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Social Services Accreditation 101: Getting Started


Accreditation goes a long way toward validating an organization and showing that it meets industry standards. It also helps establish the quality of the experience that someone will have with that organization. For example, when an educational institution is accredited, it shows that its programs meet the minimum standards necessary for graduates to move forward with successful careers in their fields. Understanding what accreditation is, and how it works, can make it easier for you to determine the right programs for your needs. Whether you are pursuing a new course of study or moving forward with professional goals, knowing the accreditation status of an educational institution can help. 

What is Accreditation? 

As Accreditation Guru notes, "Accreditation is a review process to determine if human service, healthcare, or educational programs demonstrate their ability to meet defined standards of quality." To receive accreditation, the service or program must meet certain specific, predetermined standards developed by the accrediting body.  

A number of different organizations provide accreditation. Accreditation can come at a regional level, a national level, or a program level, depending on the type of validation and standards required. Some organizations are accredited by more than one body: for example, a college or university might receive both regional and national accreditation or might receive accreditation for multiple programs based on the degrees offered, and the standards required for students to acquire those degrees.  

How are Accreditation Standards Set? 

Accreditation standards can differ greatly by industry. As Accreditation Guru notes, requirements will vary based on the body issuing the accreditation and the standards it expects. Standards can depend on: 

  • The principles, policies and best practices that apply to a specific industry or segment
  • Safety requirements for a specific industry or area
  • Minimum knowledge expected in a specific field of study or practice 

Generally, accreditation standards are based on widely known principles standardized by a specific industry or field. They may change over time, particularly with regard to safety or diversity standards. They are typically field-tested over time and adapted as norms change. However, those standards should be measurable and objective so that the accrediting body can clearly and easily assess whether applicants meet those criteria.  

What Types of Organizations are Accredited? 

As Accreditation Guru notes, several organizations can pursue voluntary accreditation that shows their commitment to meeting essential standards. These types of organizations can include: 

  • Mental health and substance use disorder treatment facilities
  • Foster care and adoption agencies
  • Services for differently abled individuals  
  • Daycare providers and preschools  
  • Hospitals  
  • Nursing homes and assisted living facilities  
  • Medical laboratories  
  • Colleges and universities  
  • Continuing education companies 

The accreditations available for each organization may depend on the specific industry or field as well as the standards the organization meets.  


Why is Accreditation Important?  

Accreditation is important for several key reasons. 

1) It shows that the institution or organization is managing its resources effectively.

Often, accreditation standards consider the resources an institution or organization must have and how it uses them. Suppose, for example, that you embark on a course of study at an expensive university. You expect that at the end of your time there, you will have received a quality education that offers the tools you will need to work effectively in your field. If the university does not use its resources effectively, however, you may not meet those wider standards, which means that you would not be prepared to hold a job. At an accredited university, you can feel confident that an outside governing body has taken a look at how the university manages its courses and resources and that you will receive the quality education you expect.  

2) It ensures the organization will provide a high level of service to its clients.

Accreditation helps increase customers’ confidence that they will receive the standard of service and support they would expect from a chosen organization. Suppose, for example, that you are looking for a healthcare provider. You want a provider who will offer you a high overall standard of care. Accreditation offers you a higher degree of confidence that the provider will take care of your needs: that they will offer you support as you deal with a physical or behavioral health condition or challenge, and that they will effectively treat your condition. On the other hand, when you choose an unaccredited healthcare provider, you may not know what level of service you can expect or how the care providers at that institution will handle your condition. 

3) Accreditation offers credibility to an organization. 

As an organization, whether in human services, healthcare, or education, you may appreciate the benefits of accreditation. Most notably, it offers the name and support of the accrediting body to your organization. As a result, potential clients will feel a much higher degree of confidence in your organization. They may also prove much more likely to find you since you are associated with the accrediting body.   

Accreditation can be a decision-making consideration for individual donors, foundations, governmental funding agencies, and insurance companies. 

4. Accreditation often improves overall safety and quality of care throughout an organization.

Accreditation focuses on a number of different standards, including safety standards.  

For example, for healthcare providers, safety standards address routine fire and disaster drills, periodic safety inspections of grounds, buildings, and equipment, and staff training on infection prevention and control.  

How are Organizations and Institutions Accredited?  

Organizations and institutions can receive accreditation by following the steps laid out by the accrediting body. Those steps may vary depending on the body's specific requirements. However, in general, they will contain several essential elements. 

1) Meeting minimum standards

The accrediting body will generally lay out key standards that the institution or organization must meet. The organization seeking accreditation must then fall in line with those policies and standards. Often, that will involve several steps, such as: 

  • Creating or enhancing written plans, policies, and standards for the organization, especially in areas where the old ones were either non-existent or not up to standards  
  • Providing staff members with training that will give them an understanding of the approved plans, policies, and procedures, and enable staff to implement them
  • Putting together a plan that will institute those standards steadily over time 

It can take considerable time for an organization to meet minimum accreditation standards, especially if they have been well below those standards in the past. 

2) Initial Evaluation

An interested organization voluntarily applies for accreditation with the accrediting body. The accrediting body will look over the organization's application and identify applicable standards. Then, an applicant needs to demonstrate to the accrediting body satisfactory compliance of applicable standards. Depending on the type of accreditation sought, this demonstration may be done remotely or during an on-site survey. 

3) Ongoing Review

Accredited organizations commit to operating in compliance on a continuous basis. To ensure compliance, the accrediting body will periodically review the organization's efforts, taking a fresh look at classes, service delivery, or written plans and policies. If the organization no longer meets satisfactory compliance with standards, the organization may be in jeopardy of an adverse accreditation status.  

The length of accreditation will vary by industry. In social service organizations, for example, accreditation is usually valid for 3-4 years. In other areas, it may be valid for just 1-2 years.  

Will Accreditation Benefit Your Business? 

At KCare, we are proud partners of Accreditation Guru. They can offer more information about accreditation and give expert guidance to help your organization achieve vital goals. If you are ready to prepare your organization for greatness, check out Accreditation Guru or contact their team to learn more. 

 Jennifer Flowers Headshot

By Jennifer Flowers, Founder & CEO of Accreditation Guru

About KCare

KCare is a suite of innovative software solutions designed for behavioral health and human services organizations. Our industry-leading EHR, case management, and analytics products are designed to boost employee efficiency while improving client outcomes. For over 25 years, providers have trusted KCare to transform how they deliver care through our software solutions, including extendedReach, Exym, and Stabilify.

As a certified B Corporation, we operate our business in accordance with the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability. We are also part of the global Pledge 1% movement, donating 1% of our profits to the communities served by our customers.