Supporting Mental Wellness for Program Staff and Participants: Strategies for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Leaders

Supporting Mental Wellness for Program Staff and Participants: Strategies for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Leaders

OPRE Report # 2022-63
Published: Mar 11, 2022
Publisher: Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
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Authors

Michelle K. Derr

Key Findings

Strategies program leaders used and could considering sustaining to reduce stress and promote wellness for TANF program staff and participants include:

  • Create flexibility
  • Provide a safe working environment
  • Institute regular check-ins
  • Prioritize self-care
  • Cultivate connection and community
  • Talk honestly about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and other human services programs faced unprecedented challenges managing the COVID-19 global pandemic. They were tasked with serving America’s most vulnerable families as they navigated difficult economic circumstances and public health risks. Across the United States, researchers documented high rates of anxiety, depression, and psychological distress as a result of the pandemic, particularly during the early months (Aknin et al. in press; Jewell et al. 2020). The pandemic took its toll on state and local TANF program staff, in addition to families. Racial violence and unrest compounded the challenges of managing COVID-19. TANF program staff reported that they and the families they serve were showing signs of stress, including lack of focus, fatigue, agitation, and a sense of hopelessness. In response to these crises, TANF leaders adapted in new and innovative ways to support staff and families. In this brief, we capture how TANF programs adapted to promote staff and participant wellness and the innovative adaptations that leaders might consider adopting or sustaining moving forward.

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