Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Questions to ask a licensing agency

I got a question from a reader about choosing a licensing agency.
Okay so since I have officially stalked every one of your blog posts, I feel like I know you (and ALL of your cherubs)! My family is meeting with an agency this week to see if they are a good fit for us, and I would love your advice on which questions we should ask!
I don't really have a lot of advice here. Though, I haven't always been thrilled to death with my agency, so I do have a few things to think about. I'm hoping some other readers can chime in with advice and questions they'd ask as well.

One of the reasons I went with the agency we're with now is because of their size and the fact that they are faith based. My agency has several locations in Texas and also operates in a few other states as well. I had hoped that being this established that they would be organized and would operate with the mindset of someone that follows Christ.

I really liked the director of the agency that handled our initial trainings and got us licensed. She assured me that they were in the process of putting in an office closer to where we live. I was told repeatedly that we wouldn't have to travel almost an hour away for all of our training sessions.

Sadly, many of the things I thought to be true about my licensing agency simply were not. They've never established a satellite office. They're anything BUT organized. And, as a whole, they regularly function like a bureaucracy dealing with us as glorified babysitters and not as people trying to serve Christ by doing foster care. They've been through multiple directors since we've had our license and social workers come and go all the time!! But...I never would have known any of this because all of my questions were answered wonderfully when we signed up with this agency. And the first director was terrific. The atmosphere of the agency has changed with each new director. And honestly, each social worker has their own way of doing things too.

Now...I do simply adore Rainbow. Her role has changed many times. First she was our social worker. Then she became the local recruiter for the agency. Now she serves as both the recruiter and the placing coordinator. She wears a lot of hats. And Rainbow has ALWAYS treated me fairly and with respect. It's largely because of her that I decided to stay with our agency when we decided to re-license after taking the hiatus over Christmas.

I don't really know what to tell you about choosing an agency though. It's important to know the role of the licensing agency in the area where you live. Some agencies handle visits. Some agencies even manage therapy sessions and doctor appointments.

Where I live, the role of the agency is to make sure that our home is in compliance with the Minimum Standards that Texas has in place for foster homes. They offer no transportation to anything. They have nothing to do with visits. And they do nothing more than locate a therapist for you if your child needs counseling - and that hasn't been true in every case I've had. Sometimes CPS coordinates counseling.

That said, figuring out how your agency handles what they are responsible for is the big thing. Do they allow online training? (My agency, in general, does not.) Do they come to you and train you in your home? Do they give you enough notice or are they always springing last minute training sessions on you?

What role do they serve in the children's lives? How often do they have to visit the home? How accommodating will they be with your schedule?

Most of my biggest complaints really have to do with the State of Texas anyway. They are the ones that determine what the Minimum Standards are. So it's not my fault if my agency has to have me fill out ridiculous amounts of paperwork for things that don't make sense. (Like a recreation schedule for an infant!) The agency has to do what the State tells them to do.

I don't regret choosing our agency. I would totally jump ship and go with a new one if I truly thought it would be better (more organized and the trainings closer to home). I don't honestly trust any of the closer agencies to be easier to work with though and I'm very established with ours now. I don't really want to go through the home study process again.

My biggest advice is to trust your gut! As calloused as it may seem to say, these agencies NEED foster homes. They do like to put on the pony show to make themselves sound wonderful. If something isn't sitting right with you, trust yourself and ask around. See if they'll let you talk with current families that are fostering in their agency.

Best of luck to you as you start out on this adventure!! Does anyone else have advice for this mom and how to choose an agency?


Megan said...

We didn't have more than one agency choice in our area (at least to my knowledge)and for the most part, we don't have much interaction with our agency. We have been very blessed with good DHS casemanagers who have helped us organize therapy and get the services we need as well as Judges who address the foster parents at each hearing and ask if we need any services not being provided to the kids. I would however advise asking if there is a support group sponsored by the agency and who the peer support leaders for your area are. We use the support group and our peers more than the employees because let's face it...Mom know a lot of stuff! We typically only hear from the agency when we need to renew or they have a kiddo for us.

MammaJ said...

My advice is to seek out foster families in your area and ask their opinions of the agency they use. Then you will get an honest picture of how each agency works without the horse and pony show. Also don't just automatically go with the agency DCS refers you to. That's what we did or first time around and it wasn't until years later we even realized we had a choice! We have been with 3 different agencies (our first was taken over by our second) and we love or current agency! They are wayeasier towork with and I love our worker! She is super helpful and treats us like valuable assets, not disposable ones. Whenever anyone asks us about foster care we are happy to refer them to our agency.

G said...

I agree with MammaJ--talk to the foster parents.

I loved our agency, but (looking back) feel like we just got lucky. Like Cherub Mamma, we went with them because they were faith-based. (And also because they offered childcare during training hours.)

If I were having to start over now, I'd ask about: 1) staff turnover rates -- how long do their caseworkers stay with them? 2) foster parent support -- do they find you respite families when necessary? How often do they expect/want/allow you to take respite time (we never took as much as our agency would have allowed, but they wanted us to take it when we needed it) 3) Training -- do they offer it internally? If so, can you also get hours from things taken elsewhere? How often do they hold trainings sessions? Will there be childcare available? 4) Foster parent turnover -- The rate isn't as important here as the reasons. Why do families stop fostering with them? How long do they stay?

Foster Mom - R said...

We are licensed directly with the states- they are our agency. The reasons we chose to go that route And not were an agency were the following:
Same "pool" of kids
Transport to visits, therapies, required events is provided by them.
Supervision of visits is provided by them
No additional trainings other than what's required by the state- same schedule offered statewide. They also connect to private agencies that offer training credit. Our state also allows on-line training credits and even credits for reading books in their training library.

I would ask- how often do they visit your home? Our licensing worker visits every 6 months and we re-certify every 4 years (kids caseworkers and CASA visit monthly.)

Additional parameters required beyond what the state does- for instance some religious based agencies required proof of religious milestones, agreements to take children to church, didn't allow same sex parenting, etc.

Some don't provide transportation which is one of the biggest factors. If you had a child with therapies, siblings in another home and parent visits you could be driving back and forth to all of those appointments several times a week.

Also check on if daycare/respite/headstart/summer camp are reimbursed or available. Daycare for foster parents who work full time in my area is paid directly by the state. It is not available if both parents are not working full time.