Agency Assessment

Structure, culture, capacity and productivity are interrelated. When one is impacted, the others 

may be affected. These elements work together to enhance or impede the agency’s ability to achieve 

its mission. Agency leadership and workforce planners must continuously assess the agency to 

determine how the agency structure and culture impacts workforce capacity. Assessments of all these 

elements must be conducted both within and across workforce titles/units. Questions to address 


  • Does the agency structure support a shared understanding by program and administrative staff of agency mission and mutual respect for each other’s  expertise?
  • Does the agency culture enable front­line program staff to cope with the high stress and emotional upheaval that comes with the job and empower them to carry out their  jobs?
  • Does the way workloads are established and assignments made leverage agency capacity?
  • Does the agency’s productivity measure up to its  capacity?


Agency Structure

In child welfare, client needs can be complex. Boundaries among different departments and services 

need to be porous. Clients might benefit from multiple services being delivered from a single point of entry. A 

well­implemented practice model will balance the tension between agency processes and procedures 

and be responsive to client needs.


Agency structures are generally described on a continuum from hierarchical (rule bound with 

vertical lines of authority) to flat (high levels of autonomy with horizontal professional decision 

making). A table of organization reflects the levels and lines of authority: how people report for 

work, how they are supervised and the ratio of supervisors to employees. The structure of the 

agency is set through definitions of roles, levels, departments, polices and procedures and the use 

of cross­departmental work teams.


Agency structure generally defines whether power is centralized or shared. It determines how 

decisions are made at each level and how roles and responsibilities are defined. In addition, it 

determines where the authority lies to formalize external  relationships with community partners 

and how partners are defined. Each child welfare agency faces its own political, legal and service 

environments and must adapt its structure accordingly.


Example: In child welfare agencies, direct line program staff frequently may not report in person 

to the office each day but go directly to appointments in the clients' homes or community offices. 

This type of operation requires more autonomy and professional accountability. In addition, it 

is essential that clear boundaries regarding decision­making authority exist and that there are 

clear and open channels of communication and consultation. A child welfare worker providing in­    

home services and making a monitoring home visit may find circumstances changed. Faced with the 

need to secure child safety, the worker would need immediate access to supervisory 

consultation for decision­making as well as resources to strengthen parental capacity and preserve the family.


Agency Culture

Culture is the observable way work gets done within an organization. It is the actions and 

inter­relationships driven by the underlying beliefs that affect the workforce ability to perform. Culture shapes the way staff 

understand what management    expects of them and determines how organizational changes are made. 

The agency culture must respect and value staff in their peer, supervisory and administrative 

relationships, in the same way it expects staff to treat children, youth and   families.

Whether the agency culture is open and willing to change or closed and defensive in nature can be 

assessed by looking at how:

  • Goals and practice standards are set. 
  • Decisions are made.
  • Problems and conflicts are resolved.
  • Information and values are communicated internally and   externally.
  • Policies are developed and  implemented.
  • Performance management systems communicate job expectations, conduct staff appraisals and promote professional development.
  • Staff is organized and deployed.
  • Support is provided in times of crisis and how the agency shapes the public’s image of the  workforce.
  • The agency maximizes employee safety, sets workloads, makes training available, builds career ladders, heightens morale and takes steps to retain talented and effective staff  members.
  • Outreach and cooperative initiatives are undertaken with external community partners, including corporations, to enhance service  delivery resources.
  • Field staff members are engaged in identifying innovative practices and delivering quality services to clients.

Example: the negative attention from the media and government oversight bodies that public child welfare systems receive when interventions are unsuccessful in keeping children safe often leads to a defensive organizational culture—

one devoted to protecting itself against public and political criticism and punitive legal action.


Climate is the manifestation of culture in the hearts and minds of workers, individually and in 

small units. It is a function of many

factors including salaries and benefits, supervision, training, support, safety, opportunities to 

move up a career ladder, esteem and work­life balance.


Agency culture has a significant impact on climate. The way decisions and policies are made and 

communicated permeates the workplace and affects staff morale. Morale, in turn, can impact the 

quality of services delivered. Conversely, culture can mediate and change climate over  time.


Example: Internal professional development can be promoted in an agency that traditionally looked 

externally for higher­ level staff.


Climate is best measured through perceptual surveys, focus groups and exit interviews that explore 

workers’ perceptions of the conditions under which they work and the basis upon which they make 

judgments about the job and working conditions.


Examples of these can be found in research of Charles Glisson who has researched culture and 

climate in child welfare and Alberta Ellett who has developed a scale for measuring organizational culture in child   





Workforce Capacity

Capacity refers to the tools, human and otherwise, needed to accomplish the agency’s goals and 

objectives. In child welfare, capacity is an intricate equation that requires looking at the interrelationship between

program and administrative staff. The number of staff needed to handle the cases that come to an agency is 

impacted by many factors including: the complexity of the service needs of the client population; 

the resources available to meet the services needs of each case; the environment in   which 

services are delivered; the level of training and experience of the workforce; the way in which the 

agency organizes services, such as whether support staff are available to assist program staff with 

data input, transportation, caseworker visits and other tasks; the way supervision is provided; and 

the agency’s staff performance  expectations.


The children, youth and families a public child welfare agency serves come with a highly variable 

set of needs, issues and levels of motivation. Ideally, the agency will discern in advance the 

types and levels of service that case “types” require. For example, sexual abuse cases require more 

time and attention than cases that may be directed to alternative response. The public child 

welfare agency must also always be on guard to note the changing nature of its case mix and its 

effects on the specializations   and numbers of workers required to get the job done  well.

The workforce is a fundamental but multifaceted ingredient of capacity. Some agencies rely more on 

specialty workers; others rely on generic workers. Some agencies include administrative tasks as 

part of its program staff’s responsibilities; others limit those tasks to staff hired solely to 

perform administrative work. Staff comes with different skill sets and capabilities. They adapt and 

add to their repertoire in differing degrees and at differing   speeds.

The goal is to align client needs with the skills that its workforce possesses to serve the clients 

well. Agencies must be clear about the work that needs to be done as well as the amount of work 

that a worker can reasonably be expected to do in a period of time. That estimate is crucial to an 

agency’s ability to meet the expectations of its mission and practice model, its funding agents, 

stakeholders and clients as well as its  workforce. Achieving equitable, manageable workloads in public child welfare is more than a mathematical  distribution of cases. The agency must find a way to assign cases to workers so that the inherent  amount of “work” in a particular case is taken into account. In the end, case assignments must 

balance the mix of casework and non­casework time needed with time available. That formula may 

change based on the mix of competencies that public child welfare agency staff possess and the   

clients’ needs at any given time.

There are many ways to estimate workload. The most comprehensive way is for each agency to conduct 

its own   study, taking into account all factors that affect a worker’s potential to deliver services in its own unique 

environment and meet the practice model standards. While preferred, this mechanism is also the most 

expensive. When a child welfare agency is unable to access funding for a full study, it still needs 

to get an honest appraisal of workload. There are several approaches that agencies may adopt to 

achieve this. For instance, findings from field studies conducted by other agencies can be used to 

adjust internal estimates of agency workforce needs. Agencies can use this kind of approach to 

systematically determine workforce capacity, estimate required staffing and help ensure equitable distribution of

workload across the workforce.



Productivity is an important measure of the agency’s skill at managing for workforce    

performance. High productivity is an

expectation of the public child welfare workforce. When agencies are staffed adequately based on 

reasonable workload  estimates, agencies must then examine their levels of productivity. To 

calculate an agency­wide level of productivity, one must  take into account the number of workers 

needed to cover the number and type of cases being served, and how the effectiveness of the 

services are demonstrated. The calculation should also rest on the assumption (that is valid and 

reliable) that workloads   are comparable across units, departments and among individuals and 

should also incorporate the clients’ perspective.


Root cause analysis of both high and low levels of productivity will position the agency to 

continuously improve its workforce performance. Levels of productivity are linked to an agency’s 

culture and climate, but can also be the sum of individual worker skills or deficiencies. The 

agency’s expectations and demands on staff should be formally laid out in its performance 

management policy which must include staff development, training, monitoring, coaching, supervision 

and rewards for high productivity. While an agency must pay careful attention to staff skill 

development, it also must take seriously and have methods

for dealing with chronically poor staff performance. This will be addressed in the subsequent 

Performance Expectation section.


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