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photo of Jennifer KirchenAPS Operational Plans: Planting the Seeds for the Future

by Jennifer Kirchen, APS TARC Team

Limited federal adult protective services (APS) funding has existed since the passage of the Elder Justice Act, but some progress was made when the Administration for Community Living (ACL) began awarding federal grants, on a competitive basis, specifically designed for APS program enhancements in 2015. The formula grants opened up a new world of opportunity for improving programs. The problem was, however, there wasn’t enough money to go around and the purpose was limited! BUT…wait for it…in 2021, all the hard work and advocacy paid off. APS won the lottery you might say! The Coronavirus Response And Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 was the long awaited prize of dedicated federal funding dispersed to every state APS program in early 2021, and enabled APS programs to respond to COVID-19. Then came a second jackpot, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021, later in the year for federal fiscal years 2021 and 2022.

After operating for so long without designated federal funding, APS programs in states and territories were both excited and overwhelmed by the amount of money being infused into their programs during this unprecedented pandemic time. State APS programs undoubtedly have had wish lists for decades and now suddenly they had the funds to strategically implement necessary changes to enhance APS systems in their state. But where to begin? To say this was a tremendous task would be an understatement.

Plant the Seed

ACL planted a seed for states to foster and grow. What sprouted was called an Operational Plan (OP). This was an ACL ARPA funding requirement. You see, APS professionals come from a variety of educational backgrounds, but are traditionally social workers, not strategic planners, so the requirement of completing an OP within six months of the APRA grant award date was quite daunting. They had to learn quickly about strategic planning.  And they did!

Let’s break this down a bit. What ACL wanted was to see states create a 3-to-5-year plan to show how state APS programs would use the APRA funds to enhance their programs. What were the investments states were interested in making? This was an out-of-the box way of thinking for many APS programs that were previously focused on the day-to-day activities of investigating adult maltreatment. Now they were asked to see their programs through a different lens, a futuristic lens, a promising practice lens you might say. This was much different than the day-to-day operations of running a program. ACL wanted states to think about how they would see their programs in five years. As per the Federal Register, ACL awarded states and territories several thousand to several million dollars to do it.

The intent was not to cause states stress, but in some cases it did. Enter stage left, the APS TARC. ACL asked the APS TARC to provide technical assistance to the states to facilitate the completion of their OPs. Using APS subject matter experts combined with strategic planning specialists, the APS TARC did this through various technical assistance methods including:

  • listserv
  • webinars
  • toolkits
  • templates
  • emails and phone calls
  • virtual one-on one meetings
  • group listening and networking sessions
Additionally, ACL established a file sharing website for the dissemination of many of these resources among state programs.


The operational plans yielded a shared vision of the program with community stakeholders that focused on specific state APS program improvement needs tailored specifically for each state. After designing a simple template that met ACL’s requirements, the APS TARC worked with almost every state in some capacity developing their OPs. States were very innovative in their thinking and prioritization covering items such as personal protective equipment (PPE), new databases to track National Adult Maltreatment Reporting System (NAMRS) information, services for clients, development of a Quality Assurance unit, hiring an APS nurse and the like. Final OPs will be located on the Elder Justice Act Mandatory Grants webpage on the ACL website when they are published.

Some states were so thrilled with ACL’s support, they wanted to show their appreciation. Here are a few examples of the value states placed on the support offered.

I want to again share with you how extremely helpful it has been to have a team of professionals helping us with ARPA funding planning. We have been extremely impressed by the team that ACL put together to assist us. Their expertise in protective services and project management have been invaluable. In addition, it has been a pleasure working with each member of our team – they were resourceful, kind, clear, funny, smart, experienced, knowledgeable about the program and potential challenges we may face. Simply cannot thank all of you at ACL enough for this support!

ACL’s approval to use APS APRA funding to bring the state, our county partners, tribal nations and other APS stakeholders together to create a shared APS vision, mission and guiding principles is aligning the statutory and programmatic framework of our APS system to improve outcomes for adults who are vulnerable to abuse, neglect and exploitation. The planning process is resulting in goals for program improvements to reduce disparities, improve equity and support the APS system to serve more vulnerable adults and serve them in a culturally responsive, trauma informed, person-centered manner. ARPA’s support to create this shared vision between our state and local government partners is critical to establishing goals for our APS system that result in quality outcomes for vulnerable adults to improve safety and recovery from maltreatment. We are grateful for the improved partnership and sharpened focus on person-centered outcomes program improvements being developed from federal government’s historic new investment in our state’s APS system.

The Road Ahead

New opportunities can be both exciting and challenging.  When we approach each situation open to new ideas and with a little guidance, change can lead to an exciting path we never thought we would go down. In my 22 years in APS, I have been involved with some scary situations, but assisting states with the development of their OPs was not scary at all. States were so open, forthcoming, and honest about their struggles and their desires for more for their clients. They were appreciative of the assistance, and they worked tirelessly to propose solutions that would be most impactful to their communities by bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders to assist. APS is not an easy job, but some may say it just got a little easier with this long overdue infusion of funds. It recognizes how important APS is to the vulnerable, and also begins to build the road for ongoing, dedicated federal funding in the future.

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