Administrative Practices


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:

  • The vision and mission of public child welfare must be articulated in a compelling and relevant way to the central administrative staff.
  • The vision and mission of the public child welfare agency must be articulated in a way that clearly aligns with the overall human services mission.
  • Strategic partnerships with other human services leaders served by these administrative staff, as well as with the Human Services Division Director, are critical.
  • When all of the agencies supported by a central administrative team are articulating similar values and needs, it will be more likely the administrative functions, processes and policies will serve the outcomes of children, youth and families.

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:

  • Performance expectations for the administrative leaders that clearly call for alignment with the practice model. 
  • Understanding, using and adhering to administrative procedures and practices by program managers and staff through sound internal controls.
  • Open and regular conversation among senior leaders and middle managers about how administrative functions are or are not supporting outcomes.
  • Continuous feedback loops, with broad input from program staff members that evaluate and lead to process improvements in day-to-day administrative practices.
  • Consistent effort to engage administrative staff in the “stories” of the children, youth and families being served.
  • Recognition for administrative staff who demonstrate the desired alignment to the practice model in day-to-day operations.
  • Clear expectations that program staff will invest in improving procedures and simplifying processesrather than resenting and ignoring them.

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 

and disproportionality.


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.

Change & Innovation Agency
FEi Systems
PCG Human Services
Governing Magazine
Conference Edge