HD53 - Involving Private Organizations in the Provision of Foster Care Services that Promote Permanent Families for Children

Executive Summary:
The 1997 Virginia General Assembly charged the Department of Social Services with "studying the need for and funding of private organizations which employ new innovative strategies for serving children in foster care to ensure the availability of permanent, nurturing families for children in need" (Appropriation Act, Item 386. F., 1997).

Staff from the foster care unit, budget office, and research unit of the Virginia Department of Social Services conducted this study with input of staff in the Division of Licensing, the office of Comprehensive Services, local departments of social services and private foster care agencies. The study focused on how localities, primarily local departments of social services, work with private agencies to provide foster care placements and services and how these working relationships can be improved to promote permanency for children who are placed in foster care.

Foster care placement services in Virginia are funded through Title IV-E funds of the Social Security Act (federal and state) and Comprehensive Services Act finds (state and local) in the State Pool Fund. Both of these finding streams are distributed directly to localities to purchase foster care placement services for individual children. By state statute 16.1-248.2, local departments of social services are given authority to make placement decisions for foster children. Additionally, local departments of social services provide the majority of foster home placements by recruiting and approving families to be foster parents.

When a local department of social services is unable to provide an appropriate foster home for a child, either because one is not available or the child requires more intensive services than would be provided in a regular foster home, the locality may purchase foster family care services from a private Child Placing Agency. In Virginia, private organizations must be licensed as Child Placing Agencies to provide foster care. Private agencies, with more stringent licensing requirements than public agencies, generally provide a more therapeutic, treatment, or specialized service than is provided in most public sector programs, unless the public program is designed to be a treatment program.

The study found:

• The use of private agency placements has grown significantly during the 1990's.

• Private foster family care organizations have been responding to the need for foster care placements by developing child specific placements.

• Public and private agencies desire to collaborate more in the provision of foster care services to children in areas like foster home recruitment, approval and training, and reunification and adoption services.

• Private foster care agencies need to continue to provide specialized services for children who have needs that the public sector approved homes cannot meet, although there seems to be increased interest by the private sector in providing regular foster family care.


Virginia's foster care program has been evolving during the 1990's into a system which is truly a public-private partnership. The private sector has stepped up to provide treatment foster care to children who require more intensive services than a "regular" foster home can provide. These programs have enabled children with difficult needs to remain in communities and be served in family settings. Based on input from the public and private sector, the following are recommendations of this study:

1. Increased collaboration between public and private agencies at the local level in areas such as foster and adoptive parent recruitment, collaborative models for placement of children with special needs, reunification, additional work with biological parents, and training activities for both public and private providers. The Virginia Department of Social Services should encourage collaborative efforts between public and private agencies in their local plans for utilizing Title IV-E Foster/Adoption Training funds.

2. Local public agencies involved in the Comprehensive Services Act (CSA) need to consider using State Pool Funds to contract with private agencies to provide reunification services for families in order to return foster children home sooner. Additionally, they should consider using CSA funds to locate adoptive homes sooner for children who cannot return home.

3. Public and private foster care agencies need to develop policies to address the need of children who need to be in treatment foster care and cannot return home or to their birth family with regards to permanency. Agencies should allow treatment foster parents to adopt or become permanent foster parents for such children. While we see an increase in the use of private treatment foster homes, we are seeing a decrease in adoptions of children in foster care. In that most (70%) of foster children are adopted by foster parents, this is less likely to occur in private treatment foster homes. Further study and exploration of incentives for adoptions by treatment homes is needed.

4. There needs to be a greater level of trust between private and public agencies - establishing and holding onto the premise that all parties involved are working in the best interest of the child, family, and community. This could be accomplished through more public/private collaborative initiatives such as grants, contracts, training, and meetings.

5. Private agencies should be utilized for stabilization services, parenting skills, crisis intervention, and transition services to move a child from the foster home back to the birth parent including an intensive in-home provider. Increased local contracting with private agencies to provide various levels of service to children which include regular and/or treatment foster care services which support these alternatives is needed.