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What are human services agencies and why do they develop?

As we saw for human services themselves, there is not unanimity about exactly what a human services agency is. There is consensus about the basics such as its being an organization providing human services for an identified group of people and about its providing those services at no cost or at least an affordable cost to the recipients. “Most human services agencies are entirely or partially funded through grants from local, state, or federal government. Many others are private nonprofit groups often sponsored by religious denominations that raise money from fees, public appeals, and from philanthropic foundations. A smaller but fast growing type of agency is the private profit making one.” (Mandell & Schram, 2003, p. 11) Our focus here is on the first two but not the third. We are interested in government or nonprofit funded human services agencies. The agency services may be provided by paid staff or volunteers, may include material items such as food and clothing, may include professional services such as medical or legal, may include resources such as housing or transportation, and may range from help with completing tax forms to child care, from a furniture bank to after school tutoring, from counseling to summer recreation. If the organization provides accessible services, resources, and opportunities to people who would otherwise not have access to them, it qualifies in the present context as a human services agency. A human services agency enables the delivery of human services, regardless of its governmental or non-governmental status, the specific services being provided not withstanding. The same holds for its particular affiliation or source of support.

On a small scale, human services agencies are not needed. All we need to do is to find someone who needs help and then do something helpful. We can help in our spare time and to the extent we are able and think is appropriate. This is by far the most common form human services take – people taking turns helping and being helped.

The first step toward a human services agency’s development comes when someone sees the people helping people approach is inadequate and decides to do something about it. More specifically, a concerned individual – or individuals – notices there are people who are having difficulty with day-to-day functioning. He (or she) further notices the observed difficulties have one or more common or closely related elements. He believes some combination of services and supports will help the people function better and lessen their difficulties. If he can develop a strategy to offer those supports and services, resources and opportunities to everyone in the group or identified population who needs them, the day-to-day functioning of those who receive the services will improve. He – the First Mover – then recruits others to join in a shared effort to assure the services and supports are in place and accessible by those needing them. If his recruitment activities are successful, the result is a group – the Initiators – committed to providing the services and supports.

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