Frequently asked questions


How long does the accreditation process take?

The timeline for achieving full-organization accreditation takes on average 12-18 months. There are multiple variables that affect this timeline depending on the type of organization and existing resources and processes currently in place. To get an idea of the various milestones and timing for first-time accreditees, check out our Site Visit Date Calculator.

How much does accreditation cost?

There are only two fees – the accreditation fee and site visit fee.  The accreditation fee depends on the type and size of the organization. If you are a member of one of our Sponsoring Organizations, you are eligible for a 25% discount off your accreditation fee.

As always, our standards remain free and are openly available to review at any time.

Contact us directly if you are looking for private, public, or military family readiness program accreditation fee information. Feel free to email us with any questions.

What is the difference between accreditation, licensing, and certification?

While there is overlap, accreditation, licensing, and certification are not interchangeable terms – they each have a unique meaning and implication.


  • Accreditation is both a process and a credential
  • The accreditation process is voluntary
  • Only organizations, agencies, or programs can be accredited
  • Accreditation signifies that an organization or program is effectively managing its resources and providing the best possible services.


  • Licensing exists primarily for public safety and the well-being of consumers
  • Typically, licensing is involuntary
  • Individuals, facilities, programs, organizations or agencies can be licensed

Individuals are often licensed by their respective state to practice counseling, social work, psychology, or nursing. Organizations may need to be licensed in order to provide a specific service such as services for substance use disorders or residential treatment. Practitioners and programs are required to be licensed or face penalties, including suspension or closing of the agency.


  • Certification demonstrates the capability to provide a specialized service or particular program
  • Typically, certification is voluntary, but sometimes regulatory bodies require certification in order to provide a specific service
  • Individuals, facilities, programs, organizations or agencies can obtain certification

Certifications at the organizational level can definitely vary, including the terminology. Some structured evidence-based models require certification. In these cases, the certification can be called “authorized provider” or “approved site.”

Who does COA accredit?

COA accredits the full continuum of child welfare, behavioral health, and community-based social and human services. We currently accredit more than 1600 organizations and programs serving more than 7 million individuals and families.

We have separate accreditation programs for private organizations, public agencies, Canadian organizations, military family readiness programs, child and youth development programs, and adoption home study programs.

Is COA an approved accreditor of Qualified Residential Treatment Programs (QRTPs)?

Yes! COA is an approved accrediting body for QRTPs under the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA). You can learn more about the FFPSA on our special FFPSA Resource Center or our Family First Prevention Services Act page.

Learn why you might want to choose COA as your accreditor here. If you’re ready to get started, fill out our contact form here.

What do most organizations find most challenging with the accreditation process?

We’ve had a number of organizations report that they find the Performance and Quality Improvement (PQI) process challenging. Not to worry–we have a robust cache of tools and resources available to help guide you through the process. We even created a whiteboard video that explains PQI in 90 seconds.

What is the difference between COA and the other major accrediting bodies?

We are glad you asked. Finding the right fit for your organization is paramount. We’ve created this handy comparison guide to help better inform your decision.

How do I get started?

It all starts with a conversation about what accreditation takes and which accreditation program will be right for you. Simply fill out our contact form and we’ll be in touch.


How long does the public accreditation Self-Study process take?

This varies significantly by agency, and is impacted by the agency’s readiness for accreditation, including the capacity that it can devote to the accreditation process and the degree of alignment that it has to COA’s standards. Because these factors can vary, COA works collaboratively with each agency’s point-of-contact to establish an achievable accreditation timeline, including the due date for its submission of the Self-Study.

Some agencies choose to use COA’s Accreditation Readiness Assessment (ARA) to gauge readiness for and identify critical investments that can support the accreditation process. Find more information about the readiness assessment here.

Do public agencies typically hire staff for the accreditation process?

The decision about whether additional staff is necessary is specific to each agency. COA does not require that additional staff be hired for the accreditation process. However, COA asks that each agency designate a point of contact. In many instances, current staff from various departments lead the accreditation process. Frequently, the responsibility to lead this process falls to staff in an agency’s quality assurance department, if one exists.

While your agency may or may not choose to hire staff, high-quality engagement in the accreditation process can facilitate other agency goals. Accreditation reviews an agency’s administration and management, service delivery administration, and service delivery practices, and, as result, prompts an agency to engage staff at all levels and across functions. Working in this way can help an agency to facilitate interagency dialogue and serve as a basis for continuous improvement arising from the accreditation process.

How does COA accreditation relate to required external reviews (like the Child and Family Services Review) that an public agency may be required to undergo?

COA’s standards, as a reflection of research-informed best practices within their related field of service, often overlap with the practices that are assessed in external reviews. However, given important differences in the scope of practices reviewed and the length and frequency of both types of reviews, COA accreditation and external reviews serve different, but complementary purposes. Accreditation provides an agency with a comprehensive review of its operations that can help the agency to better align its policies, procedures, and practices and fuel systemic change across an agency’s administrative and service delivery practices. This approach can complement the sole focus on service-level practices that are often the target of external reviews.

If an agency is mandated to become accredited due to legislation, regulation, or court action, how does this impact the accreditation process?

Agencies that are mandated to become accredited have the option to a) have the entire agency (including all programs for which COA has service standards) participate in the accreditation process or b) only have those programs that are required to be reviewed by the mandate participate in the accreditation process. In either instance, the agency will respond to all applicable administration and management, service delivery administration, and service standards.

Find more information about COA’s accreditation process for mandated programs and a decision guide to help identify which option is right for your agency here.


Will there be a resource or crosswalk that outlines all of the 2020 standards changes?

Crosswalks have been added in a Note to each corresponding Purpose standard, and can be accessed via our standards online here or the MyCOA portal.

You can also take a look at the overview of standards that changed by downloading our Standards Enhancements Summary document.  Please also see our 2020 Edition Standards Self-Paced Training, which walks through the changes in detail.

What standards sections have been retired as a result of the 2020 updates?

We refined the suite of Service Standards to better align with COA’s mission and the missions of the organizations we accredit in the different sectors. This included:

  • Retiring one (1) Private service section in January 2020: Child Protective Services
  • Retiring eight (8) Canadian service sections in January 2020: Adult Protective Services, Disaster Recovery Case Management, Opioid Treatment, Wilderness and Adventure Based Therapeutic Outdoor Services, Youth Justice Case Management, Youth Justice Day Services, Child Protective Services, and Community Change Initiatives
  • Retiring six (6) Public service sections in January 2020: Financial Education and Counseling Services, Primary Care Services, Wilderness and Adventure Based Therapeutic Outdoor Services, Experiential Education Supplement, Refugee Resettlement Services, and Immigration and Legal Services

This list can also be found in our 2020 Edition fact sheet.

When will other tools, self-paced trainings, and other resources be updated?

We are still in the process of updating our tools and resources. Thank you for your patience as we work to get these live.

Will there be a training available specific to logic models or Performance & Quality Improvement (PQI)?

Yes, we will be creating training materials specific to the updates to the PQI standards and client-centered logic model. One is our  Logic Model 2.0: Connecting Programs to Action webinar.  Thank you for your patience as we work to make further materials available.

Where can I find more information about the benchmarking initiative and changes to the MOA process?

We’re glad you asked! For more information on our new benchmarking program for organizations undergoing private or Canadian accreditation, please visit our microsite

Don’t see what you’re looking for here? Contact Us with your questions.

For those already working with us, you can also reach out to your Accreditation Coordinator or submit a case using your MyCOA portal or VIP account.