Case Study of an Approach for Preparing Individuals with Low Income for Work: Kentucky Targeted Assessment Program

Publication Date: September 2, 2021
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  • Published: 2021


This case study describes Kentucky’s Targeted Assessment Program (TAP), a program providing comprehensive assessment and intensive case management services to parents who are involved in the state’s child welfare and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) systems. The goal of the program is to help participants overcome barriers to self-sufficiency and family safety by focusing on (1) mental health, (2) substance use, (3) intimate partner violence, and (4) learning disabilities or deficits. The state’s Department for Community Based Services, which administers the state’s TANF and child welfare programs, contracts with the University of Kentucky Center on Drug and Alcohol Research to operate TAP. TAP operates in 35 of the state’s 120 counties.

This case study is part of the State TANF Case Studies project, which is designed to expand the knowledge base on innovative approaches to help people with low incomes, including TANF recipients, prepare for and engage in work and increase their overall stability. Mathematica and its subcontractor, MEF Associates, were contracted by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to develop descriptive case studies of nine innovative state and local programs. The programs were chosen through a scan of the field and discussions with stakeholders. TANF practitioners and staff of other programs can learn about innovative practices through the case studies. The studies also can expand policymakers’ and researchers’ understanding of programs that support people’s success in work and highlight innovative practices to explore in future research.


The purpose of this case study is to describe TAP in detail and highlight its key features: where TAP operates; who TAP serves; what services TAP provides; how TAP manages staffing, communication, and funding; how TAP measures program participation and outcomes; and promising approaches, challenges, and future plans.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • TAP’s main approach to serving people with low incomes is to provide wraparound supports to help participants remove structural barriers to engagement and employment, which may include lack of child care, transportation, food, clothing, housing, utilities, and medical care.
  • TAP’s primary services are intensive case management, referrals to community-based services and treatment programs, and helping participants follow through on referrals and services.
  • TAP’s promising approach comprises four key program elements: (1) a comprehensive assessment to identify participant barriers, (2) co-location and collaboration with referral sources and partners, (3) advocacy for participants to ensure the state TANF and child welfare agency understand their needs, and (4) intensive staff hiring and training to ensure they are experienced and able to work well with clients.


To select programs for case studies, the study team, in collaboration with ACF, first identified approaches that showed promise in providing employment-related services to individuals and linking them to wraparound supports, such as child care and transportation. The next step was to hold initial discussions with program leaders to learn more about their programs and gauge their interest in being featured in one of the case studies. Once the list of programs was narrowed, the project team, in collaboration with ACF, selected the final set of case study programs to reflect diversity in geography and focus population.

Three members of the research team visited two program locations in Hazard and Louisville, Kentucky. The three-day visit took place in December 2019. The team conducted semi-structured interviews with 10 staff, including TAP specialists in both Hazard and Louisville and TAP leaders at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. A total of eight staff from partner organizations were interviewed at the two program locations. The team conducted in-depth interviews with two participants from Hazard and two participants from Louisville, and reviewed anonymized case files for two participants in Hazard and two in Louisville with TAP specialists. The team also held a follow-up telephone call in August 2020 with a program leader to learn how TAP responded to the COVID-19 public health emergency.


Farrell, M., M. Putnam, and L. Rodler (2021). “Case study of an approach for preparing individuals with low income for work: Kentucky Targeted Assessment Program.” OPRE Report #2021-66, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.