Distress Centre’s journey to accreditation with the American Association of Suicidology
Distress Centre received accreditation from the American Association of Suicidology on February 3, 2021.
Guest post by: Mike Velthuis Kroeze, Crisis Program Manager
A quick Google search for the definition of accreditation suggests “the action or process of officially recognizing someone as having a particular status or being qualified to perform a particular activity.” When I look back on our path to receiving our Crisis Centre Accreditation from the American Association of Suicidology (AAS), I realize how crucial the word “official” is to this definition.
AAS accreditation provides numerous benefits for numerous stakeholders at Distress Centre. Our service users can feel comfortable knowing that they will receive service that meets the standards set out by AAS. Being an accredited agency provides Distress Centre with additional visibility in the community while increasing our credibility in the eyes of current and potential funders.
What is AAS Accreditation?
AAS outlines the highest level of standards for crisis centres in North America and is the foremost accreditor of such agencies. AAS defines 36 components in 7 different areas of operations. These areas include:
- Administration and Organizational Structure
- Screening and Training Crisis Workers
- Services in Life-Threatening Crises
- Ethical Standards
- and Program Evaluation, among others
AAS defines standards in each component that an organization must meet in order to become an accredited crisis centre and within each area, there are up to three levels with a minimum achievement of Level 1 required to become accredited.
The journey to accreditation
As a program with 50 years of experience in crisis intervention, we generally met all of the level 1 requirements even before we had explored accreditation. This speaks to the level of quality of crisis intervention services that we have been offering over the decades. However, what is most impressive about the entire Crisis Program team was their excitement and willingness to push beyond the minimum requirements with a mindset of continuous growth and improvement.
For example, the entire program came together in 2019 to overhaul our recruitment and screening process. Our new process allowed us to increase our understanding about each applicant, ensuring that those selected to enter our training program were best positioned for success. We are even able to complete this process in less time that our previous screening process.
AAS and suicide risk assessment
The most significant change related to the accreditation was the introduction of a new suicide risk assessment. While the foundation of the new assessment remained similar, we updated our language and our understanding of how to categorize risk to align with the AAS standards. Getting this change right was crucial for us. We had planned it long before even hearing of coronavirus and had expected to complete this work with all of our crisis operations remaining on-site at our new location; however, this was not possible due to the pandemic.
I’m incredibly proud to report that the work done by the entire crisis program team helped us make this switch almost seamlessly during the summer of 2020, while many of our staff and volunteers were still working remotely.
Going forward as an AAS crisis centre
Becoming an AAS crisis centre in itself does not change much of how we operate going forward. Distress Centre is a leader in crisis intervention because of our mindset of continuous improvement and our staff and volunteers who embrace that mindset.
However, being accredited does mean that our ability to exchange important knowledge with other experts and agencies has been greatly enhanced. We aim to leverage our experience, alongside our accreditation, to model evidence-based and best practices in the field of crisis intervention to create stronger, more compassionate community that is more prepared to help those in crisis or contemplating suicide.
Finally, I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you and congratulations to the staff, volunteer, and Leadership Team at Distress Centre on this incredible accomplishment. Their dedication and willingness to embrace this work was evident long before the accreditation process began. Now we’ve just made it “official.”