The last few months have brought a number of changes to our ministry and family, a significant one being our move from a private licensing agency to the state.
As products of Lifeline's second foster care class, our four years with them were learning years. We valued every moment of our journey under their supervision. Our growth mirrored their programs, and the training and education we received were incredible. We treasured every day of our walk with them.
However, in early fall of last year, we became humbled by the alarming rate our county's needs were growing. We intentionally began researching the differences between our local county agency and private agencies in general.
In late November we knew for certain God was leading us to make a move and place ourselves under the supervision of the state. We have deeply grieved our Lifeline family, but embraced the welcome and calling from Shelby County.
There are some significant differences between the two, and I thought I would share a few things we learned through our experience, yet this certainly is not applicable to every state or agency.
~ In the state of Alabama, private agencies are not eligible to accommodate emergency placements. This means, they cannot accept placement referrals between the hours of 4:30 p.m. and 8 a.m., Monday through Friday, or on the weekends.
The reality is a limited amount of referrals actually take place during regular working hours. So many kiddos enter care under emergency or crisis situations. If homes are not available for this type circumstance, the children truly do end up sleeping at your local child welfare office. That's not just a television scenario. Though our family is currently busting number wise, we have a number of available beds, and when we became aware of this challenge, we knew we could help in occurrences like these if we were under the state umbrella.
~ Private agencies are responsible for their state license as well as yours. In honesty, this adds a second layer of needed paperwork, documentation, regulation, and communication. There's no way around it. They have to be able to have your back if questions are asked, but they must be able to defend their files as a private entity. As the foster parent, you may find yourself filling out forms simply for your private agency, that are not required by the state, but they are still needed. You may have an extra meeting a month if your agency worker cannot make it to your child's caseworker visit, or you'll need to be sure you make an extra copy of all the month's files.
~ Private agencies provide a filter for the referrals you receive. They have the margin to do this. This is a beautiful thing, but it is somewhat of a luxury. There's no way around that fact. We adore how Lifeline prayed over every call and examined the strengths and needs of their families before they every made contact. State placement workers attempt to weigh these in much the same way, but they often have numerous kids to place in a limited amount of time ~ a narrowed margin.
Additionally, some private agencies have differing limitations on the amount or specific type of children you may take. Whereas Alabama state law allows up to six children in care in a home (providing space and availability), a private agency may limit you according to your experience, the ages of children in your home, etc.
For a long time, we welcomed and appreciated this filter, but as we grew through experience, we reached a point where we felt we could steadfastly make these decisions for our family and remove the "middle man."
~ Through a private agency, you are often able to take placements from multiple counties. The last two years we've had children in our home from two local areas. We LOVED this experience because we were immersed in the differences between the court systems, because no county is the same. We were also forced to weigh these variations against state law. Yet, we reached a place where we longed to go deep and commit to our community, and for the most part, when you are licensed with your county, you will be placed with children through your county.
~ There is also a difference in support between private and state agencies. I have workers I would call my close friends from both, under the professional context. But there was distinct relational and spiritual support that our Lifeline workers provided. What a gift! We often wept and prayed together over the children in our home. We no doubt are also supported greatly by our County workers, but the reality is they are managing exponential cases and families at any given time. However, we have been so grateful for the clarity and support in policy through the County. The laws and regulations are clear and set. This takes a great burden off of us as foster parents.
Again, we would not trade our time with Lifeline for the world. It was a training sanctuary. We believe that God calls families and individuals to foster care for so many reasons and stories, ultimately for His glory. Yet, we are so thankful for our County agency and staff and filled with hope as the pages of this new chapter begin to turn.
How do state and private agencies differ in your area? Would love to hear more about your experiences!
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Because of Jesus ~