Do you know the Difference Between Private and State Foster Care?

The Pros and Cons of Public vs. Private Foster Care



So you want to be a foster parent? Or maybe you’re just considering it, and unsure how to take the first step. There’s a wealth of information out there to help first time and prospective foster parents get started. But learning the ins and outs of the foster care system is no easy task, and can take years. One of the most common misunderstandings surrounding foster care, is the difference between private child placement agencies (such as Secret Harbor), and Washington State DSHS, or State run, or public foster care. The differences are more dramatic than you may think, and there are pluses and minuses for each. If you’re considering becoming a foster parent, make sure you choose an agency that is right for you and your family.

Private Foster Care Agencies

Also known as Child Placement Agencies (CPA), private foster care agencies work with the State to place kids in safe, loving, homes. These agencies can be for-profit, or nonprofit (Secret Harbor is a 501(c)3 nonprofit), but all must work with the State in order to license foster homes. The State reimburses private foster care agencies for the care of each child, depending on their needs. This funding is often inadequate to provide the kinds of specialized care youth in foster care require. This is where private agencies can step in and fill those gaps.

Any care above what the State is able to fund, can be funded from a private agency’s reserves. Whether the reserves come from fundraising, grants, or private donations depends on the agency. Secret Harbor relies on the aforementioned methods of community funding to insure kids placed with us get the best possible care. Things like mental health services, recreation activities, and more, require more funding than the State provides. Licensing benefits greatly from this additional funding and staff attention. According to data from Adopt US Kids, in the 7 step recruitment to licensing process, on average, it takes 1.7 months to complete the first 4 steps at a public agency, compared to 1.3 months at a private agency. The final 4 steps take 2.4 months at a private agency, versus 3.4 months at a public agency.

Each family at a private agency is also assigned a Case Manager, in addition to their State-appointed Social Worker. Case Managers at small private agencies benefit from much smaller caseloads than State Social Workers, which often results in a better quality of service for foster families. The additional resources and small caseloads mean staff at private agencies have more time to help foster parents with licensing, crises, and any other needs or issues that may arise with any given placement.

DSHS- State Foster Parent Agency

When most people think of foster care, they are probably thinking of foster care through the State. Social workers with huge caseloads, overly-bureaucratic policies, and a lack of qualified foster parents have given foster care in Washington State an unfairly damaged reputation. The fact is, despite the drawbacks to getting licensed through the State, there are a few perks as well. Licensing through the State is sometimes more streamlined, despite the lack of available staff, simply because the State is responsible for licensing. This streamlined system can make it easier to get exceptions made, and expedite certain processes. Despite this, the licensing process through Washington State still typically takes about the same or longer. Though, once licensed, the State will be more likely to place a child in your home, in large part due to the foster care crisis in Washington.

Washington State basically guarantees you will be placed with a foster child very soon after being licensed. Depending on your needs and wants as a foster parent, immediate placement could be seen as a perk, or drawback. High rates of employee turnover, large caseloads, and fewer foster parent services do cause some DSHS foster parents to turn to private agencies, or give up on foster parenting all together. But depending on your needs and wants, State DSHS can be the right fit for some foster families.

Making the Choice

Becoming a foster parent is a big deal. Choosing a foster care agency should not be a decision made lightly. So before you pick which agency you want to become licensed through, and eventually have a child placed through, research what each agency has to offer you.

Secret Harbor is unique in that it provides extensive, unique care to each child and family at Secret Harbor. Intensive foster parent training, guaranteed respite care, help with transport, crisis management, educational advocacy, recreational opportunities and more, make Secret Harbor services far above the State, and even many other private agencies. So please, consider us in your search for the right agency.

When researching possible agencies, ask questions about case load, and length of Case Manager and/or Social Worker tenure. Ask if you’ll have assistance with the licensing process. Ask about respite care, and help with transport. Take all of this information into consideration, and evaluate what your needs and wants are as a foster family, and then choose accordingly. An agency that fits with your family will make for a more satisfying foster parenting experience.