The delivery of foster care is not always fully understood by the average person in the province. In many social circles the shared body of knowledge can be often dominated by myth and anecdotal accounts of Child Welfare failures.
The fact that there is a privately owned and operated sector, in addition to the Children’s Aid Societies, is most times outside public awareness. When this fact is discovered it generates questions about policies, accountability, and quality differences in the two systems.
Do foster parents have the same training and preparation in both sectors? Is the per diem different? How do children end up in the privately owned foster care programs? Is the quality of experience for the foster parent different?
A closer look at these questions will help explode the myths and bring some added understanding to the inquiring mind.
PUBLIC FOSTER CARE: Where do the Children Come From?
When maltreatment of a child is reported to the local Child Protection Agency (CAS or Child and Family Services) they must apply standardized risk assessment tools and determine if the child needs protection.
If the risk breaks the maximum thresholds the child must be brought to a place of safety. Immediately a bed must be found for the child. A family is always the first choice. A match with available homes in the public system (CAS) is now pursued.
PRIVATE FOSTER CARE: Where do the Children Come From?
When a foster family cannot be found with resources (both physical and psychological) equal to the needs of the child, within the Children’s Aid Societies network of families, a family outside the network must be contracted to care for the child.
This bed is referred to as an OPR (Outside Paid Resource). The OPR does not have authority to bring the child directly into their care. The child must come through the Child Protection Agency and be referred to the OPR.
Sometimes a referral to an OPR is necessary when the child is not succeeding in the current placement. When efforts to find the right match for the child in the CAS system fail, new options must be explored that can provide placement stability.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PUBLIC AND PRIVATE FOSTER CARE PROGRAMS
Accountability and Recording
Both systems are regulated by the same legislation and licensed by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. Yearly licensing inspections are conducted which evaluate compliance in all areas of legislated functioning. In the broad scheme of things, the private and public systems run on parallel tracks.
More granular details of service delivery may vary between any two public or private agencies. For example, there may be different policies around keeping a daily log or providing monies for recreation and travel.
Foster Family Allowance/Per Diem
Each agency is free to structure their budgets in a way which honors their own principles of operation and philosophical views. These views will direct decisions about the amount of support training and per diem levels. More training and support may mean lower per diems.
There is no way to make any general statements about how generous per diems are, if other pockets of money can be accessed.
The quality of training and support can be far more important to the success or failure of a placement than the allowance paid to the foster parent. Per diems may also vary with the level of expertise and training that foster parents have accumulated.
The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies have purchased proprietary training materials for their Pre-Service training. The Acronym for this training is PRIDE (Parent Resource for Information Development and Education).
All CAS’s foster parents and adoptive parents are required to complete the 27 hours of instruction. The time to complete the course can be condensed when tailored by individual instruction and smaller groups.
However, the curriculum must be purchased from the OACAS. The criticism of this prepackaged attempt at a comprehensive curriculum is that it is a one-size-fits-all education which cannot be adapted.
In the Private sector, OPR’s who are not a part of OACAS, use curriculum which has been developed in-house or with the help of an consultant. They also can piggy back on training offered commercially from a variety of sources.
Some criticism toward this unstandardized approach is that it may not be comprehensive enough. The strength of a more individualized approach is that it can be adapted to the level of the new foster parent. Foster parents come at all points along “readiness” spectrum.
Foster parents commonly identify support as the piece on which their satisfaction and success rises and falls. Foster parenting is very responsible work. The lives and development of children is at stake. Scrutiny by the province is ever present. This responsibility needs to be shared and spread out to include a team of people who freely share information and expertise.
Any foster parent who thinks they can do this work without collaboration and support may end up walking a path of disappointment and burnout.
Some public and private agencies expect their support workers to manage large caseloads. Financial pressures restrict hiring and large caseloads (13 or more) often result in frequent staff turnover. A lack of continuity is disruptive to relationships and limits the development of accumulated expertise.
Finding an agency that offers uninterrupted support by a consistent experienced worker needs to be a top priority when selecting a foster care program as a foster parent. Back-up workers often do not have enough knowledge or context to provide timely support.
Finding an Agency that is the right fit for you as a foster parent will determine how long you serve and how rewarding you find the experience. Is their training meaningful to you? Is their support provided with continuity and is it available round the clock?
Private agencies may operate with more flexibility toward the foster family and provide a continuity of support.
Public Agencies bring children to a place of safety and as first on the scene they offer children to their own foster parents before referring to Outside Paid Resources.
Finding the right organization is as much about the people as it is about the structures and policies. Choose carefully.