Last summer, my husband and I learned we would be moving back to Texas from Michigan. Immediately, I began researching foster care agencies. We had spent the last year as foster parents and knew we wanted to continue in that capacity after the move. The number of agencies in DFW was overwhelming, so I began to consider how to narrow our list.
Our time with foster care taught us that agencies are not one-size-fits-all. Like any company, each agency has a culture, and each has strengths and weaknesses. Because your agency has the potential to make or break your overall experience, it is important to weigh the culture against criteria that are significant to you.
Starting Your Search
Through our church in Burleson, we found several families who were involved in foster care. They were our most valuable resource when choosing our agency. For those who don’t personally know foster families, Facebook groups like Texas Region 3B Foster or Adopt and Foster and Adoptive Parents of North Texas are a great resource for connecting with foster parents. Ask people what they do and do not like about their agencies.
After your initial research, select your top three to five agencies and attend introductory meetings at each one. I cannot emphasize enough how valuable it is to go to multiple agencies. This allows you to get a feel for the culture, ask questions in person, and hear answers to others’ questions.
What You’ll Want to Consider
Think about your intentions when choosing an agency. Are you planning to be strictly a foster home? Is your hope to foster-to-adopt, or pursue matched adoption? Agencies may be stronger or more supportive in one area than another. It is vital to have an agency that supports your family’s goals throughout the process.
I was surprised to learn transportation by agencies to and from family visits is not guaranteed in Texas. Visits most often occur during regular business hours. Some agencies provide transport; others do not. Some may tell you they will try, but the responsibility ultimately falls to the foster parent when the agency is unavailable. With that in mind, we had to make a decision about whether I would continue to work, or if we would move forward with our preferred agency and I stay home with the kids.
When foster parents need a short break, or when they leave town and do not take the foster children with them, the children stay temporarily in respite care. Respite is provided by a licensed foster home. Some agencies seek providers on behalf of foster parents, while others require foster parents to find their own respite. For those without a large network of friends who foster, an agency that actively connects foster parents with respite providers is ideal.
Many additional factors may influence your decision. What religious affiliation, if any, do you want your agency to have? Consider what kind of support is offered. Are there support groups? Do the agency’s social workers help to arrange services the kids need? Each agency must adhere to minimum standards set forth by the state but can add its own rules as well. Ask each agency for its requirements beyond state law.
Take Your Time
Once we decided we were ready to foster, there was no holding us back. We were too excited to spend weeks or months researching agencies, and we were too naive to understand why we should. It worked out fine in Michigan, considering we had few choices anyway. But learning the intricacies of the system, even in another state, helped equip us to make a more informed decision with so many options here.
Ideally, your relationship with your agency will be long-term. Please don’t rush through this part of the process. Don’t misunderstand the gravity of this decision. It is worth the wait. It is worth the time and energy you will spend researching. Begin your foster care journey on the right foot by choosing the agency that best fits your family.