The first question we had to answer about fostering was how to get registered. We began by contacting our local county DFCS office. We went to an orientation meeting where we learned about the certification process (long) and the needs (huge, especially for sibling groups and children over age 8). At that meeting, another attendee asked about childcare costs for foster children, stating that she and her husband both worked. The social worker explained that DFCS would cover those costs, but that there might be times where there would be a delay in getting the billing set up. For example, she might get a call on Friday at 4:30 with a 2 year old and a 4 year old; they would need childcare on Monday morning and the foster parents might need to pay for the first week and get reimbursed later. All I could think was, those kids should come to us. I'm a stay-at-home mom, so the childcare struggle is one less issue for us to manage.
The training meetings through the county were going to be difficult for us to attend -- 3 hours a night, once a week, for 7 weeks, no childcare available. When we asked the social worker, she explained that we could be certified by other agencies that might have training times that worked better for us. She gave us a list of options and we started searching.
We settled on a non-profit, faith-based foster agency. Essentially, counties outsource the placement of cases to these agencies by calling them to describe the need and asking if they have a certified family that's a good fit. Then, the agency case manager and DFCS case manager work together to make sure that the children are taken care of properly. The involvement of the agency takes some of the work off the DFCS case manager's plate; this is a good thing since county offices are often overwhelmed with too many cases and too few social workers to go around. The agency has the luxury of telling a calling county that they can't take on a case, if they don't have the staff for it; the state doesn't have that option.
For us, one of the biggest benefit of the agency is the volunteer network they coordinate. Because the agency we chose is faith-based, they partner with local churches to surround each foster family with a network of volunteers who are willing to perform small tasks that make a huge difference in the life of a foster family. Some volunteers may be available to baby sit (no small undertaking with foster kids. Childcare for foster children is strictly monitored and the babysitters must go through background checks, drug tests and training of their own.). Some volunteers coordinate the donation of clothing and other items like car seats, baby monitors and high chairs. Some bring food the foster families during the first few days of placement. The agency also gives us access to people who know the system. They know which doctor's offices will take Medicaid, what thrift stores will give us a discount on clothing purchased for foster kids, who to call at a charity to get big ticket items donated. In addition, they provide regular training (complete with childcare staffed with people certified to care for foster kids) to enable us to keep learning more about how to do what we do.
We could not do this without the support of the agency.