I don’t know the road you’ve walked to get here—the place where you’ve decided that becoming a foster parent is an avenue you want to explore.
I don’t know if it’s been a short journey where the people around you have encouraged you and spoken validation over your decision, or if it’s been an ongoing tug in your heart for years but only now has it become the right time for you and your family.
I don’t know if you’re at a place where you are confidently pursuing foster parenting or if your “yes” right now is to explore more, and you’re taking it one step at a time.
Whether you’re boldly running forward or you’re bravely ready to learn more, choosing an agency is your next step.
But, how do you choose a foster care agency?
First things first—You need to know your options.
Identify which foster care agencies serve your area. As each state varies in how its child welfare services are operated and delivered, your first order of business is to understand how your state works. You may find that your state is one of the following:
Fully privatized—meaning you must choose a private foster care agency
Fully government-run—meaning there are no private foster care agencies
Or that it offers both options—where the State or local public child welfare agency contracts private agencies to carry out foster care services while also providing its own services.
A quick google search of “foster care agencies near me” could be your best friend in this process.
Once you know where you could be licensed as a foster parent, it’s time to ask some questions of the agencies.
Gather as much information as you can in order to make your best decision. You may be able to gather some information from an agency’s website, or you can schedule an appointment with an agency representative.
Ask the basics:
- What programs does your agency offer: traditional foster care, relative foster care, foster to adopt?
- What are your requirements to be licensed?
- Are there opportunities for ongoing training? Who are those provided by?
- How many foster homes are licensed through your agency right now?
- What types of placements are you most in need of right now?
- Are there any types of placements that you are not in need of right now?
- What is the average caseload for caseworkers?
- How often could I expect to connect with a caseworker or agency staff?
- How accessible are agency staff in emergencies?
- Where do you place children from—what towns/counties?
- What type of support do you offer to biological parents?
- What travel considerations should I know about—visitations, court, appointments?
- What does your pre-, during, and post-placement support look like for foster families and children?
Find other foster parents in your area and ask for their perspectives.
Before you venture down this road, know that every child, every case, and every experience with an agency is different. It’s always best to hear from more than one foster parent in this regard. If you connect with someone who is not currently fostering but has in the past, consider that the agency could have changed since they worked with them. Staff changes are not uncommon in this often high-stress position.
Get to the heart:
- What do they love about their agency?
- What do they wish they would have known before they chose their agency?
- How did their expectations line up with reality in working with the agency?
- Do they feel supported by their agency? What does support look like for them?
You also need to ask yourself some questions.
Here’s the deal—there is no perfect agency. You will inevitably hear feedback to your questions that you don’t love. If at first you don’t, then you might need to push a little further and ask more. The reality is that foster care always involves brokenness, and it is very rare for people to do things perfectly (including you and me!). It’s important to determine what your non-negotiables are—those things that you hold most important.
For example, if you have a non-negotiable to be placed with a child under the age of three, but the agency you are talking with only places teenagers, then that’s a deal-breaker.
Maybe you feel more open-handed about the level of support you’d receive from an agency in terms of connecting with other foster parents. In your ideal scenario, you’d love to be able to meet other foster parents at events sponsored by your agency, but when they tell you that they do not offer that type of support, that doesn’t count them out. You will have to work harder at finding community with other foster parents outside of the agency.
Determine what matters to you most. Maybe your highest priority isn’t actually what services an agency provides. Perhaps your highest priority is to work with an agency that has the greatest need for foster parents regardless of their level of support to you. You may have the flexibility and the support outside of the agency to step into brokenness and to care for children, families, and agency workers who need to know that you are with them in this.
Do the work of asking questions—of agencies, of other foster parents, and of yourself. I promise that the extra time it takes will leave you better equipped as you venture onto the next phase of your foster care journey.
Holly grew up with a heart for adoption but didn’t know much about foster care. God used an internship with a local child welfare agency to make her aware. Coupling that experience with knowing the joy of the Gospel, Holly is passionate about connecting the local church to the foster care community. Holly and her husband, Scott, were married in December 2013 and are enjoying the crazy adventure of life together.
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