When you were graduating high school, you probably went to a variety of different colleges for visits. You asked a lot of questions, you toured, you interviewed them as much as they interviewed you. When you moved to a new city, you probably visited a few different churches. You visited their website, asked about their children and youth ministries, listened to sermons, and got information about ways to be involved. These were significant life choices which would impact who you are, your family, and who your friends would be. You very seriously and deliberately made these choices.
Now you and your family are moving on to another new stage of life and you are interested in making another huge decision- one that will affect your marriage and family, your friendships and pretty much every aspect of your life. The decision to become a foster parent. As you embark on this journey, one of the most important decisions you will make is choosing an agency. (In Nebraska, almost all foster homes are agency based. Western Nebraska has areas that continue to be supported by DHHS, but for Eastern, Northern, and Central Nebraska DHHS recommends choosing an agency.) You can find out which agencies are available in your community by doing a simple Google search. It’s probably not a good idea to pick the first one that pops up. Just because an agency has a lot of advertising dollars invested, does not mean they are the right fit for you. Here are three considerations everyone should make when choosing an agency.
- Evaluate your motives.
The first thing you need to do is evaluate your own motives for becoming a foster parent. Are you interested in adopting? Are you looking to adopt through foster care out-of-state? Some people are motivated for religious reasons, feeling called to provide a family for a child. Once you thoroughly determine what your reasons and needs are, find an agency that supports those needs. If you are looking at children from out of state on Adoptuskids.org, you will want to choose an agency that frequently works with ICPCs (Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children.) If you are interested in adopting out of foster care, find out what kind of support the agency provides to families throughout the adoption process and what type of aftercare is available. If you are motivated by religious reasons, and your faith is a core value in your life, you will want to find an agency that matches those values. Foster care is intensely personal. It is imperative that you find an agency that supports your belief system and values.
- Find out about their home study and licensing process.
Before you can become a foster parent, you will have to take 21 hours of pre-service training and complete an extensive study on you, your relationships, and qualities making you fit to foster. While all agencies have the same basic requirements as determined by the Department of Health and Human Services, every agency has a different way of doing things. Find out what that looks like. Where are classes located? When is their next training starting? How long will the home study take? Your license will need to be renewed every two years which requires an updated home study and additional training. Ask what trainings they offer after pre-service training. What ways do they support your ongoing training?
- Determine what supports you will need to be successful.
It might be easy to believe that you won’t need any supports throughout fostering. So first, talk to some foster parents you know—ask if you can take them out for a cup of coffee (trust me, they will take you up on that offer!) Find out what they have learned through the process of fostering. They might tell you that they found fostering to be isolating. With few people they could vent to or celebrate milestones with, they may have noticed a distance in relationships. They might tell you that some independence they once had (like the ability to leave the state for the weekend, or go on a date night, or make decisions about school by themselves) is gone. After you have talked to a foster parent (or three), ask potential agencies these questions:
- Do they have an informational night for interested families?
- How often does my specialist/consultant visit?
- How often are they available?
- Who do I call in an emergency?
- What types of financial supports do you offer?
- What types of emotional supports do you offer, such as support groups?
- How do I get respite care if I need it?
- How many foster homes do you support?
- How many children do you support?
- How many specialists/consultants do you have, and how many children/families are on their caseload?
- What types of placements (age, number of children, genders, disabilities, etc) are you most in need of? (Be open with them about your ideas for the best fit for your family.)
- Find out who their placement specialist is and how the placement process works.
Observe the willingness of the agency to meet with you and answer your questions. Are they trying to “sell” you a service? Are they listening to your concerns and what you think is best for your family? You want to interview the agency as much as they interview you. It may be difficult to ask some of these questions, especially when your motivation is to serve children and not for what you will receive from fostering. It’s important to remember that the agency views (or should view) their job as serving YOU while you serve children. The agency should already have an idea of what needs you will have before you do and be postured to meet those needs.
We would love to talk with you about becoming a foster parent in Nebraska! Contact [email protected] for more information. If you’re already a foster parent, tell us what you wish you had known before you become a foster parent by commenting below.