Tuesday, October 16, 2012

{31 Days} Choosing a Foster Agency

Foster care services are financed with state and federal funding but are usually run by the counties. When I first started looking into foster care I was surprised to discover that there were more options than just my county agency. Doing a Google search for agencies in my small city of 90,000 immediately resulted in the County Social Services plus 10 private agencies, and still there are others that serve this area that didn’t show up on that list.  All this to say that there are lots of choices.  

Some states will require you to get licensed through a private agency, but most have a county social services that you can go through instead of a private agency.  To my knowledge, in the counties that offer child protective services, each foster child will be assigned a county social worker whether you are working with a private agency or not. These workers are supposed to visit the child once a month and are ultimately responsible for any “major” parenting decisions. However, county workers often have a heavy caseload which may impede their ability to quickly respond to your questions and needs.  Really, though, just like with any type of interpersonal communication, this is going to vary with the individual worker, there are some amazing social workers that are available often and are prompt in their response, where there are others that are simply impossible to get a hold of in the most frustrating of ways.
It is ultimately up to you to decide what type of agency, county or private is going to work best for you and your family.  Each will have their own set of rules and provide different types and levels of training. Private agencies will operate according to a specific mission statement, some will specialize in working with high risk kids, medically fragile, some are faith based, etc. Private agencies may also:
  •          Offer (and require) increased opportunities for training
  •          Have different rules on how you keep your house
  •          Have different rules on the certifications that you have (First Aid, CPR, Water Safety)
  •          Higher Reimbursement
  •          A social worker that visits 1x a week

We personally went with a specific FFA when we chose to foster because we were excited about the extra support (social worker and promised support groups), programs that they had in place for the kids (had a goal to provide a car and insurance for every foster kid that graduates from high school) and we really made a connection with some of the people that worked there.  Some would interpret that “support” which includes once a week visit from our FFA social worker to be more of a headache and would prefer to go with County and have less “interference” with their day to day life.  These are part of the factors that you will need to consider when deciding between county and private and if private, which private agency you go with.

As I continued to foster through my FFA and met others that foster through other FFAs and through the county and I learned a few things. My fingerprints, CPR, and First Aid training were covered by my agency where my county friends had to pay for theirs. I have more opportunities for training where babysitting is provided (including bowling or roller skating for the older kids). I receive a higher reimbursement than county. My agency does a few fun things during the year, including a Christmas party and a summer camping trip. I receive a $10 Walmart gift card for each family member (including my husband, me, and our bio kids) at Christmas and for each child (foster and bio) for their birthdays. It’s so nice that they don’t distinguish between foster and bio! I also, however, receive less calls for placements. The way it seems to work is that the county ends up having to pay more for the private agencies than they do for their own homes, so they work hard to fill their own homes first then they call the private agencies. There also seem to be some favorite private agencies that the placement CPS workers call first (but we have so many in my area), as a result I have not received nearly as many calls for placement as my county friends or even some of my other friends that seem to be with a “preferred” FFA. 

So, the final ruling?  
County = less contact and more placements.  
Private = More perks, more rules, more contact, slightly fewer placements. **Of course this is all based on my experience and it could be completely different in your area!

My suggestion would be to contact friends that you know foster and put the word out on Facebook. Ask around, see if anyone is part of or knows someone that is part of an agency that they love and would recommend. The recommendation needs to be from someone that fosters with that agency not simply someone that has used them for a homestudy for adoption as these are two entirely different experiences. You really need to LOVE your agency, it will make this experience sooooo much smoother!

How to Choose an Agency, by the California Kids Connection is a helpful resource that will walk you through some things to think about when deciding upon an agency that works for you. It includes some questions to ask and what to look for at an orientation. Though, it is put out by a California organization it will be very helpful in any state. However you go about it, I STRONGLY recommend that you do your homework on this one.

Those that are fostering, what has been your experience? Is there anything that you would add for the readers here?

~Tristen :)

Tomorrow: Different Levels of Needs in Care - Choosing HOW You Want to Foster

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