Foster Agencies

Parent Q&A

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  • Hello,

    My husband and I are considering growing our family through foster adoption. There seems to be quite a few agencies out there. I've taken a look at previous advice threads here and I haven't seen one that answered this question yet (or maybe I missed it). 

    Is it better to go through an agency or go through the county directly? Any thoughts on pros and cons regarding either path to foster adoption would be appreciated.

    Would also appreciate any thoughts on the foster adopt agencies in Alameda county.

    Thanks so much.

    M & M

    Congrats on your decision to grow your family! I'm a single gay man and I adopted my son using the foster adoption system and went through Family Builders in Oakland. I had an amazing experience. They have a free info session to answer basic questions and they have an amazing team of social workers to support you at every step in your journey. My son came into my care 11 years ago and they still offer support and resources long after the adoption was completed. Family Builders is funded through donations and grants so there is no cost to perspective parents and they match perspective parents of every background and configuration with foster kids from a variety of backgrounds, ages and circumstances. I'm happy to chat with you about my experience if it would be helpful. Either way, I would start with their free info session. I hope that helps and good luck on your journey!

    Congratulations, it is wonderful decision and I wish you the best of luck. I would definitely go through the county if you want to have more options (for example, if you are interested in 0-2 year old range, it’s much harder to get a placement through an agency like Family Builders). I switched over to Alameda county after getting discouraged with a long wait with an agency.  As soon as I switched over and was licensed, I started getting phone calls for placements immediately. Hope that helps!

    This may have changed in the past five years (I certainly hope so) but the agencies all had different rates that they paid the foster families. All the agencies paid families higher rates than the county. I get that you're not in it for the money, but this is the Bay Area and a higher monthly check may help. It was explained to me that it depended on when the agency signed the contract with the county. There can be unanticipated costs - lots of trips to doctors, therapists, or family visits that cut into your work time (or make it hard to cook dinner and you would like to be able to pick up take out). 

    An agency means that you have two sets of social workers, the agency worker and the county worker. They're supposed to be additional support and I always felt that anyone who wanted to check on a kid was a good thing. But, it's a lot of visits and sometimes different (not contradictory) rules and expectations. There was an agency that always checked that we had ice (a cocktail emergency? I never understood but knew that too many questions can be interpreted as non-compliant). 

    I was told that the county had first access as kids enter the system and more complex cases were given to the agencies but every person I asked once we were involved in foster care didn't agree. The one thing that is absolutely true is that foster care is one of the most clearly racially-driven systems you will see. Little blonde boy who is demonstrating massive challenges? Was placed while we were still figuring out how to decline gracefully. Black boys, especially, with no apparent challenges are much harder to place. 

    We chose an agency because the training times were more convenient. I would probably go with an agency again but I'd have to think about it. I think the workers had smaller case loads and a little more time (more frequent visits, for sure) but I never really had any workers that were particularly helpful with resources or anything. I found Headstart on my own. Every other parenting resource myself. There were foster parent groups through the agency but we couldn't do another meeting. Maybe that would have been a good resource.

    The county is your best bet. All foster agencies have to contract through the County.  The County of Alameda is the best way to foster adopt. Good luck, I have been a SW and  Foster Parent.

    A friend of mine was a foster mom for many years in the 1990s and early 2000s. She told me that fostering children helps out families in crisis. Some people don't consider this and think that they can adopt a child through fostering. It is possible however it is not the goal. The goal is family reunification.

    With this in mind, there is an interesting and eye-opening conversation on a Facebook group called Being Neighborly: North Oakland. Two or three people who were adopted shared their experiences and perspectives along with suggestions on ethical adoption agencies.  Search the words "adoption agency."

    Also, you may want to look agencies that have Open Adoptions. This option allows birth parent(s) to be part of the child's life in as much or as little as the adoptive and birth parent(s) agree to. No mysteries on medical history. The child can ask questions when older. It's something worth considering IMHO.

  • Hi parents and caregivers,

    Does anyone have experience with foster agencies such as Alternative Family Services? I'm starting the foster process and there are several agencies to choose from, and I want to make sure I'm making well-informed choices. Thank you!

    I volunteered with Alternative Family Services for five years and I think they're a great organization.  Good luck!

    I worked with Family Builders in Oakland and had a wonderful experience. I'm happy to talk more about it if you'd like. 

  • Hi everyone!

    I'm a single woman who would like to adopt a child via the foster & adopt process. I've done some research (spoken to several parents who took that path, read books, watched, been to orientations) so I'm pretty familiar with the ups & downs of the process. I'm reaching out for advice on:

    1) Choosing an agency: Can someone who fostered & adopted recently share their experience with the various agencies? I see other posts on this topic but they're from 5-10 years ago. I went to an orientation at Family Builders, which I loved because of the transparency and eagerness of the staff. My sense was that they would be pleasant to work with and true advocates for everyone in the process, including me. I also went to an orientation at A Better Way, which I was less impressed with: the person running it didn't really answer questions we asked, and generally seemed harder to work with. But is it really valid to judge an agency based on whoever is giving the orientation? Ultimately what matters most is the agency's ability to work effectively with the county & the social worker's ability to support me & the child & the birth parents in the best way possible, right? I'm also planning to go to an orientation at Alameda County but other parents who recently went there said they ask that we go through an agency if our primary interest is adoption.

    2) Support for single moms: I'd especially love to connect with other single moms who fostered & adopted, or resources for such women.

    Thanks so much!

    Hi, I don’t know about the foster care to adoption system, but I can make a couple of suggestions about choosing to be a mom as a single woman. Check out the national Single Mother’s by Choice (SMC) organization:

    when my daughter was young there were local SMC groups that met which were not aligned with national SMC; you might google around and see if those still exist.  Meeting face to face was wonderful. The national organization has discussion areas where you might find other Mom’s who took (or are taking) the same route you did, and would help with questions and support.  Best of luck to you.  

    Hi - I’d like to connect with you. I am a 45 year old single mom to a baby recently placed with me through foster-adopt in San Francisco, which uses Family Builders. I’ve been interested in connecting with other single foster to adopt moms but after 3 years of slow roll to certification (1.5 years and a hole renovation later) and placement (1.5 years) it’s been a whirlwind winter. I don’t really know how this network works. :-) But If you can connect with me directly I am happy to share my experience so far.

    For the group, there are some process details that I won’t share in an open forum to protect the identify of my foster kiddo. Mara

    Our younger son is through fost-adopt in Oakland and we are familiar with two agencies. I am happy to talk to you about a couple of considerations about agencies and our experiences with placements, what questions to ask, etc. Stuff I wish I knew at the outset. Good luck!

    I replied directly, but just for the benefit of the larger community....

    I'm a single mom of a 1.5 year old who I adopted through Family Builders. I had a fantastic experience with them and we actually have a single parents group that formed out of a Family Builders training. As an agency I've seen them have some pretty high staff turnover but I've found their staff to be helpful and direct. It's a wild ride and good to be realistic about timelines and complexities. Having a support system (both through agency staff and social) is really important. I spent almost a year exploring for myself what felt like the right path to parenting and Family Builders was hands down the most real, diverse and transparent (i.e. trustworthy) agency I encountered. I'm happy to talk more with anyone exploring this path. It's been hard and wonderful for me. And of course, it led me to my daughter.

  • My husband and I have been approved (homestudy complete, etc.) in the foster-to-adopt track by a foster-to-adopt nonprofit agency for about eight months. The whole process has taken close to two years. Since we started with this agency, it's made numerous changes in approach, and many staff members have left. We're feeling like the reasons we chose this agency over others are disappearing. And the many staff changes are making us concerned that county social workers will bypass our agency and choose to place children through other agencies where the social workers have a strong relationship.

    We're wondering if it's possible to change to a different agency, and what this process might entail. If you've gone through such an experience, or work within an agency or for a county and have some idea how this might work, we'd love to hear from you.

    Definitely ask the agency that you are considering. We switched from an FFA to working directly with the county. We had to take the PRIDE training again (it has recently changed with the county, I am not sure about agencies). We were lucky in that our agency was generous enough to allow the county to use our homestudy, so we only had to do an update. But, generally, the homestudies are considered proprietary. 

    I adopted my daughter 15 years ago straight through Contra Costa County social service. I know other people who have used private adoption agency but I don't understand why. By going through the county you bypass the middle man. Also, I was placed with my daughter within 6 months. Good luck on your search!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Thinking about switching fost/adopt agencies

Dec 2010

We've been doing the fost/adopt process for awhile - completed our certification and homestudy and been in matching for a few months now (no children placed with us yet). We are thinking about switching from our current fost/adopt agency to a new one, for various reasons. So, I'm wondering if anyone else has switched their agency after they've completed their certification and homestudy with the old one? How was the switching process for you? Were you able to re-use any of the certification items with the new place? Also, if anyone has a recommendation for using either a local agency or the county for fost/adopt, I'd like to hear about it. I'm not sure how the county differs since we've been with an agency thus far. Thanks, in advance, for your response.

I was able to use my previous homestudy when I switched from a previous agency and went directly through the county. But you may have to take their specific training. If you are lucky enough to live in contra costa county I recommend going directly with them. good luck!

I am so sorry you are unhappy with your fost-adopt agency. I do want to REALLY encourage you to speak with the agency worker or director about your concerns rather than just jumping ship. Fost-adopt can be a difficult process that is very relational between you and your agency worker and the process itself has a lot of points that can bring up difficult feelings and issues that can be projected onto the agency-sometimes these are true problems and you should switch and sometimes they are resolvable or you see them in a different light if you talk them out. Also, fost- adopt takes a long time and matching is where you can really wait and wait. Going to another agency is only going to extend the process longer. You can't use a lot of the same paperwork and if you are with a fost-adopt that has not charged you any fees, it is because they receive some compensation only after you finalize your adoption so they may require you to pay them for the home study or other work if you are leaving them.

Anyway-best of luck, but I'd at least give them a good chance to help you work out whatever is happening. We were really successful with Adopt a Special Kid (AASK) in Oakland, but the process can be hard on you. Remember you will end up with a great kid or kids in the end if you can stick it out! Happy family that stuck it out

I've never really understood why people who want to fost/adopt don't start with the county. Any child who enters the system starts there and it's usually the more difficult cases that end up in the private agencies. I adopted my beautiful daughter through Contra Costa County almost 10 years ago. I was lucky and placed with her within 6 months (not usual) and she was officially adopted about a year later. I know MANY other families who have also had success through the county system. Good luck! anon

We used Alameda County when we fost/adopted our 2 wonderful boys. We just celebrated our 7th anniversary with our 13-year-old, and our 8-year-old has been with us for 5 1/2 years. The County can be a real headache because you need to advocate for yourself and your kids a lot. We ended up going in once a month to look at pictures and handle our own matching, since the County wasn't doing much. We also went to a great Matching party at the Oakland Zoo where we met our older son, along with his social worker. In our experience, the child's social worker is the one who really gets things moving in the process. We went to a Matching luncheon for adoptive families and social workers, saw a picture and read a profile about out younger son, and then met his social worker. The County doesn't really advertise these events, but adoptive families working with the County directly are eligible to attend. If you are unsatisfied with your agency, I would recommend contacting the County. It can be frustrating, but the County gives you an opportunity to meet and talk to the child's social worker through events like Matching parties and these luncheons. Good luck in this exciting, exhausting process. Once your children join your family, it will all be worthwhile. Anne in Oakland

Which foster adoption agency for Alameda County?

May 2008

My husband and I have recently begun our foster adoption process in Alameda County, ideally adopting a younger sibling to our family of 3 which includes our biological son. We have interviewed 3 private nonprofit agencies -- Adopt a Special Kid, A Better Way and Family Builders. I have also attended the County's orientation session. We are leaning towards Family Builders based on some positive feedback from BPN postings and a more detailed referral from a friend who has worked with them. We also found their orientation presentation to be the most appealing and professional. But we would like to get more current feedback from others who have worked with these agencies and what your experiences have been.

Our one hesitation about Family Builders is that they do not assign a Social Worker until we are at the matching process stage which could easily be 4-5 months from now. Our initial 2 hour intake interview with FB was with a contract employee vs. with AASK, our intake interview was with a Social Worker who would likely be our ongoing contact person and Social Worker, though they cannot guarantee that she would be able to stay with us throughout the whole process, which we completely understand. But at least we would know early on who it would likely be and can determine whether it will be easy relationship or a more difficult or forced one.

I was completely turned off and disturbed after attending the County's February orientation session. The presenter said clearly that family building was not their agency's objective, but placing children is. So to the extent a prospective family makes it difficult for a Social Worker to quickly place a child, ie. asks lots of questions, is cautious about matching, wants to meet the child first etc., the Social Worker's will not call upon that family again very quickly the next time. She even joked that if you have a hyphenated last name, that the staff may overlook you in favor of others. Not exactly sure what she was getting at but I can guess, and my guess left me very offended. Thank you in advance for your feedback! Alameda mom

We just finalized the adoption of our son through Family Builders , and I can't say enough good things about this organization. We had one social worker do our intake, then were without a social worker until after the MAPP training (when we met several of the agency's workers and were impressed with all of them). At that point, we were assigned a social worker who did our home study - she came to our home once a week for two months, I think, and asked us incredibly personal questions; I imagine personalities can really make or break this process. We really clicked with her, and were disappointed when we found out she wouldn't be our placement social worker, given the relationship we'd forged.

However, we discovered that Family Builders just seems to attract great people, and we ended up working with someone through the placement process who we all came to really care about. Now that our adoption has finalized, we are thrilled to be free of ''social workers,'' but have to admit that we miss visits from our placement worker now that they've finally come to an end (and our son still talks about our social worker, though he never mentions his own county worker).

I understand your concerns about not having that resource up front as you navigate the larger process, but we found that even though there were times we had to play advocate with the agency to keep things moving (until we got to placement), the combination of wonderful social workers, and a truly open attitude about what makes a family provided us with the consistent resources we needed from the agency - and indeed continues as we attend classes and support groups they provide.

Best of luck! It's a daunting and ultimately very worthwhile experience. Finally a Family

My partner and I worked with AASK to adopt our daughter four years ago. We were very pleased with them, though I've heard good things about Family Builders, too.

You're right to pay attention to how you feel about the processes of each agency, since they vary. I'd also recommend asking about what kinds of support they offer after they place the child(ren) with you, and if they offer any post-adoption services.

We liked that AASK had long-standing relationships with child welfare workers in many counties, which is helpful in the ''matching'' phase. They also link every family with a buddy family, who's adopted their kids through AASK. I can't remember when in the process that happened, but it was one of the most useful things the agency did. While people probably have varying experiences with their buddy families, ours was wonderful. It helped to make the whole thing real during the phase when it seemed to be all about paperwork. Best of luck! Sarah

We had a bad experience with Family Builders . We did everything they asked us to as quickly as possible and waited and waited for a social worker to be assigned to us. The person who did the home visit was rude (even laughed at the size of our kitchen) and we were generally given the impression that we were not being taken seriously. It could be because we are a lesbian couple, however Family Builders actively recruits gay families. When talking to a friend about our problems and she asked who we were working with she said, ''Say no more..'' She had a single gay male friend who got strung along as well. This was four years ago, so maybe something has changed. By the way, we were willing to adopt an older child but gave up and had our own. anon

I hear wonderful things about going through the county for adoption. I have several friends who used them and are very happy with the children that were placed in their families. They received support, timely placements and beautiful children. I have not been happy with the service or support that I have received from Family Builders and will be switching to the County. FB does a lot of advertising but I would not recommend them. Adoptive Mom