Administrative Practices


The mission of public child welfare agencies is to serve children, youth and families. The majority of staff employed in public child welfare agencies carry out that mission through direct contact with those they serve. Behind the scenes, however, enabling and supporting the work of program staff is a group of individuals who are not typically trained in human services but rather in professions such as finance, information technology and human resources. These administrative staff 

and their leaders design and support the infrastructure that is the backbone of the agency. Their contributions, while different, are also mission-critical. This guidance is intended to articulate strategies and implementation ideas that will enable the “technical expertise” executed in administrative functions to be effective, well received and powerful in guiding the agency. It is also intended to highlight and offer pragmatic guidance to the critical interdependent relationships and functions between administrative and program staff.


In this guidance, the word “administration” refers to those staff at all levels who execute the functions of the infrastructure (i.e., finance, information technology, human resources, etc.). The executives or other senior level program leaders who are sometimes referred to as “administration” are not referenced as “administration” in this guidance.


Administrative functions occur in a number of different contexts for public child welfare organizations. Those functions may be directly staffed and controlled within the agency, some or all may be performed out of a centralized Human Services Division, some may emanate from a centralized local or state office and some (e.g., Information Technology) may be contracted through an outside entity. Regardless of the context, this guidance is relevant because effective administrative practices aligned with and actively supporting direct client work is essential to achieve positive outcomes.


This Guidance Provides Answers to These and Other Questions:

  • How does an agency position its administrative functions to add the greatest value? What context is necessary for effective administrative  practices?
  • What important principles will administrative staff embrace and embody if they are to most powerfully support the work of public child welfare?
  • Whose expectations should drive the execution of critical functions and key processes in administrative areas?
  • How can administrative functions be performed so that the work toward safety, permanency and well-being of children, youth and families is most effectively supported?
  • What do day-to-day operations look like when administrative practices are effective? How should the effectiveness of administrative practices be measured?
  • What norms or values should guide administrative functions? How do we continuously evolve those norms and values beyond where they are to levels of greater excellence?

Why is this Critical Area Important to the Field of Public Child Welfare? How will Outcomes be Achieved for and with Children, Youth and Families?


In any human service agency, administrative functions can either advance the mission or create barriers to accomplishing the mission. Administrative mandates, such as monetary control or contracting diligence, can hinder effective service delivery if the mission of the agency is not informing and driving the administrative practices. In the public child welfare system every administrative function should support the goals of safety, permanence and well-being. The urgency of protecting children and empowering vulnerable families must be an urgency felt by administrative staff as well as those providing services. Clearly, the mission of public child welfare is critical. So also is the need for administrative practices to support and add value beyond technical skills to the accomplishment of that mission.


Administrative practices exist to support and enable the mission and the staff who work directly with children, youth and families. Those program staff must respect and value the role administrative controls and supports fulfill in the agency. Staff should not only operate in compliance with administrative policies and practices, but also engage in an ongoing effort to help those controls and 

supports be most effective. When administrative practices are effective, processes and procedures not only support the work of service delivery in various ways, they also create systems for accountability and quality improvement. As a result, administrative practices will have a significant positive impact on children, youth and family outcomes.


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