Thursday, April 9, 2015

Foster Care Exposed: Private Agency or DHR?

I am starting a little series on foster care.

I have blogged about it before, but not in much detail, and the more questions I get the more I realize the need for clear and concise answers about how the "system" works.

So let's start with this question:

"Should I get licensed through a private agency or through my county DHR?"

Let me tell you my experience. I went through the training classes (called "GPS") to become licensed as a foster parent through a private agency. These classes are focused (as they should be) on seeing foster care from the eyes of a child entering the system.

The material for GPS is the same whether you take the classes through your local DHR office or through a private agency. However, over the course of the 10 weeks of classes, we were told additional information based on the experience of the people leading the classes. Things like "we are here to protect you from DHR", "if you ever see DHR on your caller ID, don't answer it and call your social worker", bascially making DHR out to be the "bad guys".

They also put a lot of emphasis on the fact that if I put on my paperwork that I could only take 1 child under the age of 2 (for example) that they would NEVER call me for anything outside of that. So hypothetically if a child that was 2 1/2 came in to care, I would not get that call.

They also told us that we would receive a higher board payment (the $ you receive for each child for food, clothing, housing etc) with this private agency than we would through DHR.

What we weren't told are the practical differences between fostering through a private agency vs. directly through DHR. Things that I would have liked to have known. 

I ASSUMED, that when they said we would never get calls in the middle of the night, that meant that the private agency was fielding those calls for us. Not true. They don't take calls after 5pm or on weekends. That is just one example.

Now let me pause here and BE VERY CLEAR: We need the private agencies. They take a GREAT burden off the State simply by providing so many options for training, not to mention the many many kids who have found safe and loving Christian homes through the services they provide.

My purpose with this particular post is very simple:

1. People should know the differences in private vs. state when they decide to pursue foster care

2. I want more people to understand the great need for more families to choose to foster through the State. Why?

Right now in Shelby County we have 28 foster families.

I don't know how many families the private agencies have. But I do know, that of those 28 families, all but maybe 2 are FULL as of right now.

That means that when those middle of the night or weekend calls come, those kids have to be placed with families that are already at or over their max, and sometimes they have to spend the night at DHR. 

The next morning, the private agencies are contacted and if they accept the placement, the kids are moved to a private agency home. But, unlike DHR (who has to care for every child who comes in no matter what) the private agencies have the right to choose which placements they take based on anything from: size of sibling group/ any special needs involved/ how complicated the case is legally/ whether the placement will be long or short term/ what they deem to be best for their foster families etc.

Here are some of the facts:

Differences in Private vs. DHR for Foster FAMILIES:

Differences in Private vs. DHR for Foster KIDS:

So, if you are considering foster care or are currently in GPS classes, now you know the facts (at least the ones that I know). God will lead many of you to get your license through a private agency and that is awesome! But those of us who are in Shelby County are really praying that some of you will decide to get your license with the State : )

*side note: you can take classes with a private agency and get licensed by DHR and vice versa

I know that this post will likely tick some people off but please understand, I do not consider myself to be an expert in this arena so if I said something that isn't true, by all means let me know. But, when God lays something on my heart, I will advocate for it in any way I can.

And remember that underneath all the facts are the children who come in to foster care....and God has called us to care for them.




  1. Jenny I just have to say that from the private GPS class I was in with you that I never got the impression that they were trying to make DHR out to be the bad guy. I got the impression that the private agency wants to protect foster families from getting burnt out which I think happens A LOT. They are trying to fill in the need to care for not only the children but also to care for the foster families. Which is very important if you want to have less turn over. While I do whole heartedly wish that private agencies took emergency and after hours calls because I think that that is a broken part of the system, I think that it would be better served to contact the private agencies themselves and try to make a change. My husband and I were just having this conversation the other day. I think it's important to reach out to the agencies themselves and ask them why this need isn't or can't be met. I really don't want people to get the wrong impression of this post.

    1. Lacey, I am all for protecting foster families, but I feel like sometimes we do it at the expense of the foster children. I am pretty sure the private agencies are not going to change their policies based on my opinion ;-) and I dont want people to get the wrong impression either, which is why I tried to stick to the facts and let people take from it what they will!

  2. Jenny - I wholeheartedly agree. I think this is good to shed some light on answers to questions that some who are considering fostering didn't even know to ask. I, too, am thankful for the private agencies and believe they play a crucial role in the overall objective of placing these kids. However, I also wanted to point out that some agencies will not allow you to take children who are older than your birth children. Some feel strongly about maintaining birth order, but this didn't matter to me. I am so thankful that we were not restricted or we would've never fostered/adopted our oldest. Teens are so hard to place, yet are often in care through no fault of their own. They often end up in group homes because no one will take them, or worse - sent out of county. At the same time their world is being turned upside down - they're also being completely uprooted from all that is familiar. While I am so thankful for anyone who would foster, it is imperative that there be folks were are willing to be a little less shielded and be on the front lines - i.e. taking emergency, middle of the night, inconvenient placements. Life is messy and these little lives fall apart at all hours and they desperately need homes willing to take them.

  3. From a private agency perspective....We do not consider DHR to be the "bad guys" as you have quoted above. What we are "protecting" our families from is the overworked workers asking our foster families to do things that we as workers are here to do, such as supervise visits and transport children. We are not saying DHR is bad, we are saying because they are overworked, underpaid, and under appreciated they expect their foster families to help more with these tasks. That does not make them the bad guy, it makes them real people. Part of being with a private agency is to take that responsibility off our families and make sure they are solely responsible for providing the best care for our children and not worrying about the nervousness that comes from meeting parents and all the medial tasks we can do for them.
    DHR programs and Private programs will always look different, and THAT'S OKAY. I love that there are Christians who feel passionate about fostering through DHR. I think there is a need for that. But please do not paint private agencies as holding pitch forks in our hands chanting about DHR being the bad guy! That is unfair! I love DHR and the hard workers there. I tell them all the time how much I appreciate them.
    One other thing about something you mentioned about children being behind all the facts. YES! There are children, and we serve MANY of them! We, as a private agency, are able to provide services for them that the state cannot provide or would take forever getting started. We are passionate about serving children. So while they are in our homes, I can guarantee you they are receiving the BEST possible care a foster care experience has to offer.
    Foster care is hard! I love that we are able to provide such supportive services to our families.

    1. Dear Anonymous :-) I know that all private agencies don't view DHR as the bad guys, that was just my experience. In my time with DHR, I have never been asked to supervise a visit or even transport, although some people may have. And burnout for the workers is the real deal. I don't know how they do what they do....

      AND, I LOVE that you are able to provide great care for kids and great support for your families! I don't want to make the private agencies out to be bad...AT ALL. I simply want more families to be made aware of the differences BEFORE they decide who to get licensed with...not after!

  4. Great post! Into I did not know the difference in when I was looking at foster care. I chose a private agency because I needed more support and network of other families with respite as a single working mom. One thing I do know is that the agency I foster through does take calls and make placements in the middle of the night as they have an on call line.