There are a few distinctive differences between a county foster parent program and a private one.
Becoming a foster parent is not something that happens overnight, and for those of you who are one, you know all of the work that goes into the process before a child ever walks through your door.
The San Diego County Department of Child Welfare has nearly 3,500 children across the county in foster care, and that number rises every day.
Angels Foster Family Network (AFFN) is a private organization that takes some of the challenges out of the County fostering process, focusing on kids five and younger.
In 1998, Cathy Richman, a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) saw that some children in the system were being moved from foster family to foster family many times over until the kids could hopefully be reunited with their families.
She saw an opportunity to create a network of parents who understood the importance of bonding with kids in the most difficult times, making sure the children remained in the same foster home throughout thier journeys.
San Diego Gay and Lesbian News (SDGLN) talked to former foster parent now Executive Director of AFFN, Jeff Wiemann (pictured left), about the differences between his agency and the county's.
“We are a private non-profit.” he said, “We work very closely with the county, so all of our kids that come into our program come directly from the county.”
That means that when the county doesn’t have the capacity within their own organization, they look to about twelve Foster Family Agencies (FFA) in San Diego to pick up some of the slack.
FFA’s such as the Angels Foster Family Network are held accountable by the state’s standards, but often go above and beyond those stipulations to create a higher standard Wiemann says.
The organization embraces many family dynamics when they consider a person to be an Angels foster parent.
“Angels is open to all, and it’s what attracted my wife and I to Angels when we were looking to foster and maybe adopt; the fact that they’re accepting of all,” he explains. “We have people from all walks of life, all backgrounds. We have dual-income couples, we have military couples, we have same-sex couples, we have retirees, we have everything under the sun. And it all works because everybody is here for the children.”
The primary goal of the Angels Network is reunification with the biological parents, while supporting both the foster parents and the children throughout that process.
Wiemann says that about 70-percent of the kids that go through the Angels Network end up going back to their parents or a trusted relative.
Moreover, if the child is returned to their parents or relative, and it doesn’t work out, he or she is typically returned to the last foster parent with which they were placed, even if it’s been a couple of years.
Another big difference is the absence of a "seven-day rule." Wiemann explains that sometimes a county foster parent can no longer care for a foster child for whatever reason and gives a seven day notice to remove the youngster from their home.
He says Angels Network does not utilize a policy like that.
“For us, our expectations are a little bit different,” he explains. “It goes back to our founding seventeen years ago, when our founder was a CASA.
She saw all these kids five and younger bouncing from home to home because they were typically born with drugs in their system.
As an infant, In the first two-to-four-to-six weeks after being born with drugs in your system, that’s the toughest time because they’re screaming - there’s all these things going on and so these kids would go into a traditional foster home with the county and they would do nothing but scream for the first two or three weeks, and the parents would be like, ‘we can’t deal with this, we put in notice,’ and then this child would bounce and bounce and bounce.”
Wiemann warns if constant relocations happen, and there is no attachment before the child is three, it can cause serious issues later in life, such as a higher rate of abuse, anxiety and other social issues that could have been prevented had they not been moved around so often.
The founder realized that this type of constant abandonment was very damaging, and created a different system within AFFN.
“The premise of all the families coming through the door,” Wiemann says, “is you’re going to keep that kid until permanency is decided by the county or the court. And we’re going to support you twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to make sure you have all the things that you need.”
Another thing that separates the county’s foster parent program from the Angels Network is the frequency of visits from case workers.
County child welfare professionals often have more than 30 cases with which to work, and visits from them can be few and far between; they are only required to visit the placement once a month.
The AFFN ensures that their clinical case managers made up of social workers and marriage family therapists, make frequent visits to their families to provide answers and beneficial support.
“The way our system is set up is that you have a case manager that’s assigned to you and that person has no more than fifteen cases.”
If for some reason the foster child is available for adoption, the child will remain with his foster parent through the Angels Network as the county processes the appropriate protocols.
As far as being LGBT, Wiemann says he sees an interesting pattern within his organization.
“There have been a tremendous amount of parents here, wonderful same-sex couples,” he said. “We do not have any male couples with us though. We would love to have more, all the ones [same-sex couples] we have, have been female.”
Wiemann says that he is not sure why there are no male same-sex male couples who are foster parents within the Angels organization, but it’s something he would like to personally see change.
He references an amazing male couple who were foster parents for the organization a few years back, but due to some issues they didn’t work out even after passing stringent background checks and psychological testing.
“When they got their placement, it was too much stress for the primary care-giver,” he said. “It had nothing to do with being male or female or same-sex or anything like that, it was just too overwhelming.”
The Angels Foster Family Network also provide an above-average stipend to their parents with state health insurance, Medi-Cal.
The one thing that Wiemann wants to re-emphasize is that he would like to see more male same-sex couples get involved with Angels Foster Family Network.
"We have some wonderful foster dads out there, and I want to highlight that," he said. "It's not just the moms, it the dads that are doing incredible work."
The Angels Foster Family Network is only a drop in the pond amid so many others trying to help children get through difficult times with plenty love, support and attachment.
Younger San Diego children who need assistance during difficult family times which may be frightening and traumatic seek treatment and security, something that might be better done through a private agency, but Wiemann doesn't want anything more than to be there for the displaced kids who need a loving home.
“Next to the county we are the largest provider of foster homes,” he said. “We’re not trying to be the biggest...we’re just trying to grow to meet the need that’s out there. We have eighty to eighty-five foster families, and I would love to have 160 families.”
For more information on The Angels Foster Family Network and how you can become a foster parent, click HERE.