6 Trends in Human Services That Will Change the Face of the Field

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Ronan Martin

Oct 21, 2021

Technology, community needs, and social movements are reshaping the way providers think about and deliver human services.

The human services industry is constantly changing. As technology continues to advance and the needs of the community change, new trends in human services will emerge. Organizations are becoming more complex as they evolve to meet the needs of the community. They are redesigning the way services are delivered.

It’s important that human services workers are familiar with up-and-coming trends because they will impact how they serve their clients and the community. This article will explore 6 current trends in human services and how they may affect human services providers.

1. Collaboration in Healthcare 

COVID-19 has led to heightened interest in integrated healthcare. The pandemic has raised public awareness of the need for preventive, whole-person care, the effects of preexisting illnesses and mental health conditions, and the impact of diet and lifestyle on health. Current trends in human services reflect the idea that serving the whole person is impossible without health and human services integration. 

Numerous studies have shown that integrating behavioral health and primary care services improves mental and physical health outcomes, minimizes substance use, and lowers medical costs. Research shows that people with mental health conditions are ten times more likely than the general population to have a co-occurring physical health problem. In addition, those who have a severe mental illness die 25 years sooner, on average, than the general population, partly due to treatable coexisting physical health conditions. 

Integrated healthcare can provide a more holistic scope of a client’s needs and can minimize the risks of untreated physical conditions.

2. AI and Predictive Analysis for Data-Driven Approaches

AI can assist human services providers in personalizing service delivery and adopting a more human-centered approach. By becoming more data and insight-driven and moving to a person-centered approach, service providers can develop proactive and more successful interventions. 

AI can enhance human skills, enabling organizations to manage resources better and offer more profound and personalized levels of service.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is a real-life scenario of this human services trend in action. Using AI technologies, the agency can identify high-risk child welfare scenarios. The Oklahoma DHS partnered with Eckerd Kids, a foster care organization that is using machine learning to predict adverse outcomes. 

By identifying potential risk factors such as intergenerational abuse, inexperienced parenting, mental health conditions, and a history of substance use disorder, front-line workers can create a plan of action that minimizes risk and improves outcomes. 

3. Virtual Learning for Continuing Education

Due to the pandemic, many companies turned to virtual training for furthering the knowledge of employees. Online training is a fantastic way to keep teams compliant with different regulatory authorities. 

Online education also cuts down on administrative work while allowing organizations to provide training without asking employees to take a significant amount of time off work. Employees can still get continuing education credits without getting behind on their caseloads or being absent during critical situations.

There are several online resources available for virtual learning in the human services field. The National Institute of Health (NIH) provides virtual training on a variety of topics, from data analysis to conflict management for health and human services employees. The Center of Advanced Studies in Child Welfare provides self-guided training that showcases child welfare research results from the CASCW School of Social Work and collaborators throughout the University.

For more information about online learning resources, the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill provides a list of free online resources for health and human services employees. 

4. Continued Focus on Equality and Accessibility

Current trends in human services reflect a continued focus on equality and accessibility. Human services agencies, fortunately, are often governed by ethical standards that already emphasize racial, economic, and gender equality.

Even so, human services organizations are re-examining their policies and whether or not they promote a culture of fairness, especially for underrepresented minority groups. 

Agencies can gather feedback from employees, community members, and clients. As organizations consider the standards they promote, they can change policies as necessary. Also, agencies can provide training to help break down bias and ensure that staff members adhere to the organization’s guidelines, ethical standards, and legal mandates.

5. Alternative Funding Models

Alternative funding methods for human services projects are gaining steam. For example, South Carolina announced a Pay for Success program in 2016 to extend the Nurse-Family Partnership model statewide to support the health and development of first-time moms and their children. The state is focusing on lowering preterm births, decreasing childhood hospitalizations, improving birth spacing, and increasing the number of first-time mothers treated in high-poverty areas. The State of South Carolina will pay out according to the contract’s payment conditions.

The Utah High-Quality Preschool Program, another example of a Pay for Success contract, teamed up with private investors, non-profits, and the state to address issues including juvenile justice, healthcare access, graduation rates, and adolescent employment. 

From 2013 to 2018, the program served 4,000 preschoolers in Granite and Park City districts and four non-profit or private preschools. By 2019, just 10% of the 454 preschoolers initially identified as at risk for needing special education services actually needed to access those services, saving the state of Utah $2.5 million. It was estimated that Utah would save $18 million in special education expenses if those students continued in public schools.

These approaches promote conscious public spending and a data-driven approach to value based payments. In this way, the discussion shifts to measurable impact and returns. Additionally, non-government funding can help spur further innovation in these spaces. If this trend continues, future funding models will compensate providers when goals are met or exceeded. 

6. Non-Traditional Partnerships 

Unfortunately, the silos typically found in the human services and healthcare fields are holding back the true potential of the services offered.

Several human services organizations are exploring non-traditional partnerships with other nonprofits and businesses to maximize resource usage and generate fresh ideas. 

As a consequence, a new human services ecosystem has emerged, with mutually beneficial connections. Community collaboration between different people, organizations, and agencies creates a broader network to help provide for clients.

For example, Act For Youth recommends community collaboration to help with youth development efforts. Some community sectors the organization recommends connecting with are:

  • Businesses.
  • Faith-based communities.
  • Healthcare Providers.
  • Policy Makers.
  • Parents and family members.

Looking Towards Future Trends in Human Services 

With shifts in technology, changes in the social and political environment, and the ever-evolving nature of people, it’s essential to be aware of current trends in human services that may impact how providers work in the community. 

With knowledge of current and future trends in human services, workers in the industry can be proactive in their methods for serving their clients. While not every client and situation is the same, new and different approaches may open up more opportunities to better serve the community.

Let’s help the organizations our communities depend on.