The federal government is a virtual labyrinth of sub-organizations and agencies that vary in specialty. Each subset agency is guided by a set of goals and funding tied to those goals. One of the largest federal organizations, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHS), has a number of divisions that work to address specific aspects of human health. One such division is the Administration for Children and Families. Let’s take a look at how this division of the DHS operates and what role it plays in Americans’ lives.
What is the Goal of the ACF?
The Administration for Children and Families’ stated mission per their website is to “promote the economic and social well-being of families, children individuals and communities by empowering failed and individuals to increase their economic independence and productivity, encourage strong, healthy, and supportive communities that have a positive impact on quality of life and the development of children, create partnerships with front-line service providers, states, localities, and tribal communities, to identify and implement solutions that transcend traditional program boundaries, improve access to services through planning, reform, and integration, and address the needs strengths, and abilities of vulnerable populations including refugees and migrants.”
The achievement of these goals has a potentially tremendous impact on society as a whole by lifting up those who are vulnerable and empowering them to live their lives to their fullest potential. The future implications of children getting off to a strong economic and social start are serious and the ACF’s mission is to equip families and stakeholders with the resources they need to get off on the right foot.
What does the ACF do?
The ACF has a $49 million dollar budget with which to implement its strategies and programs. The major programs that the ACF oversees include, but are not limited to:
The above list of programs and committees illustrates just how diverse and interwoven the Administration’s reach is in its effort to help children and families. All in all, the ACF is a well-rounded agency that works to provide assistance to a wide cross-section of the American citizenry.
The 9 Core Issues of the ACF
The ACF’s official website outlines nine distinct issues that it attempts to work on. The agency’s important work can be broken down into:
- Child Welfare – working to make sure children are safe and families have resources for them.
- Children and Youth – the ACF works to combat youth homeless, child abuse, and teen pregnancy.
- Communities – programs that help to promote the economic well-being of communities.
- Early Childhood – fostering collaboration with federal partners to boost early childhood development programs.
- Emergency Response and Recovery – providing human service expertise to stakeholders in the wake of disaster events.
- Families – working for the social and economic betterment of families.
- Financial Security – programs to promote short-term financial security for working families.
- Grants and Funding – competitive grant programs for social service organizations from local to federal.
- Health – working to improve the social, mental, and physical health of vulnerable children and families.
Why is the Administration for Children and Families important?
Often, government agencies are asked to defend their importance. This defense can be made to Congress, local governments, community stakeholders, or even in the court of public opinion. The case for the Administration for Children and Families is strong. The role the administration plays in the betterment of society is critical. Here are just a few points regarding what makes the ACF indispensable.
- Funding: The ACF helps to delegate federal funds to state and local governments, non-profit organizations, and nationwide projects that have a direct impact on the lives of children and families. Organizations can apply for federal grants which, in many cases, are the primary funding source for local organizations working with the impacted individuals. Essentially, the ACF acts as a funnel for a vast amount of resources to get money to social workers on the ground.
- Policy development: The ACF uses its resources to develop policies and programs that can work at the federal level and also be applied at the local level. These policies set the tone and environment in which organizations can plan their activities. While much of the policy work is dictated at the Congressional level by state and federal lawmakers, much of the interpretation and implementation is left up to the agencies that comprise the Administration for Children and Families.
- Research and lobbying support: In addition to financial resources, the ACF has a lot of intellectual firepower at its disposal. Considerable resources are spent conducting research and gathering large swaths of data that can be disseminated to other organizations. This data can be used to direct policy decisions, allocate funding, and provide logistic insights that organizations on a more local level don’t have access to.
- The future: Perhaps the best argument for the importance of the Administration for Children and Families is the more idealistic role that it plays in developing the greatest resource our society has: children and families. The agencies under the umbrella of the ACF work to see that children and families in need are provided the resources they need to enrich their lives and better their situations. While this point is broad and less tangible than the other three mentioned, the mere presence of a large federal level administration devoted to these specific issues is a big deal.
Reports and Data within the ACF
A major role that the ACF plays in child and family services is the collection and standardization of data. There are six major reporting systems that the administration oversees:
- AFCARS – The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System
- NCANDS – National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System
- NYTD – National Youth in Transition Database
- State & Tribal Information Systems
- Title IV-E Prevention Program
These reports are made available to the public via the administration’s website and are intended to be used by policymakers and advocates when making decisions. For instance, the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Report can help policymakers with their understanding of the population and demographics of children likely to be in foster care and how to reduce their future reliance on that setting.
How Case Management Systems help Agencies with ACF reporting
Social services case managers are on the front lines of the effort to see the ACF’s goals through to completion. These professionals are invested in their community and care about the children and families they work with.
A critical resource for social service and human health organizations is a robust case management system. The very nature of the type of work these agencies perform requires a high degree of organization. The information must be accurate, easily accessible to the team, and store in a secure fashion. On top of all this, the system should be user-friendly. It should make case managers’ jobs simpler, not more difficult. Here are four-way that case management systems help agencies with ACF reporting:
- Standardization of data: In the world of health and human services, there is a tremendous amount of information that must be collected and be on hand in order for case managers to operate efficiently. Additionally, this data is often a requirement that comes along with accepting federal grant funds. In order to stay afloat, agencies and non-profit health service organizations must maintain a specific set of information that must be formatted and presented in a standardized way. Case management software is designed to be able to meet the requirement of ACF reporting standards. Not only does the standardized collection of information benefit the day-to-day operation of a social service agency, but it also helps ensure that operations and reporting are within the guidelines outlined by the Administration for Children and Families.
- Flexibility of the system: While it may seem antithetical to talk about flexibility and adaptability after just discussion standardization, it is actually the case that these aspects of a case management system are not mutually exclusive. Case management systems offer a plethora of functionality beyond simply supplying ACF reporting data. A good case management system should be able to adapt to the specific, individual needs of the organization utilizing it. The scheduling, workflow, and community-specific requirements won’t be the same across all organizations so the ability to modify a product to address those needs while simultaneously fulfilling ACF reporting requirements is critical.
- Safety and security of data: A top priority in the field of health and social services is the safety of client information. A case management system works to secure client data while still making that information easily accessible to the case managers and agency stakeholders. Stringent data security is a prerequisite for doing business in any health field at this point and is key to ensuring compliance with state and federal regulations as well as maintaining public trust.
- Efficiency: Electronic data records, process automation, remote cloud access, custom forms, online bill paying, and client portal access are just some of the features that can greatly enhance the efficiency of an agency. The days of case managers surfing through mountains of physical paperwork are over. Case management systems can automate what was previously onerous, mundane tasks and free up time for case managers to spend more time with the human element of their field.
Case Management Systems for ACF Reporting
Case management systems are used across a variety of disciplines and have a proven track record in real-life applications. While case management systems are just generally a good tool, they are not all created equally. The right CMS can transform an agency’s productivity and workflow allowing for case managers to do what they do best – help clients enrich their lives. Eliminating onerous paperwork and improving ACF reporting capabilities helps separate your agency from the rest of the pack.
PlanStreet is a case management system that can unlock the potential of your organization.