic services worker says, “We have great empathy for you and know how tough your work is.”

We deserve your respect. Work First workers want you to know that there are people in economic services who have advanced degrees and years of experience in human services. Work First workers are qualified professionals who take pride in themselves and what they do for families.

Economic services help keep children safe. A Work First worker puts it this way: “I really believe that Work First services help stabilize families before economic stress can contribute to child abuse and neglect. It gives families a chance to protect their own kids so that child welfare doesn’t have to become involved.”

Economic services are voluntary. This means that a family can decline or drop out of one of our supportive programs at any time. The flip side of this is that . . .

Our relationships with clients can be very positive. Jennifer Abshire, a Work First supervisor from Jackson County DSS, says clients build such a strong relationship with Work First workers because, “They literally spend hours in their office sharing information about their relationships, criminal history, drug use, their childhoods, and their current family situations, including parenting issues.” Because they know so much about their clients, economic services workers can be tremendous resources for child welfare workers seeking to learn about a family.

We can support you by:

  • Linking your clients to supportive community services. These include summer camp, afterschool, daycare, Food Stamps, Medicaid, food and clothing banks, job coaching, housing, and emergency assistance. This is a very time-consuming task, and the time you spend doing this could be spent preparing court reports, updating your documentation and case plans, etc.

  • Conducting additional home visits. When time and resources permit, Work First workers can make home visits to clients. If these families are also your clients, the Work First worker can share with you: the issues discussed; number of home visits completed, missed, or rescheduled; services provided; family’s willingness to cooperate, etc. This information could be useful to you in developing reports for court.

  • Providing families with educational/occupational resources. If clients are participating in work-related activities, we have many resources to help them obtain a GED and to help them receive job training.

  • Providing transportation to eliminate a family’s barriers to services. We do this by providing eligible clients with travel reimbursements or stipends that help them pay for bus tickets, taxis, and even car repairs.

What We Want from You. To avoid confusion and delay and to ensure families get the maximum benefit of what the agency has to offer, we would like you to have a good working knowledge of economic services basics. For example, you should know about:

  • Programs. Understand the purposes of and differences between programs such as Work First, Emergency Assistance, Benefit Diversion, Job Bonus, etc.

  • Eligibility. For example, there must be a child in the home to apply for Work First or Emergency Assistance.

  • When to Contact Us. Always inform us when there is a change in family composition (e.g., child enters foster care) and when family members find employment.

  • The Limits of Your Expertise. It can be very disappointing for families when someone outside of Work First assures them they will qualify for economic benefits and then we find they are ineligible. Please be careful what you say to families about eligibility.

Want to Learn More?

  • Talk to someone in your agency. Ask someone from Work First to make a presentation to your work unit.

  • Ask people in Work First what else they think you should know about their work and how your programs can improve their collaboration.

  • Consult the reference list for this issue of Practice Notes.

  • Visit North Carolina’s Work First website <www.dhhs. state.nc.us/dss/ei/ei_hm.htm>

  • Visit “Management Assistance for the Work First Program.” Provides county-specific Work First data, updated monthly. <ssw.unc.edu/workfirst>.