Washington State Institute for Public Policy
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February 2011
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a federal/state program providing cash assistance to families with children. In Washington, the TANF program is administered by the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). The 2007 Legislature directed the Institute to study the prevalence of depression among women receiving TANF and to evaluate the effectiveness of current screening methods used by the DSHS.

A random sample of 707 women receiving TANF in February 2008 was interviewed by telephone using a well-validated survey instrument to diagnose major depressive disorder (MDD). Compared with a national sample of depressed women with children, we found that women receiving TANF were more likely to be depressed and their depression was twice as likely to be categorized as severe. Depressed TANF clients were also significantly more likely to receive professional treatment for their condition.

Compared with non-depressed TANF clients, those with MDD were employed less and received TANF longer in the nine-month follow-up period. Depression was not associated with TANF sanction, either at the time of sampling or during the follow-up period.

DSHS has implemented screening procedures that identify a substantial portion of depressed TANF clients. To the extent the state wishes to increase treatment rates, DSHS could modify its Comprehensive Evaluation to include one of several brief, freely available mental health screening instruments.
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