Service Delivery

Top Trends to Impact Human Services in 2023

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November 17, 2022

Strategic organizations are transformative organizations. They look beyond current experience to anticipate future trends and opportunities. They ask, “Why?” and evaluate answers within a future-oriented context. They expect to change.

Trendspotting and trend analysis can be powerful for strategic planning by creating credible illustrations of what the future might look like. Based on that, community-based organizations and their cross-sector partners can align community priorities and resources to help all people reach their full potential.

Incorporating a diversity of trends topics is particularly useful for creating a strategy where the end product is a long-term plan to be implemented over multiple years. Such plans aren’t just about identifying broad goals to be realized, but also key strategies for how the organization will meet those goals. 

Designing Useful Trend Inquiry

Core to trendspotting is research, and two types of research—primary and secondary—are best for identifying data that can inform activities like strategic planning, risk assessment, and opportunity mapping.

Primary research is firsthand research using methods like interviews with consumers and program participants, employees, community leaders and advocates, academic subject matter experts, regulators, policymakers, funders, and other stakeholders.

Secondary research uses available data and information found in reports and databases from diverse industries, which can be used as sources for trend determination. Examples can include demographics and other census tract information, local asset mapping, state and federal data (e.g., Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System [AFCARS]), and more.

The essential process of trend investigation is about asking the right questions about the right things. These can roughly be divided into three areas, with examples of questions below:

  • Identification of trends. What are the trends we should follow? Are there any associated systems and disciplines we need to understand better before determining trend relevance?
  • Analysis of the effects and possible projections.In which directions can a trend lead? What impact can a trend have on our strengths and weaknesses? Can we expect more or less support from partners and collaborators?
  • Analysis of the implications.What do these trends mean for our community? How will child and family well-being change as a result? Do we have adequate organizational capacity in relation to this trend?

Getting the Most Out of Scenario Planning

Since no one can tell the future with 100% certainty all the time, developing robust scenarios can help bridge present circumstances with future requirements. The range and value of organizational opportunities based on trend analysis depend on scenarios that should include most of these criteria:

  • Plausible. Logical, consistent, and believable
  • Relevant. Highlighting key challenges and dynamics of the future
  • Divergent. Different from each other in strategically significant ways
  • Challenging. Questioning fundamental beliefs and assumptions

By evaluating relevant trends compiled through primary and secondary research and using the analysis to explore governance and operational scenarios, the ability to optimize programs and services and create achievable pathways to child and family well-being is strengthened.

Harnessing Trends

The Social Current Knowledge and Insights Center, available through our Impact Partnerships, helps professionals in human/social services to learn, improve, and innovate by providing timely, useful, and relevant information and resources. This is done by:

  • Employing an evidence-first approach to evaluate and scan the knowledge base of an area of inquiry, especially scope, relevance, and utility
  • Reviewing and evaluating information sources for credibility and thoroughness
  • Working closely with subject matter experts to define specific questions to be answered, problems to be solved, or opportunities to uncover
  • Systematizing the information in a way that users can quickly and easily understand

Professional librarians in the Knowledge and Insights Center routinely gather trends data on a variety of organizational topics, such as workforce resilience and service innovation, as well as meta trends that encompass demographics, systemic and environmental factors, technology, and more.

Hot Topics from 2022

Below are some of the key topics that have been monitored in 2022, with an insight summary, brief source examples, and related resources and offerings from Social Current:

Integration of Workforce Resilience as a Key Organizational Sustainability Strategy

Resilience is a buzzword and seen as necessary for workplaces. But can organizations improve employee resilience? Some think yes, others think no. “A resilience-oriented workforce spans many disciplines and training programs will need to reflect that. It requires a collaborative organizational model that promotes information sharing structures.”

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Providers Increasingly Incorporating Social Determinants of Health in Service Delivery  

Social determinants of health (SDOH) and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) profoundly impact lives of individuals. Both SDOH and ACEs are risk factors for childhood mental health disorders, health, and social outcomes. These factors include housing instability, food insecurity, poverty, community violence, and discrimination. There are ways to help address these risk factors, and this includes things like quality education, safe neighborhoods, and positive parent-child relationships.

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Biggest Public Health Threats to Teens Are Mental Health Disorders

Teenage pregnancy, smoking, binge drinking, drunken driving and smoking are no longer the biggest public health threats to teens. It is now rising rates of mental health disorders. With up to one in five children having a mental, emotional, development, or behavioral disorder, and rising rates of mental health visits in emergency rooms and depression symptoms rising during the pandemic, it is critical to pay attention to the mental health crisis in young people today.

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Post-Pandemic Mental Health Crises Driving Change to Suicide Prevention Strategies   

With rising rates of depression and anxiety compared to prior to the pandemic, the new U.S. suicide hotline 988 comes at a critical time. Suicide is a leading cause of death for people ages 10-34 years old, and 90% of those who died by suicide had a “diagnosable mental health condition at the time of their death.”

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Successful Mental Health Interventions Are More Dependent on Cultural Responsiveness     

Cultural competencies and cultural responsiveness for mental health providers is now seen as critical, even “a matter of life and death.”

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Integrated Community and Systems Response Counteract School-to-Prison Pipeline  

The school-to-prison pipeline is a “disturbing national trend wherein youth are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal legal systems. Many of these youth are Black or Brown, have disabilities, or histories of poverty, abuse, or neglect, and would benefit from additional supports and resources. Instead, they are isolated, punished, and pushed out.” 

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Other top trends recently updated by the Knowledge and Insights Center:

  • Children in Poverty
  • Adoption and Foster Care
  • Substance Abuse
  • LGBTQ Youth and Mental Health/Suicide

How to Access Our Specialized Researchers & Tools

As you plan for 2023 and beyond, make sure you’re utilizing all the tools in your toolbox. Join our Dec. 7 webinar for an in-depth overview of the Knowledge and Insights Center. For more information on the resources portal, including the Ask-a-Librarian reference request service, visit the Social Current Hub or contact the Knowledge and Insights Center.

About the Knowledge and Insights Center

The Knowledge and Insights Center offers a robust resources portal through the Social Current Hub, which includes a digital library with over 22,000 records; aggregated research and business databases; diverse topic collections and library guides; original content summarizing complex information; and coaching that helps users maximize these resources. Our team includes professional librarians with wide-ranging skillsets and extensive experience in collection development specific to the nonprofit social services sector.

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About Social Current

Social Current is the premier partner and solutions provider to a diverse network of human and social service organizations. We offer a range of innovative solutions through COA Accreditation, consultation, impact partnerships, knowledge curation and dissemination, learning collaboratives, networking, public policy advocacy and mobilization, and trainings.