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Planning and Program Development

Community Needs Assessment

A needs assessment is a systematic effort to gather information from various sources to help identify the needs of maltreated children and their foster families and caregivers in your community and the resources that are available to them. With this information, program planners and managers are better equipped to tailor their programs to more effectively meet the needs identified and to assuage concerns about duplicating services. Once a program is operational, a needs assessment may help pinpoint gaps in the program's performance and identify new and future needs or services to meet those needs. Because of this, it may be useful to repeat the needs assessment periodically, as communities may change over time and program services may need to be adapted accordingly.

In 2006, HALOS embarked on an extensive needs assessment process. Research Conducted—December 2005 to Present lists the many stakeholder groups that were consulted and the specific issues that were addressed. HALOS administered written surveys and conducted interviews with caseworkers and community partners; held focus groups with selected partners and foster parents; and interviewed board members, guardians ad litem,1 and other stakeholders to elicit their perspectives. The Selected Interview Guides used in HALOS's needs assessment may be helpful when preparing for individual interviews or focus group sessions. The HALOS executive director also met with the leaders of several African American churches in Charleston to discuss their views on partnering with HALOS. In addition, the HALOS Partner Representative Survey was administered online.

The Lancaster County Outreach Project distributed needs assessment surveys to businesses, faith-based organizations, and nonprofit organizations in the local community. In contrast, Ambassadors for Children specifically surveyed foster parents for its needs assessment.

As part of the needs assessment, HALOS assembled an exhaustive list of resources available to children and families in Charleston County. It identified nearly 30 agencies that can help provide clothing, household items, school supplies, holiday gifts, summer camp fees, and financial aid. HALOS also identified community-based agencies that supply mentoring and tutoring assistance, and services for parents at no cost. The Menu of Service Needs for Abused or Neglected Children and Their Families developed by HALOS may be a useful framework for identifying providers and unmet needs in the community.

For assistance with the needs assessment process, visit

Challenges To Consider

  • Is there expertise in the community that can provide voluntary assistance with a needs assessment?
  • How can planners ensure that a new program will not pose a threat to the "territory," resources, or funding of existing programs with similar goals and services?

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is a process used to define the current state of a program, envision where the program needs to be in the future, and chart a course for getting there. The process is an opportunity for stakeholders to share their thoughts and visions regarding common goals and expectations. A strategic plan is a living document—it should be reviewed periodically and modified as needed. In this era of intense scrutiny of public and private supporters and funders, a strategic plan is essential for demonstrating the strength of your program's core principles and values and inspiring confidence in your capacity to achieve your goals.

During the training conference, participants from HALOS, Ambassadors for Children, and the Lancaster County Outreach Project considered their respective strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) as an integral part of their strategic planning process. The resulting SWOT analyses identified a number of commonalities across the programs as well as some circumstances unique to each community.

Below are some examples of common attributes across the three programs:


  • Strong working relationships with child protection agencies.
  • The ability to convey a positive image of the child protection agency and caseworkers.
  • Access to a large pool of community partners and donors.


  • Declining donations, attributed largely to the economy.
  • Difficulty locating sources of unrestricted funds to support staff and operating expenses.
  • Negative perceptions of the child protection agency held by the community.


  • Expand the use of social networking to promote the program.
  • Enlarge the pool of community partners and donors.
  • Evaluate the program to demonstrate success.


  • Loss of funding.

With this information, planners can better target their efforts to build on strengths, address weaknesses, exploit opportunities, and concentrate on long-term sustainability.

A statement of goals and an action plan for achieving those goals are two of the most important products of the strategic planning process. HALOS conference participants identified the following goals for their programs:

  • Increase the number of children that benefit from additional community resources.
  • Build capacity by establishing donor resources.
  • Establish appropriate management and fiscal systems.
  • Collaborate with other organizations that work with youth victims.
  • Develop public awareness materials.
  • Integrate technology into the services offered.

Each goal has at least one associated objective, specific activities to be conducted, a plan designating responsibilities, and a timeline for completing these activities. The following chart shows an example of a HALOS goal statement and action plan:

HALOS goal statement and action plan
Goal: Build capacity by establishing donor resources.
Objective: To facilitate and recruit new partners.
Activity: Ask current HALOS partners and friends to recommend three groups that may be willing to partner with HALOS.
Person(s) responsible: Staff, board, partners, and volunteers.
Completion date: By end of the calendar year.

For help with strategic planning, visit

Challenges To Consider

  • Who should be involved in the strategic planning process (e.g., program leadership, DSS staff/management, community partner representatives, clients)?
  • Is a volunteer, skilled facilitator needed to support the strategic planning process?

1 Guardians ad litem are community volunteers appointed by juvenile and family courts in Charleston, South Carolina, to represent children's best interest in abuse and neglect proceedings, similar to Court Appointed Special Advocates that operate in many communities nationwide.