These standards emphasize services that are appropriate, coordinated, culturally competent, evidence-based, and that are provided by a skilled and supported workforce. As a result, consumers, board members, funders, regulators, and staff can have confidence in the credibility, integrity, and achievement of the organization or program.

We view accreditation as a partnership and our approach to accreditation is facilitative and strengths-based. Our primary goal is to assist organizations and programs to implement best practice standards which results in improved service delivery and better outcomes for their clients. This philosophy is demonstrated throughout the accreditation process where the focus is on each organization’s unique mission, resources and culture, as well as the unique needs of the people it serves. Our approach results in a customized process that reflects the capacity of each organization or program and establishes realistic timetables, identifies areas for technical assistance and appropriate staffing of the onsite review team.

In partnership with the human service field, we utilize professional volunteers in each of the most significant activities of the accreditation process. Whether it is serving as a standards review panelist, onsite reviewer or final decision maker, this collaboration ensures that COA accreditation remains relevant and field-driven.

Find Other Accredited Organizations

Why Become Accredited?

Organizations come to us for accreditation because becoming accredited benefits everyone who is engaged in or involved with their organization.

Accreditation provides a framework to manage resources, offer best practices, and strive for continuous improvement. This supports an organization’s sustainability, encourages its growth, and helps it to achieve measurable results.

More specifically, accreditation helps you to…

  • Meet best practice standards
  • Deliver services with appropriately trained staff
  • Ensure that services are culturally competent
  • Include clients in the decision-making process
  • Provide services in a safe and respectful environment
  • Protect clients’ privacy
  • Support positive outcomes

  • Protect health and safety
  • Minimize risk and liability
  • Define professional staff qualifications
  • Provide appropriate employee protections
  • Ensure a performance evaluation system is in place
  • Foster service environments that are efficient, effective, and backed by a culture that embraces quality improvement

  • Put sound financial management practices in place
  • Ensure practices are ethical
  • Maintain a current, relevant, and monitored strategic plan
  • Cultivate effective quality improvement and risk management systems
  • Uphold policies and procedures addressing conflicts of interest, preferential treatment, accountability, and delegation of authority

  • Sustain sound financial practices
  • Maintain a performance and quality improvement system
  • Keep organizational operations efficient
  • Demonstrate value to the community and legislators (for public agencies)

Note: Funders can use accreditation as a tool to determine grant recipients.

  • Validate that you deliver high-quality services
  • Prevent fraud with risk management policies and mechanisms
  • Stay current with research-informed best practices

  • Record critical policies and procedures that facilitate the continuity of agency initiatives
  • Implement a framework for continuous quality improvement

Who Do We Accredit?

We accredit the full continuum of social and human services.

These include:

  • Child, youth, and family services
  • Behavioral health services
  • Aging services
  • Homeless services
  • Services for persons with developmental disabilities
  • Residential services
  • Financial education and counseling services
  • Employee assistance services
  • Adoption home study programs
  • Additional social services

COA is an approved accreditor for Qualified Residential Treatment Programs (QRTPs) under the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA). Learn more here.

COA does not accredit certification programs, training curricula, or services that require skilled nursing. Find in-depth information about our eligibility criteria here.

Our Accreditation Programs

All our accreditation programs offer:

  • 4-year accreditation*
  • A dedicated Accreditation Coordinator who serves as your single point of contact and helps you throughout the process
  • A user-friendly, online system for project management and working through your accreditation process
  • Free access to our standards, trainings, and other accreditation materials
  • Multiple opportunities to demonstrate your implementation of the standards through documentation, on-site reviews, and post Site Visit follow-ups
  • Complimentary resources to help you promote your accreditation and solicit funding

*Except for opioid treatment programs, which are mandated by SAMHSA to be accredited for 3 years

Read on to find out how the accreditation programs differ and which might be applicable to you.

For organizations that:

  • Offer social or human services.
  • Are in the U.S.
  • Are a nonprofit or for-profit organization

Private Organizations

Most of the organizations that COA accredits fall under the private organization umbrella. These organizations can expect:

Full-Organization Accreditation
We will conduct an in-depth review of all of your services that we have standards for, as well as your administration and management practices. Learn about the benefits of that approach here.

The process to take 12–18 months, with some flexibility for organizations impacted by the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA)
Costs vary based on your agency’s size and services. We have different payment plan options available for public agencies. Please contact us for more detailed information. We recommend amortizing the fees over the four-year award when comparing costs to other accreditors.

For agencies that:

  • Offer social or human services.
  • Are a state, county, local, tribal government agency, or a program mandated to become accredited within an agency (mandated program)

Public Agency Accreditation

We are proud to accredit county, local, municipality, and state-administered human service agencies, as well as programs that are mandated to become accredited within or by such entities. These agencies can expect:

Comprehensive Accreditation Tracks
We offer three accreditation tracks that allow an agency to pace when parts of its system engage in the accreditation process.  We also provide accreditation options for an agency when some, but not all, of its services are mandated to become accredited or when an agency seeking accreditation is a division of a larger agency. Each accreditation track includes an in-depth review of all applicable services for which COA has accreditation standards, as well as an agency’s administration and management and service delivery administration practices. Learn about the benefits of that approach here. Learn about the benefits of that approach here.

The timeline of the process to vary between 18–48 months, depending on agency size and chosen accreditation track.
Costs vary based on your agency’s size and services. We have different payment plan options available for public agencies.  Please contact us for more detailed information.

For organizations that:

  • Offer social or human services.
  • Are in Canada

Canadian Organization Accreditation

COA is happy to accredit nonprofit, for-profit, and government agency social and human service organizations based in Canada. As with our private organizations, these entities can expect:

Full-organization accreditation
We will conduct an in-depth review of all of your services that we have standards for, as well as your administration and management practices. Learn about the benefits of that approach here.

The process to take 12–18 months
Costs vary based on your agency’s size and services. We have different payment plan options available for public agencies.  Please contact us for more detailed information. We recommend amortizing the fees over the four-year award when comparing costs to other accreditors.

Child & Youth Development Accreditation

Those that offer only early childhood education, out of school time, or youth development services can expect:

A choice between program-specific or full-organization accreditation
If you want full-organization accreditation, you can choose between a standard or extended review. View or download more information on our child and youth development accreditation options here.

The process to take 9–12 months for individual programs, or 12–18 months for organizations
We want you to put in the time to do things right and make your accreditation a success.

Click here for child and youth development fee information (applicable to both program-specific and organizational accreditation).

For organizations that:

  • Offer U.S. military family readiness services.

Military Family Readiness Accreditation

COA is proud to have been designated by the Department of Defense (DoD) to accredit programs that offer military family readiness services. We created this accreditation program in collaboration with the DoD, as well as military and other national human service experts. Programs can expect:

Program-specific accreditation
We will conduct an in-depth review of all of your services that we have standards for, as well as your administration and management practices. Learn about the benefits of that approach here.

The process to take 9–12 months
We want you to put in the time to do things right and make your accreditation a success.

The Accreditation Process

Our in-depth accreditation process is a strengths-based review and accreditation of (in most cases) an entire organization.

Accrediting an entire organization/agency means that we apply not only Service standards (where applicable), but also Administration and Management and Service Delivery Administration standards. Learn about why we take that approach—and how it can benefit everyone involved with your organization—here.

The whole process typically takes 12-18 months for our private and Canadian accreditation programs. Organizations impacted by the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) may qualify for a phased accreditation approach that helps them to meet their mandated deadline. If you are a child and youth development organization seeking to have your program sites accredited individually, expect the process to take 9-12 months for each site. Agencies in our public accreditation process can expect the process to take 18 – 48 months, dependent on the agency’s size and the accreditation process option it chooses.

Accreditation may seem overwhelming, but we help you take things one step at a time. Your dedicated Accreditation Coordinator will be there throughout to answer any questions and to collaborate with you to tackle the process at a pace that works for your organization. We also offer an array of free, user-friendly trainings, tools, and resources here on our site to set you up for success.

Steps to Accreditation

COA reviews your application to confirm that you are eligible to pursue accreditation. We send your organization’s primary contact an agreement to sign and return to us along with your accreditation fee.

COA works with you to help you understand the process, what is involved, what standards are applicable for your organization, your current accreditation readiness, and any specific needs you might have. We assign you your dedicated Accreditation Coordinator to help you every step of the way.

This self-evaluation provides your organization with an opportunity to look at the current policies, procedures, and practices you have in place and see how they align with the standards. You collect narratives and documents that show your implementation of the standards and electronically submit them to COA.

A team of COA volunteer Peer Reviewers runs an on-site review. Our volunteers have many years of experience in the field and have been trained by COA to effectively review your organization.

When the Site Visit is complete, we send your organization a report summarizing the Peer Reviewers’ findings (this is called the Pre-Commission Review (PCR) Report). In the report, we include recommendations about how your organization can demonstrate more effective standards implementation and, if needed, offer you another opportunity to show us how you have.

The PCR Report is reviewed by our Accreditation Commission, a group made up of our most experienced Peer Review volunteers, which will look at the evidence you provided (as well as your updated evidence) and either approve your accreditation or request more information. Once a decision is reached, we send your organization a Final Accreditation Report (FAR) with a complete set of ratings for all assigned standards.

COA accreditation is valid for four years from the date of achievement. Remaining accredited requires you to maintain the implementation of standards with an annual report.

Reviewer System

We strongly believe in grounding our process in our human and social services community. That is why we conduct our Site Visits and finalize accreditation decisions not with our staff, but with peer review volunteers. Our volunteers receive no compensation; they generously donate their time and talent and represent a pool of seasoned, skilled professionals in the field.

Our peer review volunteers are:

  • A diverse and talented group of 400+ professionals coming from 43 states and 4 countries, together representing hundreds of years of experience in the field
  • Old hands at COA accreditation, all of them coming from COA accredited organizations and often having been the accreditation lead themselves
  • Commonly still in the field, making them knowledgeable about the latest theory and practice
  • Passionate about helping to ensure the delivery of quality services and supports
  • Thoroughly vetted and trained to give organizations undergoing their Site Visit an objective, high-caliber review

The reviewers that make up the Accreditation Commission (which looks at the evidence presented by an organization to make an approval decision) are our most experienced volunteers, dedicated to ensuring that organizations consistently strive to improve the quality and effectiveness of the services they offer in order to deliver the best possible care to their clients.

Becoming a peer review volunteer

We pride ourselves on the caliber of our volunteer team and have stringent eligibility criteria to determine who can join it. Specific criterion vary depending on the accreditation line a volunteer will cover, but generally include:

  • Current or past employment with a COA-accredited organization
  • Demonstrated experience in an accreditation, military, or governmental evaluation process geared toward improving human or social services
  • Previous experience with standards evaluation
  • A graduate degree in a human service discipline, or a non-human service degree and service management experience
  • At least 5 years of management and supervisory experience
  • Expertise in at least 5 COA service areas with a current résumé supporting the areas of expertise
  • Recommendation letter from an active COA volunteer, Accreditation Commissioner, or representative from one of COA’s Sponsoring or Supporting Organizations

Training begins with 3 self-paced modules and 2 days of face-to-face training, followed by regular updates throughout a reviewer’s tenure with us to ensure that they remain informed and equipped to conduct quality Site Visits.

Our unpaid volunteer reviewer system is a foundational part of our accreditation process.

Peer reviewer volunteers have the privilege of:

  • Doing their part to encourage best practice and the betterment of the human and social services field
  • Learning from other organizations (that are not in competition with one’s own organization), and
  • Traveling to and from Site Visits with expenses paid by COA

Request an application

COA accepts Peer Reviewer application submissions on a rolling basis. You must meet the general criteria as well as the specified eligibility criteria for each role to apply. Review the criteria here before applying.

NOTE: This is only an application request. If you meet the general criteria, a full application will be sent to you in approximately 5-10 business days.

If you are currently a COA volunteer reviewer, please log into the VIP and make a request for an additional role.


Once trained, COA volunteer reviewers are expected to adhere to COA’s policies and procedures and:

  • Agree to COA’s Confidentiality Agreement;
  • Agree to COA’s Code of Conduct requirements;
  • Commit to a site visit within 90 days of training date;
  • Agree to conduct at least two (2) site visits per calendar year;
  • Agree to submit an updated bio and resume on an annual basis; and
  • Participate in other training requirements, as they become available.

Please indicate the role(s) for which you are interested in applying and answer yes/no regarding each of the applicable qualifications.

Eligibility Criteria for each Volunteer Role

Peer Reviewer

  • Current or past employment with a COA-accredited organization; and
  • Ability to demonstrate experience in an accreditation, military or governmental evaluation process geared to improve human services; and
  • Previous experience with standards evaluation; and
  • A graduate degree in a human service discipline, or a non-human service degree and service management experience; and
  • At least five (5) years of continuing management and supervisory experience. This should include experience in budgeting, quality improvement, governance, or other administrative responsibilities; and
  • Expertise in at least five (5) COA service areas with a current resume supporting the areas of expertise; and
  • Recommendation letter from an active COA volunteer, Accreditation Commissioner or representative from one of COA’s Sponsoring or Supporting Organizations; and
  • A recent copy of your resume or CV which reflects the areas of expertise in relation to the standards.

 

Child and Youth Development Endorser (Includes early childhood education, after school and youth development programs)

  • Current or past employment with a COA-accredited organization; and
  • Ability to demonstrate experience in an accreditation, military or governmental evaluation process geared to improve human services; and
  • Previous experience as a COA Reviewer or other standards evaluation; and
  • Endorsers may be qualified to review Early Childhood Education (ECE) programs, or After School (ASP) and Youth Development (YD) program. Experience between these two groups is not interchangeable.
  • Those individuals who have experience and education meeting the qualifications for both types of programs may be dually qualified to review ECE, ASP and YD programs.
  • Bachelor's degree in a human service discipline, or a non-human service degree and at least three (3) years service experience; or an Associate's degree in a human service discipline, or a non-human service degree and at least four (4) years service experience. Service experience should be in a field providing direct services to children and youth, preferably an after school environment; and
  • Service experience should be in a field providing direct services to children and youth. For early childhood education, experience with or in an early childhood education environment is required. For after school and youth development, experience in either an after school or youth development environment would qualify you to review both after school and youth development programs; and
  • At least three (3) years of continuous management experience. This should include experience in budgeting, quality improvement, programming or other administrative responsibilities; and
  • Understanding of and experience with accreditation standards, systems and processes; and
  • In-depth knowledge of related programming, and at least three (3) years experience working in that environment; and
  • A recommendation letter from an active COA volunteer, Accreditation Commissioner or representative from one of COA’s Sponsoring or Supporting Organizations; and
  • A recent copy of your resume or CV.
Role Selection

Peer Reviewer Qualifications
Child and Youth Development Endorser Qualifications
Hague Evaluator Qualifications
Military and Family Readiness Reviewer Qualifications
Personal Information
Please provide your contact information below.





Contact Information
Note: This is the address to which occasional hard copy materials will be sent once you are approved to be a volunteer.







Professional Information
If you are not working for an organization, please enter "Unaffiliated" under Employer/Business Name and leave all address fields blank.









Standards

COA’s standards are grounded in the belief that when organizations invest in strong management practices and understand and monitor the impact of their services, people benefit. As such, our standards are designed to help organizations:

  • Achieve measurable results
  • Promote the health, safety, rights, and inclusion of persons served
  • Support and retain staff
  • Ensure sustainability and promote growth

How We Develop Our Standards

COA’s accreditation standards are field-informed and sit upon a foundation of research and professional literature. This ensures that our standards remain rigorous yet practical, reflecting current trends and best practices in the social sector.

Steps of the process include:

  • Collection, in-depth review, and synthesis of prominent research and professional literature on identified trends and evolving practices
  • Collaboration with Standards Advisory Panels comprised of subject matter experts including agency leaders, individuals with lived experience, service providers, and researchers
  • Input from hundreds of professionals in Social Current’s network
  • Continuous quality improvement through ongoing review of feedback from the field and newly published literature
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Private Organization Standards

Standards for nonprofit and for-profit organizations that provide human and social services in the United States

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Public Agency Standards

Standards for government agencies (federal, state, and county) that provide human and social services in the United States.

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Canadian Organization Standards

Standards for both private and public organizations that provide human and social services in Canada.

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Child & Youth Development Standards

Standards for early childhood education and out-of-school time programs in the United States.

Glossary

We understand that there is a lot of jargon in accreditation and that some terms can be difficult to understand. That’s why we created our accreditation and standards glossary!

Promote Your Accreditation

We have compiled a wealth of resources and tools to help you spread the word about your achievement. Our curated promotional toolkits contain everything you’ll need to get started.

Tools

We have few resources to help you along the road to accreditation.

Benchmarking Program

Our measures speak to the basic health and sustainability of any human and social service provider.

General Questions

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.

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.

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

Accreditation

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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.”

We accredit 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

For Public Agencies

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.

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.

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.

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.

2020 Standards Updates

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.

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.

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

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.

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