The Administration for Community Living (ACL) has created a framework for improving state and local adult protective services (APS) programs throughout the country. The framework consists of a complementary set of initiatives, centered on giving APS jurisdictions tools and information to enhance the effectiveness of their programs. With an estimated one in 10 of older adults being at risk of abuse, neglect or exploitation, APS programs play a critical role in protecting and sustaining the health and well-being of all vulnerable adults, including adults with disabilities and older Americans.
There are many similarities and differences across state and local APS programs. These similarities and differences are not well-documented and even less understood. This lack of knowledge and understanding hampers efforts to enhance the effectiveness of APS programs. This means that increasing knowledge and understanding should be a priority for investing in APS program improvement. Without this knowledge and understanding, it is very difficult for the government to make informed decisions about priorities, policies, and programs.
Program evaluation provides a rigorous and consistent method for transforming information based on data into evidence based knowledge. ACL can help all APS agencies to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their programs through a program evaluation that maximizes existing resources and is designed in a building block manner to develop a firm foundation of knowledge and understanding.
The evaluation approach being used - a process evaluation - applies a rigorous APS theoretical framework to comprehensively analyzing the major functions of APS: intake, investigation, post investigation, and quality assurance. These functions will be examined through the domains of policy, practice, personnel, partners, and performance.
The proposed evaluation plan addresses several major gaps in knowledge and understanding of APS:
- What policies are currently in place in each U.S. state and territory?
- What are the similarities and differences among policies across the states and territories?
- What practices are being used? Which practices are innovative?
- What are the specific outcomes of APS practices, and do they vary by type of practice?
- Are certain policies and practices associated with different outcomes for aging adults and for adults with disabilities?
Increasing knowledge and understanding through evaluation is necessary to help improve the effectiveness of APS programs in all major program administration areas.
Program Planning: An APS program evaluation will provide federal, state, and local governments with information they need to wisely invest resources in improving APS programs. Government officials need to know what aspects of APS programs need improvement.
Effectiveness: An APS program evaluation will help APS program administrators understand what approaches and interventions add the most value in achieving positive client outcomes for APS clients. The evaluation will establish the guide for future research efforts into best practices and service delivery innovation.
Quality Improvement: By establishing a theoretical framework, an APS program evaluation will provide program administrators with information they need to establish quality improvement processes. It will inform future technical assistance by the APS TARC.
Outcome assessment: Development of a theoretical framework, as part of an evaluation of APS, laid the groundwork for future definition, measurement, and assessment of outcomes of APS services through a separate client outcome evaluation.
One leading program evaluation expert says that evaluation answers three questions:
- So What?
- Now What?
He adds that the purpose of evaluation is to inform thought and action. It is a means to move from data to interpretation to action; and to move from acting on belief and hope to acting on data and feedback. ¹
The APS program evaluation aligns closely with these concepts. There is a fundamental need to better understand What APS does and how it does, which is addressed in the first component. Beyond understanding, there is a need to answer the So What question in APS—how do various practices and innovations make a difference in the lives of APS clients, which aligns with the second component. Finally, the third component will provide a rich resource for answering the all-important question of Now What—that is, what are the recommendations to enhance the effectiveness of APS programs.
In summary, the answer to the question of “why evaluate APS services?” is:
- Program Improvement: Knowledge is a pre-requisite for program improvement. There is a lack of fundamental knowledge and understanding about the nature and scope of APS programs. Knowledge and understanding should precede investment.
- Initiative Improvement: An evaluation of APS complements other federal efforts, particularly NAMRS and the Guidelines to improve APS services. Data is useful to the extent you know the right questions to ask of it and guidelines are useful when supported by evidence.
- System Improvement: Program evaluation will create the framework and knowledge base to move the APS system forward. In particular, it will inform the nature and types of technical assistance that the APS TARC will provide and the types of systems improvement ACL should foster in the future.
- Impact Improvement: Within current federal resources and authority, program evaluation is currently the best way for ACL to have a long-term impact in improving APS programs.
¹ Michael Quinn Patton, Essentials of Utilization-Focused Evaluation, p. 3. Sage Publishing, 2012.