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County DSS gets high marks in review

June 17, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

While David Engle was very proud when he learned the Washington County Department of Social Services recently earned national recognition, he wasn't surprised.

"We were shaken from top to bottom and met the highest standards," said Engle, the director of the agency that was accredited by the Council on Accreditation for Children and Family Services.

Located at 122 N. Potomac St. in Hagerstown, Washington County DSS became the fourth in Maryland to achieve the honor from the independent agency.

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"We definitely got in the front of the line on this," Engle said.

Baltimore, Garrett and Prince George's counties are also accredited by COA, while Harford and Howard are under review.

Engle said more than 600 criteria were looked at and additional work was needed in only 50 of those categories. All the work needed to improve the agency was achieved.

"Per capita we have the same social problems that the big cities have," Engle said. The agency handles foster care, adoptions, and child and adult protective services, as well as various in-home and family support services.

Seeking accreditation gave the agency a chance to have an outside group look at all that is being done with an eye toward how it could be done better.

Engle said DSS aimed for this for four or five years, waiting to secure funds to join the Child Welfare League of America, with which the accreditation council is affiliated.

"We wanted to compare ourselves to other such agencies to find out where we are strong and where we are weak," Engle said.

The accreditation council is an international, not-for-profit accrediting body that includes more than 1,000 public and private organizations in the United States and Canada.

While the local DSS agency and Engle are thrilled with the honor, Engle said the people of Washington County are the big winners.

"The most important thing the public needs to know is that we utilize the latest and best practices and meet top-notch national standards of service to children and families," Engle said. "I hope it gives people the confidence to call us if they need us."

Engle said the long-term benefits of the process will also be felt by the community since the agency is more thorough now in certain key areas of service.

Carrol Springer, assistant director for adult, child and family services for Washington County DSS, spearheaded the county's quest for accreditation.

"The accreditation process included an on-site evaluation completed by a COA team on our compliance with standards in such areas as human resources, financial and risk management, as well as continuous quality improvement," Springer said. "We are very proud of this accomplishment."

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