Friday, July 13, 2012

"Foster Friday" Q & A - Private Agency vs. State

I've recently seen quite a bit of discussion regarding foster parents working with private agencies verses working directly with their State or County offices.  There are pros and cons to each, and I know that every state does things differently.  For today's "Foster Friday," I thought I'd tell you about my personal experience here in the Lone Star State, and ask all of you about your experiences.

When I first decided to look into foster care, an agency near my parents' house held an informational meeting with representatives from a few of the area's private agencies as well as one from DFPS.  At the time, I was eager to get started, and I chose to go with the agency that was close to my parents' house simply because they were nearby and starting the required training classes the following week.  I should have done my homework though.  I ended up leaving the agency after Booger Bear left.  They were a nightmare, and I was so fed up that I just relinquished my license rather than have to deal with them another day.
  • Calling and demanding that I take off work to drive Angel to appointments (apparently, no one else was allowed to do it), but not speaking to me at all while I was there.  
  • Monthly visits where the caseworker would actually get in my pantry and check the expiration dates on my canned goods when I didn't even have a child in the home!
  • A staff therapist who I highly suspect was high half of the time who told my 16-year-old foster daughter that she should send her to a Residential Treatment Center because she (the therapist) "didn't know what she was doing because she didn't usually work with teens!"
  • Requiring me to sign a safety plan that in essence forced me to be in two different places at once.
  • Expressing their "concern" that Angel didn't have a job or participate in any extracurricular activities and then getting angry when I asked just when exactly she was supposed to do that considering they had her booked solid with CPS and agency-related appointments every single day of the week.
And the list goes on and on and on...

When I decided that I really did miss fostering and wanted to start again, I knew that I needed to take my time and figure out the best option for me when it came to choosing another agency or working directly with DFPS.  I asked other foster parent friends for their opinions on their agencies and referrals.  I researched online and narrowed my choices down to two agencies and DFPS directly.  Then I contacted all three.  I ended up weighing pros and cons, but my decision ultimately came down to the fantastic response time and great communication that I received from my current agency when I was trying to get the ball rolling again.  After nearly two years with them, I am so happy I made the decision that I did.  Sure, there are times when I want to pull my hair out, but overall they have been awesome and a huge support system for me and my kids.

For me, the pros of working through a private agency (my current one that is) have outweighed the cons.
  • They are there for me (the foster parent) as well as the kids.  They do the "dirty work" by taking the time to track down documents, information, etc. that I need for my kiddos so I can just be the parent.  They have argued with Medicaid for me.  They have hounded caseworkers for information.  They have commiserated with me during those times when I've been overwhelmed and frustrated.  They are there when I say both "hello" and "goodbye" to the children who come in and out of my life.
  • They help me keep my license by reminding me of deadlines for required training classes, keeping on top of required paperwork, and letting me vent away without repercussion when things get too crazy.
  • They are a great resource for information on discounts, reimbursements, charities, etc. for foster families.  Goodness knows, every little bit helps!
  • Because their caseloads are much smaller than those of DFPS workers, they are much easier to reach. Their response times are usually much faster as well.  Anyone who's ever had an Invisible CPS Caseworker of their own can appreciate how awesome it is to be able to actually reach the person you want to speak to.
The only real downsides that I've been able to see when it comes to licensing through a private agency rather than straight through DFPS have been:
  • It's just one more person having to make monthly visits to your home every month.  But, let's be honest...  What's one more person when you already have a revolving door of caseworkers and CASAs anyway?  Sometimes it's the only adult conversation that we get!
  • Agencies often have stricter rules and regulations for their homes on top of the State's Minimum Standards.  Many of the Minimum Standards are subject to interpretation, and most agencies prefer to err on the side of caution.
  • Extra paperwork...  And if your agency has an OCD anal-retentive type director like mine, there will be lots of extra paperwork.  For some people, that might be a deal-breaker.  Fortunately, I'm a slightly OCD anal-retentive type as well, so while I don't necessarily like all of the extra paperwork, I don't have any trouble keeping up with it.
So that's my two cents on the agency vs. State debate.  What about all of you?  What have your experiences been like?  How do you feel about your agency and/or relationship with your State office?  I'd love to hear from you!


Carrie said...

Love my agency!! The first time around I fostered straight through the state and didn't have an awful experience, but this time around I love having so much more support and feeling appreciated!

CherubMamma said...

I agree with all your reasoning behind agencies - the good and the bad of it all.

When all is said and done, I love my agency! I do like that extra support. And while the training leaves something to be desired, having it all in one place is nice.

Even if everything in my fosterhood life goes down the toilet, I'll never fault my agency. In fact, I've been thinking of ways I can continue to support their ministry even if I'm not able to foster anymore.

G said...

We're with a private agency and love it, but have never worked directly with the county, so don't have personal experience to compare.

For us, the additional support of the agency is huge.

The fact that they offer training with free childcare (supplied by people who are cleared to babysit foster children) is huge.

And, as a family actively involved in a Christian church, the fact that our private agency is faith-based is reassuring. It means that our agency caseworkers will actively support our bringing the the kids to church-related programs and activites, including sometimes finding the funding to help pay for them. It means our agency staffers are training to minister to our spiritual struggles while fostering, as well as everything else. And it means that the county caseworker knew they were getting a Christian family (in practice, not just in name) when she sent them here. (In my part of the country, that's likely to be seen as a plus.)

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