square bulletSystems Change From the Ground Up at Oregon DHS Self Sufficiency

August 2, 2018

From Chris Chabre, Special Projects-Operations and Policy Analyst, Oregon Department of Human Services, Self Sufficiency Training Unit

Oregon’s new Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Family Assessment model is an iterative, participant-led, collaborative, and explorative process rather than merely a product. The assessment process and materials embody the philosophy and best practices of a Self Sufficiency Program (SSP). This is a next step in the Oregon Self Sufficiency Program’s continued efforts to create a culture and system that is empowering, person-centered, trauma informed, and collaborative. This work includes agency-wide trainings in soft skills (engagement, motivational interviewing, strengths-based practice, trauma-informed care) and compassion-promoting education on the challenges families might face including poverty, mental illness, disabilities, substance abuse, and domestic violence.


The assessment is an ongoing conversation between TANF participants and family coaches that involves four stages of exploration across four areas: Family Stability, Family Well Being, Education, and Employment

  1. Who are you: Learning about the participant’s dreams, goals, strengths, and resources.
  2. Current Snapshot: What are current conditions in participant’s life? What brought them in today?
  3. Challenges: Perceived barriers to goals that participant experiences? What strengths and resources can help?
  4. Goal Planning: Where does the participant want to start? How can the agency/worker support them?


Materials are designed for drawing out strengths, discovering motivations, identifying areas of need, and developing plans that are based on the participant’s own goals and preferences. Materials include:

  • Strengths Cards: used by worker and participant to help identify strengths
  • Assessment tool – two versions:
    • Participants can choose to use one of two versions: a paper form or a “map” with cards (often preferred by participants). Both versions cover the four areas.
    • In each domain participants rate themselves along a continuum of four suns from “rising sun” to “full sun”. For purpose of evaluation, these are converted to a 4-point Likert-type scale.
  • Goal Sheet: A visual aid with participant’s immediate goals and specific action steps, next appointment, and strengths reminder.

Relational Approach

The Family Assessment creates an experience that gets to the heart of participants’ desires for their families while meeting the legal requirements of the TANF program. The new assessment model represents a paradigm shift from a transactional to a relational approach in case work practice. The assessment is defined as an ongoing collaborative process, reviewed with the participant and capturing changes at different points in time. The participant leads the process and can choose whether/when and how to answer questions posed by the worker or the assessment. The Assessment can be completed in one or more meetings, depending on the participant’s preference. All materials are used in the context of an ongoing conversation between worker and participant.

A year into the implementation of the new assessment model, SSP participants are overwhelmingly positive about the process. When asked how they felt during the first assessment, two top experiences were feeling hopeful and trusted. The majority of participants reported that the experience was more “human” and that they felt “empowered”, “confident” “uplifted”, and “less anxiety” post interview. Family coaches (caseworkers) have seen positive outcomes as well with increased engagement with participants, better understanding of the person; increased client control, and choice in the process. Family Assessment data (family assessment scores, surveys, and focus groups) and analysis will be used to make evaluations and decisions regarding state and community service and resource needs.

The assessment experience nurtures authentic relationships between participants and family coaches. Through mutual respect, trust, and collaboration TANF participants are reaching their goals one conversation at a time.