Washington, D.C. – “As an organization rooted in the historic cause of advancing equity for all people, the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and Council on Accreditation (COA) condemn the growing incidence of hate crimes directed against the Asian American community. At a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on violence and discrimination against Asian Americans this week, Congressional leaders highlighted a report from Stop AAPI Hate that tracked a significant increase in hate incidents targeting Asian Americans. The center received nearly 3,800 reports of hate incidents in the period March 19, 2020 to Feb. 28, 2021. Racially motivated hate crimes have no place in our society. As Rep. Young Kim noted at the hearing: ‘No American of any race or ethnic group is responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus does not discriminate. It affects everyone.’ The Alliance and COA call on all Americans to stand together against hate speech that fuels these crimes and to speak out against discrimination. We all have a role to play in standing up for the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Our communities and our nation as a whole will be the better for it.”
About the Newly Merged Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and Council on Accreditation (COA)
The merged Alliance and COA and resulting new organization will convene and catalyze a dynamic, inclusive, multifaceted network of human/social services organizations that leverages the collective experience of the field and research to spark a current in the sector and drive continuous evolution and improvement. Our goal is to activate the power of the social sector and create a unified, intrepid, just, and purposeful network that propels our field forward so all people can thrive. The new organization will provide a range of offerings and learnings to actively shape the future of the sector through policy, advocacy, knowledge exchange, certification, accreditation, connection, and ongoing iterative and reflective interactions.
A big thank you to Jody, our President & CEO, for this blog post.
After a successful due diligence process and Board and Member vote to merge, on January 1, 2021, the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities (Alliance) and the Council on Accreditation (COA) began its work to integrate operations and build a new organization. As the inaugural leader of the new organization, I know that there is a lot to consider and to do.
Our new organization is intended to be something distinctive, something different. While it will blend the assets of both the Alliance and COA, our intent is not to simply be “Alliance + COA.” Our intent is to spark a current in the social sector—to create a dynamic, inclusive, multifaceted network that leverages the collective experience of the field, research, and each of the legacy organizations. As a new organization, we believe we can activate the power of the social sector and offer novel tools and resources to solve the social problems that plague communities and our nation.
As I said in my prior blog post on leading change, “Change is a collaborative process. Incumbent upon the authorized or designated leader of change is to inspire those around them and to make space for change to occur.” Our first 30 days of operating together has repeatedly shown me the accuracy of those words. To create this new organization, we will need to engage all our staff, their various skills and talents, and our entire network and their insights and perspectives. We will also need patience.
What we are experiencing as we undertake this merger is really what leaders experience every day. We are operating on parallel paths, engaging in a concurrent process of operating, learning, and creating. Over the past month, as I have dug deeper into learning mode, I have once again been reminded that amid change there are more questions than answers. That is uncomfortable space for me, and I think it probably is for many of us.
As much as we all like to think of ourselves as being able to live in the gray, to tolerate ambiguity, it doesn’t come easily. It would be easier to start throwing out fixes and solutions that would cross things off the list and put people at ease by providing clarity–even if they didn’t like the answers. I go back to my clinical days though and think about all that I learned from families. Initially, it seemed far easier to try to solve the challenges families faced by throwing services at them after making assumptions instead of really learning about their needs – from their perspective. What I learned was that to do it right (or at least better), it took time and it took the building of a relationship. And in the context of that relationship over time, a true (and more accurate) sense of the right solutions emerged. These were informed by multiple perspectives and multiple sources of information, co-created. That is who we aspire to be as we move forward–unifying and purposeful; an organization that creates intrepid opportunities to disrupt the status quo and leads to more just and equitable outcomes.
As I reflect on our first thirty days of operating together, instead of being unnerved by the growing list of questions, I am learning to be energized. I am also learning to be comforted by the fact that we have a vast network of staff and of supporters that will chime in to create the answers. With patience, and the reliance on the voices of many, our new organization will have an impact. I look forward to engaging with everyone to craft our new answers and way forward.
The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and the Council on Accreditation have released the following statement on efforts of the Biden administration to reunify families separated at the border:
The Trump administration’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border had a profound impact on the well-being of children and families and will have long-term effects on their health, both physical and behavioral, over their lifetimes. The Biden administration’s move to create a task force to reunify children and their parents is an important and welcome first step in the right direction. With the parents of an estimated 628 migrant children still missing, there is no time to waste in finding these parents and reuniting them with their children, some as young as infants.
In his congressional testimony, Dr. Jack Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University noted, ‘Sudden, forcible separation of children from their parents is deeply traumatic for both the child and the parent. This triggers a massive biological stress response inside the child, which remains activated until the parent returns and provides comfort.’
This action is only a first step. The Alliance and COA has spoken out actively about family separation policies in recent years, and will continue to do so by calling for immediate action to appropriately locate every child and do all in their power to reunify families safely, providing them with the supports they need for healing.
From President Biden’s clear call for unity to poet laureate Amanda Gorman’s impassioned reading of her poem “The Hill We Climb,” this morning’s inauguration ceremony delivered the unifying message our country desperately needs to move forward to create a just and equitable society where all people and communities flourish.
Today, on his first day in office, President Biden signed 17 executive orders on issues ranging from the COVID-19 crisis and the economy, to climate change and racial justice. We were pleased to see an executive order on advancing racial equity and supporting underserved communities. This order creates a whole-of-government initiative to advance racial equity, directing federal agencies to undertake a baseline review of the state of equity within their agencies, launches an equitable data working group, and directs agencies to engage with communities who have been historically underrepresented, underserved, and discriminated against in federal policies. Importantly, this executive order revokes the previous administration’s order that limited the ability of federal government agencies, contractors, and grantees from implementing critical diversity and inclusion training. The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities co-led a letter, signed by 41 other organizations, opposing the original Trump executive order in October of 2020.
We also applaud actions taken today to prevent workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, the extension of the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures until at least March 31, and the extension of the pause on student loan payments until at least Sept. 30. At a time when our economy is struggling, these actions will provide needed relief and begin to move our country in the right direction. While these are only first steps on so many critical issues, they represent the actions required to power us forward…together.
The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities is merging with the Council on Accreditation to form a new organization that will convene and catalyze a dynamic, inclusive, multifaceted network of human and social services organizations and passionate allies committed to achieving greater impact in communities across our country.
The inauguration and President Biden’s address this morning has led to feelings of hope and optimism as we work together to create this new collaborative and unified organization. Our job now is to rally and inspire our community of social heroes and essential workers. Our responsibility, as a social sector, must be to continue efforts to work together to address the larger needs in our nation.
Today, more than ever, we look forward to engaging our network and harnessing the power of the social sector to create a brighter bolder future.
President and CEO
Alliance and COA
January 7, 2021 – Jody Levison-Johnson, president and CEO of the newly merged Alliance for Strong Families and Communities (Alliance) and the Council on Accreditation (COA) issued the following statement in response to the violent protests that led to the storming of the U.S. Capitol and one tragic death in Washington, D.C. yesterday:
“The violent protests that led to the storming of the U.S. Capitol represent a sad and appalling stain on our nation’s history and a travesty of our democratic ideals.
“We stand for a free, just and civil society that represents the voices of all people. That, in fact, is the hallmark of our democracy.
“All people have the right to be heard and in our democracy one way that is exercised is through our right to vote. The people have spoken through their votes, the states have ratified those votes and the courts have upheld those decisions. It is now time for the President and Congress to ensure their commitment to a peaceful transfer of power occurs. This is essential to upholding our democracy and everything we stand for as Americans– equity, a free and non-violent exchange of ideas, and the right and ability for all people and communities to thrive.”
An update from Jody Levison-Johnson, COA President & CEO
January 6, 2021
As we welcome a new year and begin to move forward from the challenges of a year that looked dramatically different than any of us could have imagined, I remain hopeful for what 2021 will hold for us all. That is why I wanted to start the year off by sharing an update on the merger between the Council on Accreditation (COA) and the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities (Alliance).
I am happy to share that at the end of 2020, the merger was approved by the boards of both organizations and by a majority of voting members of the Alliance. The vote capped a year-long exploration and four-month due diligence process overseen by both organizations.
While we continue to finalize the details of the merger, I will serve as president and CEO of both COA and the Alliance, and Susan Dreyfus will serve as senior advisor to me. Once finalized, I will serve as the President and CEO of the new organization, which will be headquartered in Washington, D.C.
More information will be coming soon about the offerings and pathways to engagement the new organization will provide for human and social service organizations, foundations, state associations, government entities, and all of those who make up the human and social service field and sector.
I look forward to continuing to engage with each of you in our quest to create a rigorous and responsive force that catalyzes the voices of the social sector and allows us to be both current and forward-looking. I will be holding a virtual Town Hall meeting later this month, so please be on the lookout for an invitation in the coming days. I look forward to seeing you there. As always, you can continue to view the most recent status updates on the COA and Alliance websites, including our most recent press release.
Thank you for your continued partnership, and here’s to an exciting year ahead and new beginnings.
November 20, 2020
I wanted to reach out and share some news regarding the potential merger between the Council on Accreditation (COA) and the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities (Alliance). I am excited to share that both the COA and Alliance Boards voted unanimously to move forward with our potential merger.
Now that we have reached unanimous votes from both Boards, we will begin finalizing documentation, proceeding with the vote of the Alliance membership, and planning for integration and implementation – pending membership approval.
This new organization will be unifying, intrepid, just, and purposeful. It will take our field and sector to new heights and allow us to contribute in deeply meaningful ways to support people, organizations, and communities to thrive. As always, please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or concerns.
Jody Levison-Johnson, PhD, LCSW
COA President & CEO
August 25, 2020
We are pleased to share that the Council on Accreditation (COA)’s Board of Directors voted to move forward with plans to explore a merger with the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities! The Alliance has always been a close partner, and was one of our founding organizations, together with the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). To learn more, visit the press release here, or watch the message from Jody Levison-Johnson, COA’s President & CEO, below.
Hello. I am Jody Levison-Johnson, the President and CEO of the Council on Accreditation.
I wanted to connect and share some news in one of the most personal ways possible right now.
These are unique and challenging times, and in this environment, I think each of us is learning that we need to find new ways of working – whether that be a shift to remote work, putting on a mask or other PPE, or changing the services we provide.
As you know, the Council on Accreditation has been doing the same. Our shift to remote work and virtual reviews are just two examples of how we are consistently adapting, looking forward, thinking about what’s on the horizon, and creating new and effective ways to respond.
Right now, what is going on around us requires us to innovate at a rapid pace. Fortunately, COA has been considering ways to innovate since my arrival in March of 2019. We have been thinking long and hard about the ways we can better support our accredited organizations and the broader field and sector.
With that as our backdrop – with a focus on what we can do to more deeply and meaningfully support you and strengthen your ability to improve the lives of those you serve – I am excited to announce that our Board of Directors has voted to move forward with a due diligence process to explore coming together with the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities to form a new organization.
Many of you know the Alliance. In fact, they were one of COA’s founding organizations, back in 1977.
This exploration is the culmination of many months of extensive discussion about how we collectively could be so much more and recognizing that we MUST be so much more in order to meet your needs–to help you meet the pressing demands of our world today.
Human and social service organizations – whether public or private – must demonstrate excellence and achieve results. Accreditation is an integral part of it…and it is only a part. We can, through coming together, support our organizations and the field in so many more ways.
This is entirely consistent with what drew me to COA and with the vision of what we need to be. Coming together will allow us to create new pathways to engagement, add value to accreditation, and create an array of ways to help organizations of all sizes and levels of sophistication to have access to supports that were previously not available.
I also want to assure you that we will maintain the independence of accreditation in this new organization. Our focus will always be to ensure the relevance of accreditation standards to the work you’re doing, the rigor of our accreditation processes, and the results you are able to achieve on behalf of the people and communities you all represent.
We look forward to sharing more about this opportunity going forward.
Questions? Comments? Please reach out to us here.
The most vulnerable members of society have also been the hardest hit by the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. The work of nonprofit organizations serving those populations continued largely uninterrupted over the past several months—despite sparse protective gear for staff, thinly-stretched funds, and minimal to no national guidance about how to safely proceed.
Behavioral health centers, foster care services, homeless and women’s shelters, and many other human and social services organizations have not shut down. They have been navigating urgent and rapidly changing issues on the fly to keep their essential staff safe as they deliver critical services.
The Council on Accreditation (COA) discussed the changes and challenges of recent months with eight of our Sponsoring Organizations, which are nonprofit membership bodies comprised of organizations that provide human and social services (many of whom are accredited by COA). Sponsoring Organizations serve as critical advisors to the COA, helping us understand the accreditation needs of provider agencies, industry trends, and environmental challenges within the human and social service landscape. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have played a central role in helping their member agencies figure out how to safely continue operating in unfamiliar terrain.
We wanted to take a moment to recognize their work and highlight the innovation and creativity that emerged during this difficult time. Their stories illustrate best practices in “continuous evolution” and “resilience” that help organizations push through difficult times.
High levels of uncertainty have been a constant since March. Every organization has had to re-evaluate priorities and re-direct resources accordingly.
“One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned from the past few months is the concept of truly listening to members. Never has that been more critical,” said Mohini Venkatesh, Vice President of Business Strategy at the National Council for Behavioral Health (National Council). “We had to figure out how to represent the full continuum of experience of our members —from those serving wealthy communities to the underserved—in an environment where everyone’s experience was highly variant and changing fast.”
High-frequency membership surveys and town hall meetings facilitated by the CEO of National Council helped them keep the biggest challenges facing members front and center. Members’ inability to access to personal protective equipment (PPE) surfaced as a high priority early on. A survey of its members found that nearly 83% of behavioral health organizations did not have enough PPE for two months of operations.
When National Council put out a mass call to its members about PPE, it received requests for roughly 2 million masks within 48 hours. Although completely outside of its normal focus, National Council moved quickly to find a manufacturer and contractor that could fulfill and distribute its’ members PPE order.
The Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies (NJHSA) also went into action to provide PPE for its members after hearing safety concerns from agencies that interact with high-risk senior populations and hospice patients. It collaborated with several other organizations to do a group bulk purchase of PPE.
Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA)who serves millions of people per year, has distributed $6.1 million to agencies for COVID-19-related disaster grants and helped providing PPE, delivering almost 2 million face masks, 650 gallons of hand sanitizer, and gloves, masks, shields, and gowns. Across their network of facilities, they have seen a 50%-70% increase in clients seeking assistance including a broader demographic than low-income and poor households that traditionally walk through their doors including an increase in middle-class families who lost their jobs as the pandemic surged.
Collaboration was also central to the work of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), a nonprofit financial counseling organization, as states started to lockdown. With many Americans facing sudden unemployment or a dramatic reduction in work hours, financial stresses were running high – people needed short-term relief from paying credit card bills, mortgages, and other debts.
NFCC recognized that consumers needed an immediate short-term solution, regardless of where they sought counseling. They took a lead role in collaborating with other nonprofit credit counseling agencies, credit card issuers, lenders, and regulators to develop a national emergency payment relief program. The program allowed consumers to skip payments without penalties or damage to their credit rating.
“We experienced five years-worth of progress in a period of five weeks,” said Bruce McClary, Vice President of Marketing for NFCC. “It would have been an impossible goal to achieve if we had not already built strong relationships with key industry stakeholders and developed a solid communication framework.”
Facilitating communication and problem-solving
One of the top priorities for nearly every organization we interviewed was facilitating communications between its members to problem-solve.
The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities (Alliance), which is comprised of a variety of nonprofit human services organizations and state associations, initiated regular pulse surveys to assess members’ most immediate needs. The lack of guidance about how to deal with rapidly changing COVID-19 developments was a major stress point.
“Being nimble and taking risks with our communication strategies was crucial,” said Lenore Schell, Senior Vice President of Strategic Business Innovation at the Alliance. “Our guiding principal was to act as the facilitators, not the experts. We launched webinars in the early stages of the pandemic knowing we had few answers to provide, but it created an environment of trust for dialogue with and between members.”
The Association of Children’s Residential Centers (ACRC) also positioned itself as a communications hub for its members, which are residential centers for children. They couldn’t close down services and had to quickly figure out how to keep residents and staff safe in a setting where it is nearly impossible to social distance.
“Meeting the needs of behaviorally challenged young people is already tough work. And the COVID-19 pandemic created additional complexity at every level,” said Kari Sisson, Executive Director of the ACRC. “We quickly realized that the field needed a way to safely exchange information to develop policies, procedures, and best practices – and learn from others’ experiences.”
Affinity groups that were created before the pandemic served as a critical information-exchange for members. An affinity group that served kids with autism and severe brain injuries was able to learn a great deal from an agency in Massachusetts that was hit hard by COVID-19 – it helped peers think through how to plan for adjustments to family visit polices, establishing isolation units, and other safety issues.
Providing opportunities for peer collaboration became an immediate focal point for the Child Welfare League of America as well; it is comprised of agencies that serve vulnerable children and families. In the early stages of the pandemic, they gathered a small group of agencies from the hardest-hit states including New York and Washington to discuss challenges and lessons learned. CWLA also initiated “open mic” weekly conversations to let all member agencies voice their struggles and exchange information about what was working.
“We became a funnel for information for the industry, helping members navigate how to put new policies and protocols into place,” said Julie Collins, Vice President of Practice Excellence for CWLA. “We are still receiving daily inquiries from agencies about how others are dealing with specific issues.”
CWLA shared the intelligence from its various forums with its entire network of members via webinars and best practice newsletters. Topics spanned a wide range of issues from helping foster parents manage e-learning to guidance on recruiting and training staff virtually to establishing protocols for an employee that tests positive for COVID-19. They also arranged for Congressional representatives to hear directly from small agencies about their concerns.
As the COVID-19 lockdown hit different parts of the U.S., health and human service agencies had to abruptly transition as much as possible to virtual mode, often with little warning. Telehealth services suddenly became the norm instead of the exception.
“Initially, the government and insurance providers were only allowing telehealth services that used both video and audio capabilities. We had to help our agencies fight for allowing telephone-only services,” said Reuben Rotman, CEO and President of Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies (NJHSA). “There are big segments of the population that don’t have access to a computer or the internet, or they simply don’t know how to use it.”
For example, one of the agencies under NJHSA was working with a patient suffering from agoraphobia who had not left her house for nearly a year. Her therapist was able to counsel her via Zoom sessions – a more relaxing environment for the patient – and actively workshop steps that reduced her anxiety about getting into her car.
Although shifting to telehealth so quickly presented numerous challenges, it is also brought to light the effectiveness of alternative approaches.
“Telehealth is helping agencies live the true value of person-centered care – delivering treatment remotely to those who prefer that option,” said Venkatesh of National Council. “While many questions linger, the rapid deregulation of telehealth opened the flood gates. It’s clear that virtual services have great value, and we’ll need to help regulators understand the need for a hybrid model moving forward.”
Nancy Ronquillo, CEO of Children’s Home Society of America, the oldest network of child-welfare agencies in the U.S., said that their members expressed similar sentiments about shifting to virtual visits and counseling with families. “For some families, doing a 15-minute phone call a few times per week instead of a one-hour home visit with an agency worked much better,” said Ronquillo. “When agencies were freed from their traditional boundaries, it helped them test and realize how alternative strategies can work better for some kids and families.”
Health and human service agencies were overwhelmed with the logistics of managing day-to-day operations, leaving little room for them to process new developments. Many of the organizations we interviewed took on this “processing” role, serving as a source of clarity on fast-moving critical issues.
When the U.S. Small Business Administration announced details about the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, Children’s Home Society of America provided immediate guidance to its members so they could quickly plug into the application process. They also facilitated one-on-one calls between CEOs of its member agencies to troubleshoot the nuts and bolts of working with banks on the loans.
At (CCUSA), they have continued to push throughout the pandemic for the availability of stimulus funds and increased funding for programs like the Emergency Food and Shelter Program to support the most vulnerable of populations.
The Alliance sent communications about PPP almost daily, highlighting key details about eligibility, deadlines, and how the process worked. Many of the Alliance’s members said that without those communications, they would have missed out on the PPP loans.
Uncertainty continues to linger for the foreseeable future. Short-term changes are putting long-running challenges into sharp focus, giving nonprofit organizations a chance to think more creatively about how they deliver value to those they serve. We are inspired by the spirit of collaboration and resilience within the nonprofit world to continue to serve while tackling unforeseen challenges.
COA’s President and CEO, Jody Levison-Johnson recognizes that COVID-19 has been and will continue to be a game changing experience. “COA is continuing to evolve to ensure that our standards and processes provide the greatest impact on the people and communities served by human and social service organizations. We thank the entire COA community for all of the work being done during these challenging times to ensure the continuity and quality of service delivery to the most vulnerable of populations.”
If we can be of any assistance, please let us know how we can help.
Since we began taking huge societal steps to flatten the curve and address our current public health crisis, my inbox has been flooded with emails from what seems like every retailer and restaurant I have ever visited. Are they reaching out to alert me of the latest sales or entice me with a great deal? No. These businesses are reaching out to inform me about their individual response to the spread of COVID-19. These communications have included how they are adhering to state-specific closure orders, enhancing their hygienic practices, supporting the health and safety of staff, and pretty much anything related to changes brought on by measures to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Social service providing organizations, whether classified as essential or nonessential during this time, are no different in that they must strive to communicate with their stakeholders about how they are addressing COVID-19 as an organization. Across a single social service program, stakeholders can include clients, family members of clients, staff, volunteers, community members, funders, and board members. All of these stakeholders can be impacted in different ways by your COVID-19 response measures. Communicating clearly and specifically to individual groups of stakeholders will show them that your organization is taking the crisis and its role in protecting the community seriously.
COA has put together a list of references to assist your organization in navigating communication with your stakeholders during this time. We’ve organized the information below by:
- Developing a communication strategy
- Staff outreach
- Funding, media, and advocacy outreach
- Guidance on reducing stigma
Our Interpretation blog is meant, first and foremost, to be a resource for the COA community. We are continually evolving its content to meet the needs of our COA network. If you have a resource, article, or tool that you’d like to see posted, we’d love to hear from you! Reach out to us by email at PublicPolicy@coanet.org.
Developing a communication strategy
The abrupt transitions required by COVID-19 has forced for-profit and nonprofits alike to rapidly address a myriad of issues, including communication with their stakeholders. Taking the time to develop a planned communication approach will ensure there is continuity and comprehensive information in your communications and will likely prevent time spent later answering questions. Harvard Business Review has published some helpful tips in developing your communication approach, beginning with the creation of the standing Pandemic Leadership Team. They have also examined the emergency communication responses of companies that have experienced crises previously.
- Harvard Business Review: Communicating Through the Coronavirus Crisis
Whether your agency staff are considered essential or non-essential workers, it’s important to understand that they are impacted both professionally and personally by this crisis. Communications to staff should be sensitive to this by providing clear, concise, and accurate information. In addition, ensure staff are given a supportive and facilitative environment to ask questions and seek clarification. Workers are dealing with a myriad of concerns as a result of COVID-19. They’ll expect clear information regarding everything from individual health insurance coverage to expectations in work-from-home policies.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created tools to assist employers in communicating about COVID-19 with their staff. In addition, Forbes has put together a survival guide to caring for staff in a remote environment that can help you craft internal communications during this time. How you communicate with staff during this crisis will dictate the office culture when you return.
- CDC: Prepare your Small Business and Employees for the Effects of COVID-19
- Forbes: Company Survival Guide To Care For Staff During The Coronavirus Pandemic
Funding, media, and advocacy outreach
Addressing the global public health crisis has led to an unprecedented global financial crisis. Legislators at the state and federal level are working hard to determine how best to support the economy while maintaining needed social distancing precautions.
The first federal stimulus package, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, provided some of the financial aid needed by businesses and individuals. It is expected to be followed up with subsequent stimulus bills to continue providing meaningful aid. This means there will be additional opportunities for service providing agencies to advocate for inclusion in future relief packages. It is important that agencies are using any and all tools and connections they have to advocate for their stakeholders and raise awareness of the importance of their specific services in their community.
The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities (also known as the Alliance) has created a toolkit for their network to raise awareness about the importance of community-based human services organizations, which become even more vital in times of crisis. To also assist you in raising critical funds, this toolkit includes a national fundraising campaign with graphics and sample posts, as well as media outreach templates. Use these tools to leverage your visibility as part of the national Alliance network and raise awareness for your specific community impact and financial needs.
- Alliance for Strong Families and Communities – COVID-19 Fundraising and Media Outreach Toolkit
Communicating accurate and helpful information is the duty of all organizations addressing COVID-19 in their community. On-site, this can mean having materials available to service recipients. The CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) have published a number of free resources for all businesses to use, including fact sheets, guidance, videos, and posters. By using the latest materials published by the CDC, you will ensure the information you are communicating is in accordance with current public health announcements and guidance. In addition, check your state’s public health and human service department’s departments websites to see if materials specific to your state are available to you. Below are links to current communication tools and resources available for use and distribution.
- CDC: Communication Resources
- CDC: Directory of state and territory health agencies
- WHO: Communicating the Risks of COVID-19
Guidance on reducing stigma
Stigma affects the emotional and mental health of those that the stigma is directed against. Stopping stigma is an important part of making communities and community members resilient during public health emergencies. Even if we are not personally involved with the stigmatized groups, it’s important to stay vigilant and address it when issues arise.
We hope you find these resources useful! Check out our other posts on COVID-19—COVID-19 Resources (Extended Version) and Preparing for Response to COVID-19,—for additional information.
What other helpful resources for managing communication during the COVID-19 outbreak have you seen? Share yours in the comments below!
Protect your clients, protect your staff, protect your organization, protect your community.
As the virus that causes COVID-19 continues to have a significant impact on our lives, accredited and in-process organizations have asked us how the standards can help them be ready and respond. In this post we will make a few big-picture recommendations about where to start with your preparations, then point out the key standards that might inform your response.
A few quick recommendations
Before we look at specific standards, we have a few recommendations. First, pull your senior staff and members of your governing body together to think about what your organization needs to do be prepared for and respond to the virus. We strongly recommend that you review the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Administrators and Leaders of Community- and Faith-Based Organizations to Plan, Prepare, and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). This resource is the single best resource we have seen to help you prepare your organization for the inevitable arrival of the coronavirus in your community. The guidance provided is specific and clear and is continually updated as new information emerges.
Second, review and update your emergency preparedness plan and other relevant polices and procedures. COA has several standards that address key preparedness and response issues that accredited organizations will already have in place. These fall under the broad standards categories of human resources management, safety and security, and emergency preparedness. More about these below.
With regard to service delivery: Depending on the types of services you provide and the populations you serve, you are very likely to get multiple communications from federal, state, and county oversight entities, as well as others with specific directives and/or guidance that will directly effect your work at the program level. You will want to merge these varying sources of guidance– some of these will be mandatory–into a form that staff can understand and follow.
It is important also to make this information easily accessible. One organization that serves the homeless mentally ill in upstate New York has been receiving updated virus-related directives from multiple sources almost every other day. Every time one of these is received, the CEO merges the new information into updated procedures and then walks around and replaces the old documents, which have been posted all over the facility, with the newest version. Staff are very busy and aren’t always able to stop what they are doing and check their email to see if new updates have been made to the online procedure manual. So put such critical information right in front of them.
Third, communicate clearly and openly with the people you serve, your staff, and the public. The situation in your locale may be changing quickly. Your clients and staff will be looking to you for guidance. Wild Apricot has a very good blog entry titled How to Create a Crisis Communications Plan for Your Nonprofit that you may find useful.
Communication also includes ensuring that staff know who to go to for answers in rapidly evolving situations. Anticipate that some staff who have decision making authority may become sick. Plan for that eventuality, and make sure that staff know who to go to in their place. This is especially important in larger, multiservice organizations who may provide a variety of different services in multiple locations.
Now lets take a look at some of the key COA standards. Currently accredited organizations will have policies and procedures related to these standards already in place. For these organizations, your task it to review these and update them where necessary.
Review and update your emergency response plan and procedures
Pull out your emergency response plan and procedures (ASE 6.01, ASE 6.02, ASE 6.03) and review them with COVID-19 in mind. If you are like many other organizations, you may not have anticipated a fast-moving pandemic when your plan was developed. Emergency response plans and procedures for multiservice organizations and those providing services at different sites may need to include location-specific guidance for each program site.
Things to consider:
- Clarifying who will communicate with authorities and emergency responders at each program location
- Clarifying and testing your lines of communication to staff, your board, clients, and the public
- Clarifying your responsibilities for persons served with mobility challenges and other special needs
- Do you have sufficient supplies at each site? (I.e. masks, gloves, hand-sanitizer, first aid, first aid manuals, cleaning supplies, disinfectant, toilet paper, food, maintenance supplies, batteries, etc.)
- Is emergency contact information up-to-date for all staff and service recipients?
- Will medications be available for people in residential facilities?
- Are copies of emergency response plans and procedures readily available to staff at all program sites?
- How will programs and administrative offices cope with multiple staff absences due to illness?
- If volunteers perform important functions, how will those functions be done if volunteers are prohibited from entering your program sites?
- How will your programs operate if absenteeism spikes?
Review and update safety and security measures
The standards in ASE 5: Safety and Security address the safety and security of your staff and persons served at your program and administrative sites. Review your most recent safety assessment and any measures that were implemented to address identified issues. Then conduct a new COVID-19 assessment if time permits.
Things to consider:
- Will you need to update or create a visitor policy? (I.e., will visitors be prohibited? Who will be allowed to enter your program sites?)
- Will staff and service recipients be permitted to congregate?
- Will face-to-face staff/client interactions be permitted? If so, under what conditions?
- How quickly can you train staff on updated safety procedures and protocols?
- If you run a residential program, are you capable of quarantining residents? If not, what happens with residents who are ordered to be quarantined? How do you promote/enforce social distancing in congregate care facilities?
Review and update human resource management policies
By the time you read this, many of you will already be under restrictions mandating the closure of all non-essential businesses. Although most of our accredited organizations will be not be subject to those restrictions, most have staff that do not necessarily need to be on-site to perform their jobs. Many of you are scrambling to put human resource policies in place to reflect this new reality. The standard HR 3.02 broadly addresses what may go into an HR policies and procedure manual.
Things to consider:
- Which jobs are critical to the organization’s continued operation? Which can be performed remotely, and which cannot?
- How will critical job functions be performed if key staff are absent due to illness or the need to care for family members?
- Do you have a remote working policy? How will supervision be conducted for remote workers?
- Do your sick time and leave policies reflect guidelines and mandates about virus-related sick time? Does your family-leave time? Do they encourage staff to stay home if they feel sick?
- Is your HR department staying abreast of the latest, rapidly-changing federal and state rules about insurance costs? Are you prepared to help staff understand how new rules apply to them?
Again, the CDC has good, comprehensive, practical guidance for employers: Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Review and update technology and information security for remote working
Remote working is as much a technological issue as it is a human resources management issue. The policies and procedures required for RPM 4: Technology and Information Management, and RPM 5: Security of Information should be reviewed and updated if you will be requiring some of your staff to work at home.
Things to consider:
- How will staff securely access work files from off-site?
- How will remote staff communicate with staff who are still working onsite? With each other?
Review and update policies and procedures for technology-based service delivery
The coronavirus has rapidly pushed technology-based service delivery from the periphery to becoming a core intervention modality for many kinds of social and human services. If you are already employing technology-based interventions, take this time to review new rules and guidance coming for the federal government on its use. Then review the standards in PRG 4: Technology-based Service Delivery to ensure that your current practices continue to meet the requirements of the standards.
If you are thinking about employing technology-based interventions for the first time, you need to understand that there are many important factors to consider, including confidentially, security, data collection and transmission, acceptable technologies, licensure, how to work with clients through electronic means, and more. A review of the standards in PRG 4 will give you a frame of reference for what such services look like.
We hope this post helps to bring some of the most important questions into focus for you as you prepare for the coronavirus. The function of accreditation is to build organization’s capacity and resilience through a careful and thorough review of its administration and service-delivery practices. It does this by having you look at what you are doing and how you are doing it, thinking about how you can do things better, and, finally looking ahead so you can be ready for what is coming, both seen and unforeseen.
In light of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, we wanted to highlight some of the resources that we provide on our website, and to provide additional ones, as well. Stay up-to-date on everything happening with COA during the pandemic here.
No matter what role you occupy in the social service delivery continuum, chances are that precautions in the face of COVID-19 have drastically changed the way you work in just a few short weeks. This rapid transition in our lifestyles has led to a deluge of information about how to cope and behave during this time, both personally and professionally. COA has put together a list of references to assist you and your colleagues in navigating all of this news and guidance. We’ve organized the information below by topic:
- General guidance from government agencies
- Guidance for child welfare providers
- Guidance for childcare providers
- Guidance for businesses and employers
- Guidance for healthcare professionals
- Guidance for community organizations
- Guidance on reducing stigma
The Interpretation blog is meant, first and foremost, to be a resource for the COA community. We are continually evolving our blog content to meet the needs of our COA network. If you have a resource, article, or tool that you’d like to see posted, we’d love to hear from you! Reach out to us by email at PublicPolicy@coanet.org.
General guidance from government agencies
It’s important to educate yourself on and follow the guidance of international, national, and local health organizations. The following organizations maintain a collection of resources and information on the spread of COVID-19. COA recommends locating the health agency of your state or territory to find information that is specific to your local community. In addition, make sure that you are signing up for available subscription/distribution lists, where information may be disseminated on an ongoing basis.
- From the World Health Organization (WHO): Coronavirus Disease (COVID-2019) Situation Reports
- From the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC): Coronavirus Disease 2019
- From the Canadian Department of Health: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19): Outbreak Update
- Directory of state and territory health agencies
Guidance for child welfare providers
The US Children’s Bureau shared this letter with the agencies they oversee the in child welfare system. In addition to this letter, the Children’s Bureau is maintaining this webpage with resources related to COVID-19.
Organizations leading the field in child welfare practice and policy have also created resources to assist agencies in navigating service delivery during this time:
- From the National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope with the Coronavirus Disease
- From Generations United: COVID-19 Fact Sheet for Grandfamilies and Multigenerational Families
- From Prevent Child Abuse America: Coronavirus Resources & Tips for Parents, Children & Others
- From the National Association of Social Workers: Resources for Social Workers
In addition, The Chronicle of Social Change (now The Imprint) has redirected their reporting to focus on COVID-19 and have posted a number of stories on developments in the child welfare space. We recommend starting with Coronavirus: What Child Welfare Systems Need to Think About.
Guidance for childcare providers
Childcare providers have been deemed essential workers across many regions, even areas with the strictest social distancing regulations in place. This is because we need to ensure childcare is accessible to other essential workers during this time.
Guidance for businesses and employers
There is no doubt that concerns about and restrictions around COVID-19 are impacting how businesses are run. We’ve seen some guidance on how to bear out these changes here:
- From the CDC: Resources for Businesses and Employers
- From the US Department of Labor: COVID-19 Overview
- From the National Council on Nonprofits: The Nonprofit Community Confronts the Coronavirus
Guidance for healthcare professionals
Healthcare facilities are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Find resources to help manage resources and protect yourself and your staff below.
- From the CDC: Resources for Clinics and Healthcare Facilities
- From the CDC: Resources for Healthcare Professionals
Guidance for community organizations
Community-based organizations will be integral to ensuring the infrastructure of community needs are able to be met during this time. Fortunately, there are COVID-19 tools available for organizations that serve vulnerable populations:
- From the CDC: Resources for Community- and Faith-Based Leaders
- From the CDC: Resources to Support People Experiencing Homelessness
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans also has resources specific to each type of services provider they oversee:
- From the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans: COVID-19 Resources
Guidance on reducing stigma
Stigma affects the emotional and mental health of those that the stigma is directed against. Stopping stigma is an important part of making communities and community members resilient during public health emergencies. Even if we are not personally involved with the stigmatized groups, our voice can have an impact.
- From the CDC: Reducing Stigma During a Public Health Crisis
What other helpful resources for managing the COVID-19 outbreak have you seen? Share yours in the comments below.