Alternative Family Services wins COA’s 2020 Innovative Practices Award

December 4, 2020

COA would like to congratulate Alternative Family Services (AFS), a Resource Family Agency and mental health service provider serving Northern California, as winner of the 2020 Innovative Practices Award for its “Enhanced Visitation Model: Foster Care” program!

The Innovative Practices Award identifies, documents, and celebrates examples of successful approaches to management and service delivery practices adopted by our accredited organizations. Too often great ideas are kept in-house, without recognizing their potential to create change beyond. The purpose of the Innovative Practices Award is to amplify the effect of one great idea by elevating it to the national stage and offering it as a resource for direct service providers, leadership, researchers, and advocates across the full spectrum of human services. 

This year, innovation is more important than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged every sector of our society, but it has presented special obstacles for the human and social services field. 2020 has also reinforced the urgent need for better equity, diversity, and inclusion. With that in mind, COA requested that Innovative Practices Award submissions address one or both topics.

This year’s evaluation process began with a preliminary round of submissions in which applicants provided a one-page synopsis of their innovative practice. Four finalists were selected to move forward and submitted their full case studies, which were reviewed by a team of expert judges. The community got to weigh in, as well, with hundreds of public votes making up 5% of each submission’s final score.

You can view the case study of the Enhanced Visitation Model program here.


Visitation frequency between parent and child is one of the strongest predictors of successful family reunification within the foster care system. The initial response to the COVID pandemic for many agencies and institutions charged with overseeing family visitation was to restrict face to face services. Even as government and private agencies have begun to reinstitute face-to-face visitation, it is clear that the pandemic will ebb and flow. If visitation is going to be available to all families, some families will need to practice social distancing or utilize virtual technologies during visitation in order to contain contagion and meet foster parent fears and demands for safety. Families involved in the foster care system are often distrustful of how resources are allocated and rules are applied. When restrictions are placed upon parents’ right to visit their child, it is imperative that the process be transparent and equitable. To accomplish its purpose, the visitation experience must also be positive and encourage healthy interaction.

AFS’ Enhanced Visitation Model incorporates risk assessment and visit planning tools to assist staff in developing transparent and equitable visitation plans for all families. They have coupled this with replicable visitation activities or venues that can safely provide a continuum of healthy visit experiences regardless of risk level. Three levels of visitation service delivery address the special needs of families required to adhere to community, social distancing, or quarantine requirements. AFS’ Enhanced Visitation Model is designed to inspire clients and parents to play and communicate freely while minimizing the potential for client and family re-traumatization that can be caused by difficult to enforce rules and restrictive visitation environments. Their Enhanced Visitation Model is intentionally easy to replicate. They hope their model inspires and encourages family visitation providers to address the challenges of the COVID19 environment with innovative and creative visitation practices for all the families they serve.

Learn more about Alternative Family Services at


About COA

Founded in 1977, the Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit organization that accredits human and social service providers. Our mission is to partner with human and social service organizations to strengthen their ability to improve the lives of the people they serve.