The Council on Accreditation (COA) is proud to announce the publication of our 2021 Private Standards!

The new standards will affect private organizations seeking accreditation.

In response to feedback from accredited organizations, COA revised the standards update process in 2020 from ongoing/monthly updates to annual updates. The 2021 updates reflect that annual process and include changes that were made based on ongoing collection and analysis of feedback received from our organizations and volunteer reviewers, collaboration with diverse groups of subject matter experts, and a review of research and professional literature on identified trends and evolving practices.

The 2021 updates include:

You can download the detailed changes for each of the updated sections in our 2021 Update document available here or in your MyCOA portal.

Note: The 2021 Edition will not impact organizations that are currently pursuing accreditation or re-accreditation and have already been assigned standards in the MyCOA portal.  If you are an in-process organization and have questions about the updates, please contact your Accreditation Coordinator.

The 2021 CYD Standards are now live at
Standards assignments will begin February 2nd. Please reach out to your Accreditation Coordinator with any questions.


The new CYD standards come on the heels of valuable feedback from stakeholders like you. All of our edits were done with a single goal in mind: to increase the value of accreditation by focusing on those practices and activities that will have the greatest impact on the children and youth COA-accredited programs work with. 
The 2021 revision focuses on the standards that promote the development of effective, programs and their capacity to provide quality experiences that help children and youth thrive. In service of that, we have refocused the standards to 1) give you more time to devote to those practices that have a more direct impact on children and youth, and 2) allow you to spend less time compiling evidence and more time improving practice. This means a:

A PDF summary of the standards changes can be found here.
Thank you for your continued dedication to best practice, and for being a part of the COA community.

Questions? Please contact Tobi Harrington Murch at tmurch -(at)- 

In many ways, this last year has created a crossroads for human service organizations. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have placed children and families of color at greater risk, with disproportionate impact on Black communities.  Demands for a reckoning on racial injustice and inequity in this country have called for fundamental and overdue changes to systems, institutions, and practices.

COA is committed to an accreditation process that supports organizations to advance equity, diversity, and inclusion. Our work to focus on racial and other inequities includes identifying where our accreditation standards can be strengthened to reflect the expertise, lived experiences, and strategies at the forefront of anti-racism work, and also highlighting areas of current practice where organizations should look to address discrimination and disparity.

In this post, we highlight some of those key areas that speak to equity, diversity and inclusion, such as community involvement and advocacy; representation in the workforce; training content; data collection and measurement; and culturally responsive service provision.

Community involvement and advocacy

Human service organizations do not exist in a bubble. They are shaped and often constrained by the same systemic biases and inequities that exist in legislation, policies, regulations, and funding streams. Ongoing community involvement, that includes outreach, education, and advocacy, is one way organizations can leverage available resources for the communities they serve and amplify the voices of their stakeholders. Our governance standards reflect the importance of partnership and communication within the community to effect change within organizations, communities, and in the systems of which they are a part. 

GOV 3.02

The organization conducts ongoing community outreach and education to:

  1. communicate its mission, role, functions, capacities, and scope of services;
  2. provide information about the strengths, needs, and challenges of the individuals, families, and groups it serves;
  3. build community support and presence and maintain effective partnerships; and
  4. elicit feedback as to unmet needs in the community that can be addressed by the organization as its top advocacy priorities.

Examples: Examples of public outreach and education activities may include:

  1. regular communication with the media and the general public;
  2. informing the public of the positive impact the organization’s programs are having on the community and its residents; and
  3. fostering positive relationships with the local media.

By building relationships and deeply engaging communities, organizations can identify unmet needs and build coalitions with the capacity to advocate for legislation and policies that will positively impact children, adults, and families. Organizations connect people to services, support, resources, and neighbors. COA promotes collaboration as a way for organizations to refine and leverage their service array and stay responsive to changing community needs. The standards emphasize the importance of collaboration within the organization and community at large through sustained communication across stakeholder groups.

GOV 3.03

The organization collaborates with community members and persons served to advocate for issues of mutual concern consistent with the organization’s mission, such as:

  1. making improvements to existing services;
  2. filling gaps in service to offer a full array of community supports;
  3. the full and appropriate implementation of applicable laws and regulations regarding issues concerning the service population;
  4. improved supports and accommodations for individuals with special needs;
  5. addressing community-specific needs including cultural and linguistic diversity; and
  6. service coordination.

Representation in the workforce

COA is intentional about communities served being represented throughout an organization, from program staff to executive leadership to the governing body. It is vital that the people served feel connected to and identify with the people and organizations with whom they are involved. A key part of assuring representation in the workforce is managing recruitment efforts that includes a diverse applicant pool. Recognizing that this process is important to an organization’s workforce assessment, the human resources (HR) and service standards speak to specific recruitment criteria, such as cultural identities and relevant lived experience, along with retention support.

HR 2.01

Job descriptions and selection criteria:

  • state the credentials, job expectations, core competencies, essential functions, and responsibilities for each position or group of like positions;
  • include sensitivity to the service population’s cultural and socioeconomic characteristics; and
  • are reviewed and updated regularly to evaluate their continued relevancy against the needs and goals of the organization’s programs and persons served.

Examples: Credentials can include, for example: education, training, relevant experience, competence in required role, recommendations of peers and former employers, and any available state registration, licensing or certification for the respective discipline.

RTX 2.01

Residential counselors, youth workers, adult care, and child care workers have:

  • a bachelor’s degree or are actively, continuously pursuing the degree;
  • the personal characteristics and experience to collaborate with and provide appropriate care to residents, gain their respect, guide their development, and participate in their overall treatment program;
  • the ability to support constructive resident-family visitation and resident involvement in community activities;
  • the temperament to work with, and care for, children, youth, adults, or families with special needs, as appropriate; and
  • the ability to work effectively with the treatment team and other internal and external stakeholders.

Training content

In the human services sector, the workforce often does not adequately reflect the people and communities served, particularly when it comes to race and ethnicity. To address this gap, it is imperative that organizations ensure that personnel have the knowledge, awareness, support, interest, and skills necessary to effectively engage people with whom they may not share the same privileges, identities, cultural practices, or other lived experiences. Our training standards reflect the belief that staff cannot serve people effectively without a comprehensive understanding of the systemic forces, including racial bias and discrimination, that continue to shape the lives of generations of individuals and families.

TS 2.04

Training for direct service personnel addresses differences within the organization’s service population, as appropriate to the type of service being provided, including:

  1. interventions that address cultural and socioeconomic factors in service delivery;
  2. the role cultural identity plays in motivating human behavior;
  3. procedures for working with non-English speaking persons or individuals with communication impairments;
  4. understanding bias or discrimination;
  5. recognizing individuals and families with special needs;
  6. the needs of individuals and families in crisis, including recognizing and responding to a mental health crisis;
  7. the needs of victims of violence, abuse, or neglect and their family members; and
  8. basic health and medical needs of the service population.

Ensuring professional learning opportunities for all staff is essential to combating inequity in organizations where people from historically marginalized communities are frequently underrepresented in leadership roles and experience obstacles to advancement. COA’s training standards require organizations to maintain culturally responsive personnel development plans to ensure that staff have the competencies needed not only to fulfill their existing roles, but also to advance in their field and in the organization. The standards emphasize the importance of utilizing a wide array of educational methods and evaluating training effectiveness in a way that considers varying learning styles, needs, and professional development goals.

TS 1.01

A personnel development plan:

  1. is reviewed annually and revised in accord with an assessment of the organization’s training needs;
  2. incorporates a variety of educational methods;
  3. is responsive to the history, cultural backgrounds, and related needs of personnel;
  4. outlines specific competency expectations for each job category;
  5. provides the opportunity for personnel to fulfill the continuing education requirements of their respective professions; and
  6. provides opportunities to support advancement within the organization and profession.

Examples: Educational methods can include, but are not limited to:

  1. interactive classroom trainings;
  2. webinars, self-paced trainings, or other computer-assisted training models;
  3. coaching; and
  4. structured peer support opportunities.

Data collection and measurement

In order to recognize and better understand patterns of systemic racism in human services and formulate just solutions, organizations need to have the right tools to evaluate where and how disproportionality and disparity exist. COA’s Performance and Quality Improvement (PQI) standards provide the framework for implementation of a sustainable, organization-wide PQI system that increases the organization’s capacity to make data-informed decisions thatsupport achievement of performance targets, program goals, positive outcomes, and level of satisfaction experienced by the staff and people served.

Organizations can identify disproportionality and address disparity in outcomes by tracking indicators according to race/ethnicity and other demographic variables. Data analysis is key to addressing racial disparity at all levels of decision-making, from strategic and annual planning to program evaluation.

PQI 5.01

Procedures for collecting, reviewing, and aggregating data include:

  • cleaning data to ensure data integrity including accuracy, completeness, timeliness, uniqueness, and outliers;
  • quarterly aggregation of data; and
  • developing reports for analysis and interpretation.

PQI 5.04

The organization:

  • reviews PQI findings and stakeholder feedback and takes action, when indicated; and
  • monitors the effectiveness of actions taken and modifies implemented improvements, as needed.

Culturally responsive service provision

The damaging effects of institutional racial inequality are particularly evident in the child welfare system, where Black and brown children and families are disproportionally represented, experience service inequities, and have significantly poorer outcomes as a result. The Family Foster Care and Kinship Care (FKC) and Public Child and Family Services (CFS) standards speak directly to the necessity of culturally relevant and responsive service provision, including identifying appropriate services for birth families, assessing and training prospective resource families, and strengthening each child’s support network.

FKC 19.03

Resource parents receive training and support to demonstrate competency in:

  1. supporting and facilitating children’s emotional, physical, and legal permanency; 
  2. meeting children’s developmental needs across life domains, including addressing any developmental delays;
  3. caring for a child of a different race, ethnicity, culture, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity;
  4. supporting children’s social identity development;
  5. supporting and facilitating family relationships, friendships, cultural ties, and community connections;
  6. collaborating with family team members and service providers; and
  7. managing the caregiver role, self-care, and the impact on the family. 

When it has been determined to be unsafe for a child to remain with their family, prioritizing placement with relative caregivers/kin and recruiting diverse foster or resource parents are key practices for ensuring that child’s connection to their communities and their cultural identities remain. Additionally, annual resource family recruitment plans should include targeted outreach activities that reflect the needs and characteristics of children in care. COA’s standards emphasize the importance of providing the support, investment, and resources necessary to address the unique needs of kinship caregivers in service to the children, families, and communities that they and the organizations with whom they partner serve.

FKC 7.03

In order to ensure children are in the most family-like and familiar setting possible, the organization makes reasonable efforts to ensure children are placed: 

  1. with siblings; 
  2. with kin; and
  3. with families that reside within reasonable proximity to their family and home community.

COA is committed to ending systemic racism, oppression, and discrimination, and will continue to push forward standards of best practice that are relevant; reflect our commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion; and support human services organizations in making positive, meaningful, and lasting impact in their communities.

As we continuously assess where the accreditation standards can be strengthened and further informed by best practices in anti-racism work, we want to hear from you. Please share your experiences and feedback about advocacy, staff development, training, and collecting outcomes by race at the link below. We welcome your input.

This is Part II of a series on the thinking behind the Council on Accreditation (COA)’s 2020 Edition updates. Visit Part I here.   

As we mentioned in Part I of this series, the goal of the COA 2020 Edition Standards is to promote the development of effective, mission-driven organizations that are equipped to meet the needs of their clients. Strategic planning is the vehicle by which an organization can move towards closing the gap between where they want to be (their mission) and where they are today.

That is why we have introduced a new Core Concept standard on Logic Models into every service section of the 2020 Standards. These will guide organizations to think systematically about the client outcomes they hope to achieve, the ultimate impact each of their programs is intended to have, and how the program will utilize its assets and resources to achieve its goals.

Below are answers to some commonly asked questions about the new Client-Centered Logic Model Core Concept.

Q: Why did COA strengthen our standards for program logic models?

A: In order to achieve something, you first need to define what you are trying to achieve! Funders are already asking organizations to demonstrate how they are achieving their mission, as well as what impact their programs have on the people they serve.  Completing a program logic model is a proven method for identifying how a program will use its assets, resources, and program activities to promote desired outcomes and have its intended effect.

Quality improvement is one of the aspects of COA accreditation that presents a challenge for organizations. It is also one of those that has the biggest impact. A logic model, or an equivalent framework, concisely demonstrates an organization’s quality improvement efforts at the program level. 

Q: Why is COA creating a greater focus on outcomes?

A: Once you know what you want to achieve and how you will do it, you then need to measure your success.  It is essential for organizations to demonstrate their program’s effectiveness through the use of data. Measuring outcomes is one mechanism to do this, as it helps determine the level of performance or achievement that occurred over time because of the services provided (i.e. how services are changing the lives of their service recipients).  

This is why it’s important to define and measure outcomes. Without knowing the intended result, it becomes difficult to demonstrate the true impact of the services provided.

In many ways, outcomes represent the hallmark of service provision; they help an organization articulate why someone should come to this organization for services. Outcomes data can also help organizations make informed decisions about their resource needs and how those resources should be allocated in order to sustain positive change. 

Q: Is COA rating organizations on whether or not they achieve the intended outcomes?

A: No, we are not rating an organization on the success of their outcomes. Instead, we look at: 1) an organization’s implementation of a framework for defining their success, 2) how they measure that achievement, and 3) what changes they make based on that data. The logic model is intended to support programs–and ultimately the organization–by providing organizations with a tool to demonstrate to themselves, their communities, and their funders that their programs are producing the desired impact.

Q: What is the difference between an outcome and output?

A: Outcomes indicate a change over time as a result of an active intervention.  Within the context of programs, outcomes represent what the program expects services recipients to leave with (e.g. improved quality of life; decreased depressive symptoms, etc.). Outcomes answer questions such as: has the service recipient’s behavior improved? Have parenting skills improved? Has knowledge been gained in a particular subject?

Outputs state what was produced or activities conducted. Outputs quantify the activities and should always be connected to a numerical value. Examples of outputs include: number of visits made, number of people served, number of counseling sessions.

Note: Due to the nature of some services it is difficult to measure outcomes over time, so the standards are slightly different. For example, Crisis Response and Information Services (CRI) only includes one standard regarding the logic model as well as an interpretation.

Cris Response and Information Services (CRI) 1

Here at COA, we are optimistic about how the implementation of logic models can help organizations blaze new paths toward improved service delivery and outcomes. By starting with the end in mind, we in the human and social services field can focus on what matters most and has the greatest impact.

Have an unanswered logic model question? Send us an email!

For more information on the changes in the 2020 Edition and who they affect, download our overview here. Accredited and in-process organizations can also access two recorded webinars with in-depth information in their MyCOA portal (under the tools tab). If you are new to COA and have questions about the standards or process changes, feel free to contact us!

This is Part I of a series on the Council on Accreditation (COA)’s 2020 Edition updates. Visit Part II here.

On January 15, 2020, we released an enhanced and refined set of private, public, and Canadian standards on our website. All of the work was done with a single goal in mind: to increase the value of accreditation by focusing on those practices and activities that will have the greatest impact on the people and communities COA-accredited organizations work with.

Our goal: To increase the value of accreditation by focusing on those practices and activities that will have the greatest impact on the people and communities COA-accredited organizations work with.

Our approach to the work

The COA 2020 Edition was the culmination of a review of the literature on organizational effectiveness and valuable feedback from our volunteers, organizations, and partners who provided critical insight into which aspects of COA’s accreditation process and standards were impactful to organizations and their clients, and which were not. 

Our mission at COA is to partner with human and social service organizations to strengthen their ability to improve the lives of the people they serve. Our belief is that in order to have the greatest impact on clients, the entire organization—from Human Resources to Finance to those directly delivering services and beyond—must be working together to fulfill that organization’s mission. COA’s 2020 Edition was designed to highlight and strengthen that connection.

Refocusing the Self-Study process 

In service of focusing accreditation on the standards that promote the development of effective, mission-driven organizations that are equipped to meet the needs of their clients over time, we have refined the standards to:

1. Give organizations more time to devote to those practices that have a more direct impact on clients, and

2. Allow organizations to spend less time compiling evidence and more time improving practice.

This is reflected in the 2020 Edition in multiple ways.

Firstly, in the years of work leading up to the 2020 Edition Standards launch, we sought to tighten what we ask of organizations. We eliminated or combined redundant standards within and across sections. We reorganized similar content whenever possible, and we eliminated overlap with state and government regulation.

We also sought to clarify expectations and delete what wasn’t needed. One way this was accomplished was by minimizing Interpretations within the standards including converting those that were informational in nature and not required into “Examples,” deleting those that were unnecessary or outdated, merging required interpretive language into the standard whenever possible, and adopting naming conventions to clarify when Interpretations only apply to specific service types (e.g. FEC Interpretation). Another was by moving research notes out of the standards and into the Reference List for each section.

Finally, we made a concerted effort to alleviate evidence pain points identified by our organizations and volunteers. This included:

This all means that organizations seeking reaccreditation will see significant reductions in the volume of requested evidence. It is our intention that the staff time and resources gained from these reductions can be redirected to the practices that have the most impact on the individuals and families served.

2020 Edition Reduction Statistics

Homing in on Administration and Management (AM) standards

With the 2020 Edition, we wanted to clarify and strengthen the connection between Administration and Management (AM) standards of practice and mission fulfillment.

With that in mind, we reviewed all five of the administration and management standards, which include Human Resources (HR), Financial Management (FIN), Performance and Quality Improvement (PQI), Risk Prevention Management (RPM), and Governance (GOV), to identify and in some instances enhance the standards and evidence that will be used to assess the role each part of an organization plays in supporting impact or achieving its mission.

For a detailed breakdown of the important role each part plays in this, download our fact sheet here.

Highlighting the most important practices

As organizations familiar with our accreditation process know, Fundamental Practice (FP) standards are those standards that an organization must meet in order to achieve accreditation. With the mission impact-focus of the 2020 Edition, we have expanded the categories of FP standards to include practices that promote organizational effectiveness. FP categories now include: Health and Safety, Client Rights, and Organizational Effectiveness.

Fundamental Practice Categories Table

It all comes together with strategic planning

An organization’s mission serves as the benchmark by which organizational effectiveness is measured, and strategic planning is the vehicle by which an organization can move towards closing the gap between where they want to be (their mission) and where they are today. Outcomes data coming from PQI activities, HR data coming from the annual assessment of workforce needs, and risk prevention and management activities are all examples of information that feeds into the strategic planning process.  Strategic planning, in turn, informs each decision that an organization makes, from budgeting decisions to hiring and personnel development decisions, with the ultimate goal of closing its mission gap.

This is why we have introduced a new Core Concept standard on Logic Models into every service section of the 2020 Standards. These standards guide organizations to think systematically about:

In other words, we’re hoping to help organizations work smarter, not harder.

These logic models denote an exciting advancement in our standards from previous iterations. To learn more about them, check out Part II of this blog series: COA 2020 Edition | FAQs about the Logic Model.

For more information on the changes in the 2020 Edition and who they affect, download our overview here. Accredited and in-process organizations can also access two recorded webinars with in-depth information in their MyCOA portal (under the tools tab). If you are new to COA and have questions about the standards or process changes, feel free to contact us!