Children's Aid Society of Alabama - 32 Years of Wisdom
At the Council on Accreditation (COA) we are continuously inspired by the work and dedication of the staff at our accredited organizations and their voracity to provide unparalleled services to their clients. In honor of COA’s 40th anniversary we would like to highlight Children’s Aid Society of Alabama (CAS), an organization that has partnered with COA for many years and continues to reap the benefits of the accreditation process.
Children’s Aid Society of Alabama has served families at risk since 1912. As a founding member of the United Way of Central Alabama and the Child Welfare League of America, CAS understands the changing landscape of child and family services. They have been at the forefront of developing programs for adoptive families, homeless youth, and children living with HIV. CAS was the 16th agency accredited by COA and they have held their accreditation status for 32 years, dedicated to implementing best practices while supporting adoptive children and families, youth in foster care, and children and families in crisis.
Gayle Watts, Executive Director, and Caron Sandefur, Director of Service Advancement and Excellence shared their thoughts on how accreditation has assisted Children’s Aid Society of Alabama with achieving their organizational goals. While they have found the accreditation process more manageable over time, they have also found the reaccreditation process continues to be both challenging and rewarding. Employed with Children’s Aid Society of Alabama since 1997, Watts has seen the organization expand and improve in response to accreditation standards.
Watts believes the repetitive nature of reaccreditation creates an opportunity for organizations to perform each self-assessment with a fresh pair of eyes. She said, “Each time, we have a better sense of how to implement the standards.” Both Watts and Sandefur agreed that during every reaccreditation cycle they appreciate and value the opportunity to ask, “Are we implementing the standards” and “Are we continuously improving the implementation of those standards?”
Under COA’s guidance not only does an organization address how best to provide specific services such as early childhood education, but COA’s standards require a detailed analysis of its administrative operations, ensuring that agency-wide processes have been assessed and reviewed. Watts and Sandefur noted that reaccreditation helps the staff focus on areas they might have otherwise overlooked. They also credit their experience with COA as a catalyst for envisioning what makes an organization sustainable. Watts says that COA’s robust requirements regarding strategic planning and risk management allow them to spend time strengthening those areas within their organization. Sandefur attributes part of their success to their commitment at the program level and their leaderships buy-in to the process.
Watts and Sandefur have found accreditation to be particularly helpful when working with their Board of Directors, new employees, and established staff. “It helps the board understand their business, and backs up their practices,” says Watts. Sandefur notes that the standards assist new staff with understanding both the organization’s structure and assists with acclimating them to the organization’s values. The four year accreditation cycle also offers staff an opportunity to reflect upon their hard work and the organization’s overall progress.
Watts has participated in the accreditation process as a staff member, manager, CEO, and COA Peer Reviewer. As a COA Peer Reviewer, Watts has had the opportunity to see accreditation from a different perspective and observe agencies as they evolve. She says, “All agencies struggle with Performance Quality Improvement at the beginning, but it eventually makes sense.” She also feels like she has a better understanding of the standards which makes her feel less anxious leading up to her own organization’s Site Visit.
Overall, it’s most important to Watts and Sandefur that Children’s Aid Society of Alabama fulfill its mission of “Changing lives, building families, and strengthening communities.” Watts says, “We are on the path to accomplishing our vision which is to be recognized as the go-to resource for permanency for children in the state of Alabama. And over the years since we set that vision I think we’ve made great strides to accomplish that, had it not been for COA I don’t know if we would have been so focused on our intent.”