One of the first questions foster and adoptive parents have is: Which agency do I use? (If you are interested in a child who is available for adoption through the foster system, please don’t miss the end of this post.)
When doing foster care or adopting from foster care, you can use your local DHS (Department of Human Services) or a contracted agency. I strongly urge families to use DHS or CPS (Child Protective Services). The name can vary in each county or state, so for this article, I will exclusively use the term DHS.
Why use the DHS rather than a contracted agency?
I’ve seen so many people use contracted agencies and feel like they’re jumping out of a plane without a parachute. Depending on the contracted agency, they can be excellent for supervising visits with the biological family, but as the main agency, I’ve seen it fail far too often.
When you’re doing foster care, you have what’s called a case manager (the child’s case manager) and you have what some counties call a PRM (Personal Resource Manager). The PRM is the parents go-to person, and the one who makes sure you’re following state guidelines and taking care of the child. Both will be able to find out information for you regarding the biological family, what’s happening in court, and with the case.
When you use an outside agency, communication gets lost, like a sports announcer who can’t see the game through a blizzard. They can’t see anything to relay how the game is going. The “sports announcer” or case manager and PRM need to have first-hand information about the child, the case, and the child’s bio family. With so many contracted agencies I’ve seen, this isn’t the case. There’s a case manager who needs to refer to another case manager, and everything gets muddled.
Not knowing the ins and outs of the case can be detrimental to the kids in your care. You want to know what’s going on. You want a play-by-play, but they don’t have it. You don’t know when visits are canceled, you show up and no one’s there, you don’t know if the children will be reunited until the last minute, giving you no time to prepare the kids, or yourself.
You want case managers who are in court, you want all the information you can get.
When you have direct contact with those who will be speaking on your child’s behalf in court, you become the child’s advocate. This is exactly what the child in your care will need. They don’t have a voice, yours is the only one they have. Speak for your foster child, make known your concerns. Tell them how the child is doing, both while in your home, and before, during, and after visits with their bio family.
If you aren’t connected to those who will represent the child in court or speak on their behalf, communication lines will get crossed and severed.
The training is often superior when you go through DHS. It usually takes longer, but being able to soak in information and grasp what is being taught is essential to the long term care of your foster child. When you pound out training in one or two weekends, important aspects get lost in the rush. This isn’t an adventure to take lightly, you need to know what you’re doing, and training is the first step. Although many will tell you that the training didn’t happen until the child was in their home, the knowledge you gain from case workers and those who’ve been there is still crucial.
With all this talk about court and knowing what’s going on, I suggest foster parents try to make it to as many court hearings as you can. It was invaluable to hear everything the lawyers, bios, social workers, CASA, and the guardian ad litem said.
Because we were at every hearing, we knew exactly what was going on as it happened. If the bio mom was asking to have a visit with her daughter on Mother’s Day, we knew immediately. We could hear bio parents talking to lawyers in the gallery before the hearing. We knew what those called to testify were saying about our family and how the child was connecting with us. If someone was wrong, we could contact them afterwards or apprise our case worker.
I know it’s hard to be there, but if you’re a two-parent household, try to split the hearings between the two of you. If you can’t be there, communicate with your case workers and let them know you are interested in what happened in court.
Many people are unaware there are children in foster care who are available for adoption. If you call DHS and state your intentions to adopt a child from foster care, there’s a good chance they’ll tell you they’re not an adoption agency.
Be sure to make it clear exactly what you are looking for, “a child who is available for adoption,” or “a child who needs a forever family.”
DHS’ response, “We are not an adoption agency,” becomes their mantra because so many people want to start fostering with the intent to adopt, and the departments goal is to reunite children with their biological families, so they need to make this clear. They can’t have people sign up as foster parents who only want to adopt because there’s no guarantee a foster child will become available for adoption.
I’m sure there are good contract agencies out there, I just encourage families to go with the main agencies that will handle the majority of the work first-hand. I’ve seen this work best for foster and adoptive families, and especially for the children.
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