Choosing a Foster Care Provider: County Agencies vs. Private Agencies

Here are some questions to get you started on deciding which is right for you.

Kristy O'Neal October 22, 2017
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If you’re interested in becoming a foster parent, congratulations! Being a foster parent is difficult but rewarding work. You may be researching and deciding between county and private agency foster care. Here are some things to consider as you make this decision.

What private agencies are available in your area, and what kind of foster care do they do?

Every county and state is different, so your options might be limited by the area in which you live. Some counties have private agencies that provide foster families for all the children in foster care, while some counties recruit, license, and manage foster families themselves. Some areas may work with private agencies for a specific demographic, such as older children or those who require a special level of care (often called treatment or therapeutic care).

Some private adoption agencies also utilize foster families to care for infants from the time they are surrendered by their birth parents through the length of time birth parents have to change their mind. This is often called the revocation period, and its length varies by state.

Are you interested in just fostering, or are you open to adoption?

For private agencies that use foster families to provide intermediate care for infants during the revocation period, adoption is usually not an option. The foster family’s role is to care for the child until they can be placed with their adoptive parents. This type of foster care might be a good fit for someone who only wants to care for very young babies and is not interested in adoption.

If, however, you are open to both fostering and adoption, you may want to choose county foster care or an agency that provides homes for children who have been involuntarily removed from their parent’s care. In these cases, the initial goal for the child is almost always reunification with the birth parent, or failing that, with another family member. In some cases, though, that is not an option and the plan for the child might be changed to adoption, and the child’s foster family could be identified as the adoptive resource.

Do you want to work with a private agency that shares your specific values?

Different agencies have different goals or mission statements, and it might be important to you that your agency’s values align with yours. One foster parent shared that they chose their organization specifically because they shared the same religious values. You might be specifically interested in fostering older children, or those who identify as LGBTQ, or children with specific disabilities, and may want to choose an agency that specializes in these demographics.

How many families does the foster family social worker serve? How many children are assigned to each child social worker?

Most every child in foster care has at least one social worker assigned to their case from the county. If you choose to foster with a private agency, the child may also have an agency social worker. As a foster family, you also may have a social worker who handles licensing, training, and support. These social workers can be an important resource for you in your journey as a foster parent, but not all agencies have adequate staffing to meet those needs. If you have the option of different agencies, ask how many workers are involved in each case and what the ratio is of social worker to foster child or foster family.

What can other foster families tell you?

In the end, your best information is probably going to come from word of mouth. Connect with foster parents you may know, or ask friends and family members if they can help you make these connections. Ask them why they chose to do county or private foster care and what they like or don’t like about their agency. Their experiences can help you make the right decision for your family.

If you’re a foster parent, what would you add? Why did you choose county or private foster care?

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Kristy O'Neal

Kristy is mom to two sweet, funny, wonderful kids and works full time in information technology. During her spare time, she likes to browse Pinterest and thrift stores, create things, and hang out with her kids. As a foster parent, Kristy cares about advocating for the needs of kids in foster care and supporting foster families. You can read her thoughts on these and many other topics at her blog.


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