You have an interest in foster care and would like to get started. You’ve done a little digging around to find that your city has two different agencies you could go through: a state agency and a private agency. So which should you choose?
Every county is going to be a little different, so it’s a good idea to shop around. One of your best bets would be to connect with local foster parents and find out whether they are going through the state or a private agency and why. Some counties’ private agencies will knock it out of the park, and others will consistently rake in poor reviews. Since it’s a bit of a hassle to switch agencies after you’re licensed, it’s wise to do your homework ahead of time. Peruse their websites, seek out information that’s important to you (like daycare reimbursement and resources for foster parents), and then make a call to each. See what the response time is on a call back and note how helpful and personable the response is. If you find one calls you back the same day vs. the other at 4 days, it’s probably indicative of how they’ll handle future communication when you’re licensed.
Below is a comparison of general pros and cons of each.
Children are removed by the county and the county takes custody of them, so they will first go to the local state agency to be placed. If they can’t place a child in a county foster home, then they will refer it to a private agency. This means that the county has “first dibs,” so to speak. Generally, the county will be able to place infants and children with fewer needs before they reach a private agency, and the more challenging cases will be referred on. That being said, there are other factors that will come into play. It isn’t as easy as the county having all the “desirable” placements and privates agencies are stuck with the “sloppy seconds.” Keep reading. We’ll get to it.
Another pro of the state would be less of an information relay, especially at first. There are fewer people to go through in order to get information about a child when you’re considering a placement. In contrast, if you have a question about a referral from a private agency, they have to make a few phone calls and track some people down to get you the information (namely those very busy county workers where the case originated from). What you need to know gets to you sooner through the county, and it’s less of a game of telephone.
Finally, the licensing process might be more streamlined through the county because your license comes from the state. You might have fewer classes to take, and certain processes won’t take as long. The amount of time it will take you to become fully licensed is likely comparable to a private agency when it’s all said and done, but if you’re as impatient as I am, it might be something to consider.
Caseworkers through the county typically have larger case loads. This means your county caseworker might be thinly spread when it comes to supporting their foster families and being invested in each case. Of course you’ll come across great, and not so great, caseworkers no matter where you’re at, but if the county workers are demoralized by constant bureaucratic red tape and experience a high turnover rate, that will trickle down and affect your experience.
Private agencies get referrals from all over the state. They aren’t limited to just one county like your state agency. While the county has “first dibs,” the private agency has a greater area they’re able to place from. This is one factor that can balance the two out in terms of how many placement calls you’ll receive. If you’re worried you will never get a single child aged 0-2, those cases do happen in a private agency. We are licensed through a private agency, and we’ve had two referrals for newborns in the past week. It does happen.
Private agencies tend to pay more and provide better support for their foster parents. State funds follow the child to the private agency. State money isn’t always enough to cover certain accommodations the kids in your care will need, and sometimes the agency is able to use reserve funds to supplement money from the state. They may also have a greater sense of community (through get togethers and support groups) for their foster families. Like I mentioned earlier, the caseworkers tend to have less cases they’re managing and that means more time for you.
It depends on the agency, but some private agencies make you arrange your own transportation to visits. That can be a minor hassle or a major inconvenience if the visit is a couple hours away/multiple times a week.
For the reasons mentioned above, it might take longer to get placed with a child through a private agency. Again, it depends on the needs of your local and surrounding community, but if it’s important to you to be placed quickly, those are questions you can ask of the agency when shopping around. Because our area has a lot of foster kids on a regular basis, going through a private agency doesn’t put us at much of a disadvantage (if any at all). We have a limited age range we’re comfortable with and still have frequent calls for potential placements. Since it varies so much from place to place, these are the kind of questions that are important to ask before you get too far into it.
The questions below (taken from Fosteringtogether.org) will help you make the decision between state or private. I wish I had asked some of these questions before we started the licensing process.
QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU SELECT AN AGENCY
1. What geographic areas do they serve?
2. How long have they been an agency?
3. What services do they offer?
4. Do they specialize in specific types of care?
5. Do they have support counselors or case aides?
6. How many case managers do they have?
7. What is the case manager to child ratio?
8. What is the education/experience of their case managers?
9. How many licensed foster care homes do they serve?
10. Are their case managers on call 24/7?
11. How long will it take to get licensed?
12. Do they do adoptions also? If so, what is the fee structure?