University of Wisconsin–Madison
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A state of agents? Third-party governance and implications for human services and their delivery

This brief concerns the increasing use of “agents of the state” (nongovernmental for-profit or nonprofit organizations) to provide and administer social service programs formerly handled by government, and it explores the implications of this practice, especially for vulnerable citizens. Third-party governance was the focus of an IRP conference held in summer 2008, and in this overview, conference organizer Carolyn Heinrich summarizes the proceedings and presents key insights from three of the conference papers that focus on social service delivery (affordable housing, foster care and family services, and mental health). The research efforts reveal that government exercises very limited oversight of agents of the state, yet the organizational structures and incentives that government establishes to promote service quality, efficiency, and effectiveness appear to weigh heavily on service outcomes. Government plays a far more vital and active role than just funding the services, even if it is not engaging directly in service provision. That role is essential for ensuring equity in access to services and improving service outcomes.

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Economic Support, Means-Tested Programs

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