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Exploring the Customers' Experience

Since the creation of the Department of Workforce Services (DWS) in July 1997, all aspects of the provision of social work services have been in flux. Changes in DWS leadership, philosophy and every day job descriptions have influenced the shape of the licensed clinical therapist/social worker position of today. Such challenges are not unique to Utah, or even to social worker services in the light of welfare reform.

Since the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) and the creation of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, many states have struggled to determine the type of skills and training necessary for front-line workers. While many clients were still clearly in need of social work services, funding and the shift in focus of the TANF program challenged welfare agencies to determine what was both necessary and feasible. While the long-term goal of PRWORA may have been to reduce dependency on government benefits, the short term mandate was to move people into employment.

Conflicting agendas between PRWORA and the organizational structures of the new welfare agencies often do not support, and in fact impede, success (Sherman & Wenocur, 1983; Hasenfeld, 2000). Welfare recipients were not the only ones affected by changes in the welfare system. “Social workers employed in public agencies are caught in a number of disempowering organizational binds concerning the provision of services to clients in times of fiscal restraint (Sherman & Wenocur, 1983).”

To bridge the policy and practice gap, some states have reintroduced a traditional model of social work service delivery. “Old fashioned” social workers were primarily trained to identify client needs and link them to appropriate services. Some states have adapted this original training to the new welfare system so that social workers serve as facilitators between the old entitlement system and the new “get off your duff and work” system (Nguyen, 2000).

In the fall of 2002, the Director of Social Work Services, Dan Thornhill, requested that the Social Research Institute include a review of social work services in a study of DWS customers who had been closed due to non-participation. It was thought that this group, having been through the conciliation process, were the most likely to have been referred to the DWS LCT/social worker1 in hopes of discovering and reducing barriers hindering participation. Mr. Thornhill and a researcher from SRI developed a list of questions to learn more about the customers’ experiences with the LCT.

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Last Updated: 12/12/23