Before You Begin
Depending on where you live, there may be many options for foster care or adoption agencies. And you may feel overwhelmed by the process of choosing an agency.
First, let us congratulate you for deciding to foster or adopt. By beginning this journey, you are one step closer to changing a child’s story. And while it may not be easy, you will make a significant difference in the lives of others.
Choosing an agency is a personal decision, so we cannot recommend which one you should work with. However, consider doing the following steps as you prayerfully begin your search.
Initial Research for an Agency
You may have already completed the first step in choosing a foster care or adoption agency: initial research. If not, this is done simply by a quick search on Google. Search for “foster care agencies in my state” or “adoption agencies in my state.”
As a result of your initial research, you can form a list of private and public foster care and adoption agencies near you. Keep in mind that the options available to you will depend on your state. Additionally, look for agencies that are close to where you live. Many agencies serve a geographical area. So it is essential to know an agency’s location.
Once you have selected several agencies to research, read their “About Us” statements. It will tell you about their history and mission. Additionally, their vision statements will give you an idea about the types of organizations they are. Finally, do not forget to look at who is leading the organization.
Indeed, the time you take to research foster care or adoption agencies will not go to waste. The information you gather about agencies near you will simplify the entire process.
State vs. Private Agencies
Foster care and adoption from foster care is managed at the state level. In other words, each state may manage its child welfare system differently.
Note: While many families can choose between a state or private agency, some states do not provide this option. You must research what kind of system operates in your state.
Definitions and Differences
Every state in the U.S. has its own state child welfare office. Ultimately, the state agency has custody of all the children entering foster care. State agencies have the authority, according to state statutes, to license foster and adoptive families.
Public agencies are operated by and staffed with state employees. In contrast, private agencies are staffed with individuals who report to the organization. Private organizations are run by chief executive officers who report to a board.
Private foster care and adoption agencies are private businesses. Consequently, they must apply with the Secretary of State to be approved as an agency. Then, the Secretary of State determines whether an agency can conduct foster care business, adoption business, or both.
Pros and Cons
There are pros and cons to working with the state agency or a private agency.
On the one hand, state agencies have legal custody of children in foster care. As a result, the state agency is more familiar with the children and cases. However, the state does not have unlimited resources. A state caseworker may have 25 or 35 cases on their load. Because of this, you may experience communication delays.
On the other hand, private foster care and adoption agencies tend to be managed on a smaller scale. Therefore, a social worker at a private agency may be quicker to respond to your questions or concerns. In addition, a private agency may prioritize relationships. A private agency may work harder to get to know you and your family.
Despite these pros, there are potential cons to private agencies. Above all else, make sure that your potential agency is not attempting to bend any state rules. Although they are a private business, private agencies must still uphold the spirit and the letter of the law.
Things to Consider
If you have the option to choose between a state or private agency, consider the following factors:
- Location. Which agency has an office closest to your home or place of work? Being near your selected agency may be a pro for you.
- Relationship. Do you value relationships? If so, consider whether the agency will get to know you. Some agencies prioritize building relationships with their families while others do not.
- Values. Does your faith motivate your decision to foster or adopt? If so, you may want to work with an agency that shares your values. Consider researching faith-based agencies near you.
- Cost. There are some fees that a family will have to pay regardless of their agency. However, there may be additional fees with a private agency. Ask about the costs of foster care or adoption when speaking with potential agencies.
What’s the Best Fit for Your Family?
Ultimately, only you can decide which type of agency is the best fit for you and your family. Do your research about state versus private foster care or adoption agencies. After that, go and listen to informational meetings.
If you have a choice between a state or private agency, get to know the people you will be working with. Take into consideration whichever factors may be important to you. For example, look at a potential agency’s location, values, costs, and focus on relationships.
It is possible that your state will not have the option of public versus private agencies. If this is the case for you, spend time in prayer as you learn about the option available to you. Most importantly, do not be dismayed if the type of agency you want to work with is not available in your state. Regardless of the agency you work with, God can still use you and your family to make a difference in a child’s life.
Selecting a Foster Care Agency
Prospective foster parents deserve to have all the information necessary when selecting a foster care agency. Read below to learn how the foster care process works. After that, look over the 10 questions to ask potential foster care agencies. Finally, learn what steps to take after choosing an agency.
Understanding the Foster Care Process
Foster care, by nature, is designed to be a temporary caregiving arrangement. Children enter foster care because of abuse or neglect. This temporary arrangement provides an opportunity for the child(ren)’s birth family to resolve safety issues.
Each state is required by law to provide family-like settings in which children can be cared for. Similarly, foster care agencies must meet their state’s licensing standards for Child Placement Agencies (CPA). These agencies may be public or private.
10 Questions to Ask Foster Care Agencies
When selecting an agency, consider doing your homework by asking a few questions. Getting answers to the questions below can help you evaluate the agency’s program. With all the necessary information, you can make the best decision for your family.
1. What steps are part of your agency’s process?
Make a list of specific steps you have questions about. For example, you may want to know more about the orientation, application, or classes. You may also have questions about the home assessment/home study. Then, ask the estimated time frames involved for each step. For instance, how long does it typically take to become certified/approved to be a foster parent?
2. Can you tell me more about your license?
Make sure the agency is licensed. If you are interviewing a private agency, ask them when the last time was that the agency was visited by a representative from the State’s Licensing Division.
3. Have any complaints been filed against your agency?
If so, how were they resolved? In most states, the licensing file is available for inspection (by appointment).
4. Can you tell me more about the staff’s education, background, and experience in foster care?
You will work closely with the agency, so it is crucial that you feel comfortable with their employees. As you learn about the staff, consider how they make you feel. Are you satisfied with their experience? Do they make you feel comfortable?
5. What reunification services does your agency provide to birth parents?
You should evaluate the agency’s completeness and sensitivity of this work. Additionally, consider the role you as a foster parent will play.
6. What are the costs?
Ask about anticipated costs. Specifically, ask about fees for the application, home assessment/home study, home certification, CPR & First Aid certification, and the review of pet vaccination. The agency can inform you of other potential costs.
7. What support services does your agency offer for foster families?
Ask if the agency facilitates support groups or offers post-placement services such as respite care. Undoubtedly, support is critical for foster families. Unfortunately, many quit within the first year due to a lack of support. However, knowing your support options beforehand can help prevent burnout.
8. Can we speak with any current foster parents?
If possible, get connected with other foster parents. Ask about their experience with the agency. They may also be able to share their own tips or suggestions. Finally, these parents might be able to help connect you with community groups.
9. What kind of training is provided and by whom?
Ask how many hours of training you must complete and where training takes place. Requirements can vary based on your situation and the agency you choose. Also, clarify whether both you and your spouse must attend the training.
10. What expenses do you cover once a child is placed in the home?
Ask specific questions about how you will receive financial compensation for caring for a child.
3 Steps to Take After Choosing a Foster Care Agency
Once you have selected a foster care agency, stay connected with the agency as you move through the process.
1. Maintain regular contact and complete the necessary steps.
Communicate any questions or concerns you might have throughout the certification process. At the same time, be proactive about completing and submitting paperwork. While you may be waiting at times for your agency to complete steps, it is ultimately your responsibility to keep the process moving.
2. Keep a journal and track your progress.
If you have questions along the way, write them down in a journal. At the same time, as you attend training and meetings, you can add information to the notebook or journal.
3. Connect with and stay linked with other foster parents.
Certainly, a community of support is necessary for new foster parents. If your agency does not facilitate support groups, look for them yourself. Seek support groups through a local church or an online search. See Chapter Five: Finding Community and Support for more ideas.
Selecting an Adoption Agency
Understanding the Adoption Process
Adoption is a lifelong process for parents and children. Therefore, it is important to choose an agency that can help you assess your readiness to adopt. Additionally, your chosen adoption agency should have the expertise to help you through the process.
Child placement agencies must meet the licensing standards for Child Placement Agencies (CPA) to provide adoption services. While some CPAs are dually licensed to be a foster care and adoption provider, others are licensed to provide only foster care or only adoption.
Completing a personal evaluation before selecting an agency will generally lead to positive results. The following points may be helpful as you consider choosing an adoption agency:
First, learn about adoption and the issues involved.
- Read books and articles on adoption
- Attend an adoptive parents group
- Talk to other adoptive parents
- Attend agency orientation and information meetings
Next, determine the type of adoption you are interested in pursuing.
- Adoption from foster care or private adoption
- Infant or older child
- Domestic or international
- Designated or tradition. Whereas the former means the birth parents and the adoptive parents have chosen each other, the latter means your approved application is in a waiting pool of families for children relinquished to the agency.
- Open or closed. While an open adoption means that there is some contact with the birth parent(s), ranging from an exchange of letters and meeting on a first name basis to more involvement, a closed adoption means there is no contact.
- Special needs or minimum problems. A special needs adoption may include emotional problems or mental or physical disabilities.
Finally, contact the agencies and learn about their program.
- Ask about any requirements/restrictions on adoptive parents such as length of marriage, age, etc.
- Read brochures on their program
- Attend orientation/information meetings
7 Questions to Ask Adoption Agencies
Unsurprisingly, there are many similar questions that someone should ask an agency whether they are interested in fostering or adopting. However, if you specifically seek to adopt, your questions will be geared with permanency in mind. Consider asking the following questions to help you evaluate the agency’s program and make the best decision for your family.
1. What steps are part of your agency’s process?
Make a list of specific steps you have questions about. For example, you may want to know more about the orientation, application, home assessment/home study, or parenting classes. After that, ask the estimated time frames involved for each step. For instance, how long does it typically take to become certified/approved to be an adoptive parent?
2. Can you tell me more about your license?
Make sure the agency is licensed. If you are interviewing a private agency, ask them when the last time was that the agency was visited by a representative from the State’s Licensing Division. Additionally, if you plan to adopt from another country, ask whether the agency is authorized to facilitate international adoptions.
3. Have any complaints been filed against your agency?
It is important to know whether there have been any issues with an agency in the past. So, be bold in asking about former complaints. And if there have been complaints, ask how they were resolved. In most states, the licensing file is available for inspection (by appointment).
4. Can you tell me more about the staff’s education, background, and experience in adoption?
You will work closely with the agency as you move through the adoption process. Therefore, it is crucial that you feel comfortable with the staff. Equally important, you want to feel heard and supported.
5. What are the costs?
Ask about anticipated costs. Specifically, ask about fees for the screening, orientation meeting, home study, supervisory visits, court reports, educational groups, services to and expenses in connection with birth parents in designated adoptions, extra work in connection with interstate placement, extra personnel and services in international adoption, and other possible expenses. In addition to this, obtain written detailed information on all costs involved, including the agency’s refund policy.
6. What support services does your agency offer for adoptive families?
Ask if the agency facilitates support groups or offers post-finalization services. Undoubtedly, support is critical for adoptive families. Unlike foster care, which may be temporary, adoption is a permanent arrangement. Thus, you will want to have continuous support in place.
7. Can we speak with any adoptive parents?
If possible, connect with other adoptive parents and ask about their experience with the agency. These families may also be able to shed light on the support and resources the agency provides. Without a doubt, a firsthand account of an agency from another family can provide you with a helpful perspective.
Steps to Take After Choosing an Adoption Agency
After choosing your adoption agency, keep in regular contact with them. But also be realistic with the staff’s time. The timeline for adoption varies by situation, so you should remain flexible.
If you have a complaint or concern, talk honestly to the person you are working with. The next step is to speak to the director if their response is unsatisfactory. If this does not resolve the problem, you may file a complaint with the State Licensing Division in your state.
Adoptive families need support before, during, and after finalization. Stay connected with your agency so that you can be informed of any community events they host. You can also reach out to them if you want help making connections with other adoptive families in your area. See Chapter Five: Finding Community and Support for more ideas.
Finding Community and Support
Seeking Community Through Foster Care/Adoption Agencies
Along your foster/adoption journey, you should seek support. First, check with your agency. Perhaps you inquired about support groups when you were researching foster care or adoption agencies. If not, now is the time to ask. In any case, do not hesitate to get connected with other families through your agency.
Foster/Adoptive Family Ministries
Another great place to find support and community is through your church. Tap into your church’s foster/adoptive family ministry if one exists. However, if your church does not have a ministry, look for other foster and adoptive families in the congregation. While you may not have the time or energy to facilitate an entire ministry, consider getting to know the other families in your church who can relate to your journey. It may be refreshing to share stories, encourage one another, and pray for each other’s families.
How to Talk About Your Journey with Friends and Family
If you have not yet started on your foster/adoption journey, share with your loved ones what the process will look like. In the beginning, give people the chance to ask questions and learn more about foster care or adoption. At the same time, you can assess which people in your life are engaged with your journey. Likely, these people will be your most significant source of support.
Perhaps you have already started down the road towards fostering or adopting without a support system. Nevertheless, you can still get the support you need. First, use your words. Begin by telling your friends and family how they can help you. For example, perhaps you need respite care, help with laundry, or just someone to lend an ear. Then, as time goes on, you can continue to share more about your journey. Not only does this ensure you can find support, but also it provides the opportunity for others to learn about foster care or adoption.
Learn more about the many roles in the space of foster care and adoption by reading these articles:
- Understanding the Role of a Child Placing Agency
- The Role of a Foster Care Social Worker
- What is a Bridge Organization
Read the stories of real foster and adoptive families:
- Meadows Family: Our Journey to Adoption Through Foster Care
- Tarrant Family: A Christian Approach to Foster Care
- Paine Family: Pushing Past Fears to Become a Foster Family
- Finn Family: Foster the Family
- Hobbs Family: Seeing God in the Details as a Foster and Adoptive Family
- Blacklidge Family: When God’s Plan is Different Than the Case Plan
Looking for more to read? Click here for more foster care and adoption articles.
Find information and encouragement in the following videos:
- The Power of Asking for Help as a Foster or Adoptive Family
- How We Became a Foster Family
- Understanding Attachment Challenges in Adoptive Families
Looking for more to watch? Click here for more foster care and adoption videos.