The 6 Best Foster Care Agencies of 2020

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Some families know right away that fostering a child is the right choice for them, while others feel called to offer up their home but are unsure about the details. Finding out specifics regarding the process—even how to start—can be a challenge.

To make matters even more confusing, once you commit to becoming a foster family, there are still decisions to be made—namely, choosing a foster care agency to work with. There are public agencies—run by state employees in all 50 states—and private child placement agencies—often nonprofit organizations that operate nationally or on a state-by-state basis.

The decision to utilize a public or private agency is entirely yours and there isn’t one right answer, but if you’ve decided a national foster care agency is a better fit for you, there are a few choices. Here are the top agencies that should be on your radar.

The 6 Best Foster Care Agencies of 2020

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: AdoptUSKids

AdoptUSKids

AdoptUSKids

Not just a placement service but a comprehensive resource on every conceivable aspect of the child welfare system, AdoptUSKids is the gold standard when it comes to its sheer scale, commitment to advocacy, and dedication to improving foster care. With a grant from the Children’s Bureau, a federal agency under the Administration for Children and Families, AdoptUSKids helps thousands of kids in the foster care system find placement with caring families.

Here’s how it works: once you’ve been approved to adopt or are licensed to provide foster care through your state, you can contact AdoptUSKids to streamline the process of matching with a child in foster care. You can search the site’s photo database of children in need of care and connect directly with that child’s caseworker if you’re interested in learning more about them. Usually, when you work with a public agency, you play the waiting game while staff selects a foster child for you—this can take weeks or even months.

AdoptUSKids helps you gain some control over placement, letting you search its private database and immediately interact with a child’s caseworker. The agency can also help you earlier in the process, when you simply have questions about fostering, and afterward, through its thriving online community of foster families. The best part? Since the agency is federally funded, its services are free.

Best Budget: Casey Family Programs

Casey Family Programs

Casey Family Programs

This agency was founded back in 1966 by the same person who founded UPS, but it has branched out quite a bit since then: Casey Family Programs works directly with families to put foster kids into safe homes, while also sharing its decades of expertise with state governments, federal policymakers, and American Indian tribes (which follow a specific set of standards for foster care through the Indian Child Welfare Act).

Casey Family Programs operates with eight field offices across the U.S. but provides services within all 50 states. It serves more than 1,400 kids and families each year. In addition to guiding families through the foster care system, the agency also provides important opportunities for the kids in its care; education, employment, and mental health resources are a priority, as is working to strengthen families before they need foster care assistance.

This is an agency that’s not afraid to ask and answer important questions about how foster care can be improved for kids and families. That is part of its mission to provide many of its services free of charge, but you can consult with the agency directly to inquire about costs for direct placement.

Best for Flexible Fostering: Kidsave

Kidsave

Kidsave

If you’re interested in fostering an older child or a child from somewhere other than the U.S, it can be hard to find organizations to help. But Kidsave understands the importance of reaching kids both in the U.S. and abroad and the benefit of slowly building trust in relationships over time.

The agency offers foster families the chance to help kids from the U.S, Columbia, Russia, and Ukraine, with a unique program model that makes fostering more accessible. Kidsave actually calls this "hosting," and the mentorship angle of this approach allows families to make a smaller commitment—either on weekends or for a summer—so they can see if fostering is a good fit for them. For hosts, the ultimate goal is to place the child in a permanent home, either by helping to facilitate meetings between the child and prospective parents, or by considering adoption themselves.

Weekend hosting is available for kids, particularly teens, who live in Los Angeles and have been unable to be placed in a permanent home. Summer hosting programs are available for international foster kids, and there are supportive Kidsave communities all over the U.S. for summer hosting.

Best in New York City: The New York Foundling

The New York Foundling

The New York Foundling

If you’re based in New York City and are interested in fostering a child, The New York Foundling is one of the largest resources available. Since 1869, the agency has been placing foster children in safe homes, reuniting children with their birth parents, and supporting families of all shapes and sizes through its programming.

Every year, the Foundling serves more than 1,000 kids, including kids with developmental delays and diagnosed mental illnesses. It has established four centers of excellence and dozens of advocacy programs and child health initiatives, and it engages families at every stage of childhood and parenting to provide critical resources, therapies, and education.

The Foundling is always looking for foster parents willing to care for children with special needs, kids with siblings, and LGBTQ youth, providing ongoing training, education, and support to its foster families. The agency offers many free information sessions for people wanting to learn more about becoming a foster parent, or you can call its hotline for more information.

Best in Midwest and South: TFI

TFI

TFI

For prospective foster families located in the Midwest and the South, TFI is licensed to provide direct placement services in Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas. The agency has an interesting history: It began in the 1960s as a summer camp in Kansas called The Farm, Inc. (that’s where the initials TFI came from). The camp eventually turned into a residential center for kids in need and then became a child placement agency in the 1990s.

Though TFI has undergone a lot of changes since its inception, many of its old values remain the same. The staff at TFI is committed to foster and kinship care, as well as adoption and mental health counseling services. The average age of a foster child in TFI's system is 9, though there are kids of all ages needing placement (and many sibling sets, too).

Becoming a foster parent with TFI looks slightly different depending on the state you live in, though generally the requirements are the same. Contact each state’s individual branch of TFI for specific information or to apply.

Best in California: Koinonia Family Services

Koinonia Family Services

Koinonia Family Services

Founded in 1982, Koinonia (a Greek word meaning "fellowship") prioritizes relationships, serving dozens of counties throughout Northern, Central, and Southern California as well as Reno, Nevada.

Foster parents wanting to work with Koinonia will find emotional and educational support from staff in an effort to make foster children feel they are being cared for in a loving and therapeutic environment.

One of the agency’s biggest goals is permanency whenever possible, along with reducing the number of transitions a foster child has to experience on their way to a permanent home. Koinonia also offers several ancillary programs, like its Family Preservation Program, treatment programs for mental health and substance abuse issues, Crisis Resolution Center, and Love and Logic Parenting classes.

Koinonia provides its foster parents with extensive training and a designated family caseworker for additional guidance. If you live in one of the areas serviced by Koinonia, you can start the foster parent application process online or contact a local office directly.

How We Chose the Best Foster Care Agencies

Choosing a foster care agency is a very individualized decision, so we can’t recommend any particular ones for your unique situation. But we did take a few things into account when searching for private child placement agencies:

  1. Availability: Whether you choose a public or private agency, you’ll need to be licensed in the state where you live and use a foster care agency licensed to place children in homes in your state as well. Many private agencies are localized—operating in just one county or region—so we searched for agencies offering services nationally or, at least, with a large, state-based scope.
  2. Wealth of resources: Every agency will bring something different to the table, but we looked for agencies offering comprehensive services. If an agency provides direct placement of foster children, do they also offer resources and emotional support to families? It was important for us to choose agencies with a well-rounded approach to supporting foster families.

Ultimately, AdoptUSKids was the top pick for our list because it is a comprehensive resource for every aspect of the child welfare system.

What Are Foster Care Agencies?

When a minor child is removed from the care of their birth parent(s), they are typically taken into foster care; this means that the state in which the child lives assumes responsibility for the child until they can be placed safely back with their birth parent(s) or into another home. This other home may be with a child’s relative, such as a grandparent, or an unrelated foster family.

There are public agencies run by states, as well as private foster care agencies, which exist in large part to reduce the burden on the public child welfare system and match foster children to families more quickly.

A foster care agency is responsible for:

  • Licensing, training, and supporting foster parents.
  • Matching and placing foster children with safe and appropriate foster homes or treatment programs.
  • Ensuring children are receiving proper care and attention after placement.
  • Coordinating a permanent home for foster children, whether that means reunification with their birth parents or adoption through a foster or adoptive family.

What Requirements Do You Need to Use a Foster Care Agency?

Requirements to become a foster parent differ from agency to agency and state to state, but typically a foster care agency will look for families that can:

  • Provide 24-hour care to a child within their home.
  • Provide a safe physical and emotional environment for a child.
  • Sustain themselves financially.
  • Participate in the licensing and home study process.
  • Pass a full criminal background check.
  • Work as a team player alongside the foster care agency staff.

You don’t need to have an interest in permanent adoption to become a foster family; many people choose to only foster children in need of temporary care without the option to adopt. Family and community members who already know the child are often given priority when it comes to fostering.

You do not need to be married, wealthy, or have extensive education degrees to become a foster parent; you do need to be over the age of 21, in good physical and mental health, and an understanding of the myriad of challenges a child may be facing when they come to your home.

How Much Does It Cost to Use a Foster Care Agency?

Typically, you don’t pay anything to become a foster parent when you work with a public agency, which will fund your licensing and home study, as well as set you up with resources to provide the best possible care for your foster child.

If you work with a private agency, you may also pay nothing, but some agencies do charge additional fees for these services. Per AdoptUSKids, a home study can cost between $1,000 and $3,000.

Once you’ve completed the initial process and are ready to bring a foster child into your home, you will receive a stipend to help you cover expenses related to the care of the child. There’s a misconception that foster families are “paid,” but that’s not accurate. They are reimbursed on a monthly basis with a non-taxable stipend intended only to pay for basic needs (like food, clothing, transportation, personal hygiene costs, etc). Reimbursement rates vary widely by state, but they average about $500 per month. Foster families are still largely responsible for many of the day-to-day expenses of raising a child.

Additional expenses associated with foster care are related to adoption: if you choose to adopt a child through the foster care system, there will be adoption fees if you’re working through a private agency (there are usually little to no fees associated with adoption through a public agency.) 

However, if you’re interested in adoption, doing so through a foster care arrangement first is widely considered one of the most affordable options and many of the costs are reimbursable or offset by tax credits and other subsidies or assistance programs after the adoption has been finalized.

Should I Choose a Private Child Placement Agency?

There are pros and cons to working with both private and public agencies; the right fit for you will depend on how quickly you want a foster child placed within your home, whether you only want to foster or would like to consider adoption, and many other factors.

In general, the pros of working with a private child placement agency include:

  • Faster licensing for foster care families.
  • Faster placement of a child into your home.
  • More individualized, one-on-one attention and support from staff.

The cons of using a private agency may include:

  • Out-of-pocket costs if you decide to adopt a foster child (some of which may or may not be reimbursable).
  • Depending on the state you live in, licensing through a public agency may be more streamlined because everything is handled in-office.
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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. AdoptUSKids. "Families for Native American children."

  2. Child Welfare Information Gateway. "How the Child Welfare System Works." Accessed August 4, 2020.

  3. Child Welfare Information Gateway. "Home Study Requirements for Prospective Foster Parents." Accessed August 4, 2020.

  4. AdoptUSKids. "Completing a Home Study."

  5. We Have Kids. "Getting Paid to Be a Foster Parent: State-by-State Monthly Guide."

  6. Together We Rise. "Cost to Foster a Child – Is it Expensive?"

  7. AdoptUSKids. "Frequently asked questions about adopting from foster care."