Driving Administrative Work from Vision, Values and Practice Model
The vision and values of public child welfare are well articulated and need to inform and permeate
not only the work with children, youth and families but also the work and interactions in and among
the administrative functions. A focus on the children, youth and families and agency outcomes
transforms the way administrative tasks are framed and executed. Both program and administrative
staff within the public child welfare agency must be equally conversant about and driven by the
vision and values and be able to continuously educate those values to outside support professionals
on which the agency depends.
When administrative functions are executed by a centralized Human Services Department:
In addition to vision and values, it is important that administrative staff be educated about the
practice model and the philosophy that drives it. For example, the importance of biological
families, the role of permanence in a child’s life, the rights of parents to make mistakes and be
given an opportunity to change are all significant tenets that cannot be assumed to be understood
by administrative professionals not trained specifically in public child welfare. Moreover, many
administrative staff members (e.g. those in legal services or finance) may support multiple
agencies and may not be focused on or even well educated about what the principles in the public
child welfare practice model mean for the administrative approach, decision-making or strategy.
Vignette: In Utah, training for non-program staff on the practice model is seen as critical to the achievement of the family - driven agency mission and values. All new and existing non-program staff members receive five-day training on the model. The training in corporates the philosophy of the practice, performance expectations of frontline staff and
supervisors, and the role of each member of a service team. It also includes information on how administrative staff can fulfill their role in supporting the practice model and how the practice model will facilitate their involvement with children, youth and families, even though their work may seem distant from the "hands-on" work of front-line program staff.
All staff should be expected to be able to articulate and implement practice model values while
completing the work in their respective key areas. Administrative staff may need to be educated
about these values and given opportunity to talk about how the work they do on a daily basis
embodies or differs from those values. The leaders in administrative areas must encourage, support
and model adherence to those values and to furthering the mission.
At a minimum, an effective strategy for aligning administrative staff and functions with the
practice model would include:
At its core, the work of public child welfare is child and family focused. This message can be
consistently and effectively articulated by all staff in the day-to-day operations of the agency.
For administrative staff to understand how to carry out their functions in a way that is child and
family focused, they must be provided feedback regarding the impact of policies and procedures on
families and on the staff serving those families.
Maintaining a focus on children and families throughout administrative practices also means that
the issue of disparity and disproportionality must be a concern to administrative leaders. Even
though administrative practices may at times seem distant from children, youth and families, when
executed with awareness and commitment to practice values, they can positively affect the agency’s
efforts to reduce disparity and disproportionality. For example, when contracting with vendors or
hiring staff, cultural competence must be judged to be equally as important as other selection
criteria. Contractors seeking to serve ethnic minority communities may not understand the
communities well. In some instances, it may be more beneficial for public child welfare agencies to
give leverage to contracting agencies that have experience working with various minority
communities. Those who represent the agency in any capacity, including vendors, must be capable of
demonstrating a family focus and capable of helping to meet the agency’s goals to reduce disparity
Building External Collaboration
There are many structures within which a public child welfare agency operates, depending on the way
a state has organized its human services. Regardless of the setting, however, collaboration with
external entities with which the agency interfaces is critical. Myriad of administrative functions
must be accomplished with the support of, and perhaps funding from, these outside entities. For
example, an agency is not likely to be able to launch a significant information technology
initiative without the support of the state/local information technology office, financial needs
are not easily met without the understanding and support of a state/local budget office and
significant human resources decisions are likely to be far more difficult to execute if the
state/local human resources office and the agency are not aligned in their approach to personnel
Building collaboration with external agencies requires an administrative plan that outlines how the
agency will work with the other large entities, reconciling the needs of the agency with the needs
of those who fund or provide critical support. It is the job of administrative leaders, in
conjunction with the public child welfare agency leadership, to create that vital understanding.
Unfortunately, it is all too common to hear agency staff complain that the larger entities “don’t
understand us” without recognizing that a lack of understanding by the larger entities indicates
that more work (or a better plan) is needed on the part of the agency. The agency’s goals,
priorities and outcomes need to be well-understood and there needs to be explicit recognition that
external collaboration is ongoing work.
Building Internal Collaboration
In many agencies, both public and private, there is a tendency for those who feel responsible for
“results” to be at odds with those who feel responsible for “controls and accountability”. It is
the job of leadership at all levels, beginning with the Executive Team, to mitigate this natural
tension. A strategy that aligns all parties to the mission and that values the contributions of all
staff toward that mission is critical. While it may seem benign for an Executive or the Executive
Team to tolerate tensions around leadership philosophy and management of tasks between those in
administrative leadership and those in program leadership, it is, in fact, not benign.
Collaboration between the divisions and functions of the agency is essential if outcomes are to be
effectively and efficiently achieved. Establishing and maintaining an effective spirit of
collaboration between all departments is the responsibility of both administrative and program
Two-way, consistent communication between administrative staff and program staff is critical if
administrative practices are to be effective and aligned with the mission. Administrative staff
must have an understanding of all the programs of the agency and program staff must have an
understanding of the challenges administrative staff face and the constraints that govern good
administration. As an example, administrative staff must be conversant about the values, vision and
practice model and have the opportunity to talk about them. While it may seem reasonable that
day-to-day business would enable this mutual understanding, this often is not the case. Intentional
effort and structured forums are necessary for conversations that facilitate collaboration and
cooperation between staff. Ideally, such conversations happen at routine intervals rather than
simply in response to a crisis or new policy direction.
Creating a Climate and Culture for Administrative Excellence
Agency climate and culture have been demonstrated to have the power to influence and affect the
behavior, attitudes and health of individuals working within agencies. Consequently, the
effectiveness of administrative staff is linked, in part, to the climate and culture they
experience within the agency. The working environment of effective public child welfare agencies
must be supportive, emphasize personal accomplishment and use the unique skills and abilities of each
individual in the agency, including those in administrative roles.
The following table provides an overview of key aspects of positive agency climate and some
suggestions on practical behaviors that would encourage a culture where administrative staff are engaged and experience themselves as essential to the mission.