The Value of Accreditation for Foster Parents

Article published in January/February 2014 issue of Fostering Families Today magazine

By Richard Klarberg, President & CEO, Council on Accreditation

Click here to view the PDF version of the article. 

 

Thomas Paine said, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Today, it might be more appropriate to say, “these are the times that try children’s souls” because there has never been a greater need for those of us in the human services field to collectively and unequivocally stand up for children in foster care. As an accrediting body of social service organizations, the Council on Accreditation’s (COA’s) mission is to support foster parents and child welfare professionals to strengthen the lifeline you provide to thousands of children each year. Your commitment to make a difference in a foster child’s life is of national importance; one that COA will assist you in achieving. 

Founded in 1977 by the Child Welfare League of America and Family Service America (now the Alliance for Children and Families), COA is a nonprofit, accreditor of the full continuum of child welfare, behavioral healthcare and community-based social services. We accredit or are in the process of accrediting more than 2,200 organizations and programs serving more than 7 million individuals and families. 

Strengthening services for children and youth in foster care has long been one of COA’s primary goals.  Our standards require agencies to have a framework that appropriately supports foster parents so that you are provided with all the necessary resources to address the vulnerable status and differing developmental needs of children who come into your care. 

People often have difficulty understanding the concept of accreditation. The technical definition is that accreditation is a method for demonstrating accountability through the implementation of best practice standards.  It functions in concert with governmental regulatory oversight and the credentialing of professional staff to provide a comprehensive system of accountability to the social service and behavioral healthcare service-delivery systems. COA accreditation however, is more than just a stamp of approval. It is a strategy that allows organizations to evaluate and analyze their current practices – both in terms of its governance and management and the quality of the services it delivers. In essence, it acts as a road map for establishing best practices throughout an organization and identifies where there are opportunities to become stronger.   

Essentially, an organization that seeks to be accredited is saying to its board, its staff, its funders and – most importantly the people it serves –that it is committed to delivering the highest quality of services. This is demonstrated in its willingness to pursue a thorough self-examination process and have that self-examination reviewed by independent specially trained experts. In so doing, it is working to build public trust through the knowledge that its administration, management and services warrant the confidence and support of its stakeholders. This is an exceptional achievement for organizations, one that yields a powerful sense of pride and is celebrated and trumpeted by displaying the COA logo on its website, letterhead, social media and informational materials.  

Accreditation also ensures that an organization’s staff is appropriately trained and prepared to meet all of the needs of the children in the care of a foster parent. It ensures involvement in the decision-making process for all aspects of service delivery; requires that services are provided in a safe and respectful environment; supports positive outcomes; and protects privacy. COA’s accreditation process involves a detailed review and analysis of an organization’s administrative functions and service delivery practices.  These standards emphasize services that are appropriate, coordinated, culturally responsive, evidence-based, and that are provided by a skilled and supported workforce. To achieve COA accreditation, an agency first provides written evidence of its compliance with our standards.  Thereafter, a group of specially trained volunteer Peer Reviewers confirm adherence to these standards during a series of on-site interviews with trustees, staff and clients.  Based on their findings, our volunteer-based Accreditation Commission votes on whether an agency has successfully met the criteria for accreditation.  Understanding that each organization is unique in its mission, resources, culture and the community it serves, the process is customized to reflect the capacity of each organization and establishes realistic timetables, identifies areas for technical assistance and appropriate staffing of the Site Visit team. 

With strong connections in the service delivery and academic field and with the support of over 1000 volunteers, our standards and process remain relevant and reflective of emerging trends and practices. As foster care faces new and increasing demands, COA helps agencies respond by arming them with best practice standards that are developed in partnership with foster care professionals and subject matter experts. Our relationship with the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), a COA Supporting Organization, has provided wider access to information about best professional practices regarding agency and network infrastructure as well as service delivery, thus strengthening the contextual nature of standards development to enhance quality service delivery in light of an ever changing world. Examples of this include:

 

  • Working with the Black Administrators in Child Welfare (BACW) to partner on a project that focuses on disproportionality in foster care.  This will help accredited organizations build capacity to deal with disproportionality and ultimately eliminate disproportionality.  
  • Collaborating with a panel of nationwide experts to integrate critical information to address important practices for organizations in relation to prevention, identification and response to the growing problem of Human Trafficking/Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. 
  • Fostering a close relationship with Foster Family-Based Treatment Association (FFTA), one of 13 COA Sponsoring Organizations, to ensure that our standards reflect best practices in Treatment Foster Care.

 

In October, we published new Family Foster Care and Kinship Care (FKC) standards which advance effective practices for staff development and collaborating with children, families, kinship caregivers, and foster families within family foster care programs. The standards integrate a focus on promoting participation and collaboration amongst these groups, providing family-driven and youth-guided services, and ensuring foster parents (both relatives and unrelated foster parents) receive the preparation and ongoing support to manage their challenging and crucial role.

As research shows, a crucial factor in foster parent satisfaction and retention is the quality of support and assistance provided. Managing the challenging role of a foster parent requires nothing less!  Accordingly, the FKC standards establish core practices and supports that agencies should implement in order to best collaborate with you on your fostering journey. Throughout the FKC standards there is an emphasis on foster parent involvement and input in important aspects of service delivery- including the family assessment and service planning, as well as visitation and permanency planning. For foster parents to not only care for children but to participate in these aspects as well, organizations must offer effective, ongoing, and accessible communication, training, and support. 

The FKC standards (available for view at www.COAnet.org) include three core concepts that directly address the recruitment and retention needs of foster families. These include Resource Family Recruitment and Assessment, Resource Family Training and Preparation, and Resource Family Development, Support, and Retention. Under each of these three core concept areas detailed practice standards identify the specific practices and tangible supports organizations should implement. Recruitment and Assessment standards emphasize the need for a responsive and accessible recruitment process, and conducting assessment (home study) mutually with prospective foster parents. Training and preparation standards require comprehensive, competency-based training and the dissemination and review of clear information on foster parent’s rights and responsibilities.  Development, support, and retention standards identify the types of supports that organizations should ensure are available for foster families including: peer support and recreational opportunities, services to improve family functioning, worker contact and assistance, and informal supports.  

COA recognizes and celebrates the critical role of foster parents in achieving child protection, well-being, and permanency. We are proud of that COA accreditation ensures that organizations working with foster parents function efficiently, soundly and are best positioned to support them in this mission, and we are humbled by your dedication to fostering children and enhancing their lives. 

To learn more about COA accreditation, including accredited organizations in your area, please visit www.COAnet.org.  

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