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In a previous issue of this newsletter (Vol. III, No. 1, 1997), we featured a practice-based anti-poverty strategy developed by the Asian Neighborhood Design (A.N.D.) in San Francisco. The foundation of this strategy is an evaluation instrument that enables the development of a self-sufficiency plan for individual clients. Over the past few years, A.N.D. has used this instrument in its own work and has shared it with many others. In this issue, we follow its progress.

Traditional categorical approaches to addressing the needs of low-income populations often fail to account for the fact that the struggle out of poverty is more of a dynamic process than a static problem. To attack poverty, one needs to go beyond traditional notions of income level that have defined those in and out of poverty. A.N.D. has begun from the premise that stable self-sufficiency must be the goal of an antipoverty strategy: Those who are self-sufficient exhibit a number of qualities, including the ability to make choices based on plans for the future rather than immediate survival. Thus, anti-poverty work cannot be generic or categorical; rather, it is very personal and individualized.

A.N.D. has developed and implemented an anti-poverty strategy which focuses on individual strengths and weaknesses as a means to address the challenge of self-sufficiency. The foundation of this approach has been an evaluation instrument in which the client and the caseworker work together to develop a “self-sufficiency plan” for the client. The self-sufficiency plan is based on an assessment of seven personal and environmental indicators: income/assets; education/skills; housing/food; safety/environment; human services; relationships; and personal attributes. Underlying this approach is the belief that each person's life is a combination of strengths (assets) and weaknesses (barriers) in these areas, and it is the accumulation of a critical mass of strengths which is the distinguishing feature of those who are considered self-sufficient.

Through a self-assessment and interviews, a profile of the client, including his or her assets and barriers, is developed and a baseline established. The methodology allows the client and the caseworker to discuss the various interrelated issues that must be addressed in order for the client to achieve self-sufficiency. The baseline assessment becomes the starting point for the case worker and the client to develop a personal self-sufficiency plan for the participant which delineates what needs to be done to help the client to reach stable self-sufficiency. This is accomplished primarily through utilization of mainstream support systems or through special assistance based on the client's knowledge or initiative. Progress in achieving self-sufficiency is recorded at regular intervals.

A.N.D. has received many requests for the tools we use from all over the country, including public agencies and non-profits. Most recently, the Department of Social Services for the County of San Francisco has decided to adopt this approach for its Welfare to Work program. The agency selected this instrument because it wanted a comprehensive assessment in which changes in people's lives could be mapped over time. A.N.D. is adapting the tool to the population served by this agency and assists in the training of up to 150 staff members. The agency is interested in making sure that the instrument is comprehensive, can be administered quickly (it will be used to work with approximately 9,000 people) and is set up to lead to concrete action plans. Adjustments have had to be made to accommodate department staffing and welfare regulations. For example, for TANF recipients (mostly women or families with children), the instrument has been revised to gather more information on family, children, etc., as indicators of problems or assets. For those receiving general assistance—mostly single males—the instrument includes fewer questions related to family and more related to homelessness, peers, etc. For immigrants, we are including questions that look at issues of language and culture.

The County will use the tool not only for TANF recipients but also for its General Assistance population. In addition, the San Francisco Housing Authority will use the tools for the residents in their housing, many of whom are on welfare.

We continue to stress that this tool is only a way of categorizing information. What is most important is the approach and the ways decisions are made. The tool should be seen as a way to build a trusting relationship. Unlike many instruments that are administered, our tools in themselves will not lead to good appraisal. Instead, they require a person who can use the assessment as a base for taking action. Common sense decision-making by the assessor is essential, as are discussions with the participants and a cross check of the assessment over time with other indicators.

Maurice Lim Miller
Executive Director
Asian Neighborhood Design
461 Bush Street, Suite 400
San Francisco, CA 94108
Tel: 415-982-2959

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