If you have been a foster parent for any length of time, you know how quickly cases can turn over to different case workers. This is due to many chronic issues within workforce recruitment and retention in the child welfare system, but one of the major side effects you need to be aware of is that vital information can get ignored or forgotten in the process. When a case worker receives a new case, it is generally recommended that they review the entire case history. Unfortunately job demands and time constraints rarely allow this, and this is especially true of cases that have been going on for multiple years. One immensely helpful thing you can do as a foster parent is collect, keep, an organize as much information about the child in your home and their case as you possibly can. If the child’s case worker asks for a document, keep a copy for yourself. Some foster parents keep binders on all of the children in their homes so that they have an organized and succinct way to keep up with their documentation.
There are two forms of documentation: formal and informal.
Formal documentation refers to every official evaluation, medical document, discharge paperwork, Individualized Education Plan, etc. You can keep a folder or a binder of all of these documents as they are extremely important to the case on multiple levels. In GA, before a child is adopted case managers pull all of their records from every provider they have ever seen as part of completing their child life history. If you already have these records, it can make the paperwork process go much faster. On another level, in the midst of case worker turnover, if these documents are kept by you, you can ensure the child’s case file stays complete. This is important as their birth parents will need it in the case of reunification, or their adoptive parents will need it in the case of adoption.
Informal documentation refers to your own notes, observations, and thoughts about your child’s behaviors, challenges, and areas where they excel. Your own observations are a crucial part of documentation as this gives the child welfare agency guidance on whether or not interventions are working, and if any adjustments need to be made. Your weekly notes can give the case manager an accurate picture of a child’s behavior, and if that behavior has changed over time and potentially what causes those changes. Furthermore, if you ever end up answering questions for the purpose of the child’s psychological evaluation, these notes can be invaluable. It is never beneficial in those situations to just give your best educated guess about how often a child tantrums or can’t focus on school work. This will inevitably lead to inaccurate diagnoses and conclusions. On the other hand, if you have detailed notes describing how often tantrums happen and how long they last, if they involve aggression, etc. your responses during these assessments are bound to be much more on target.
Some foster parents send documentation through weekly emails to the child’s case worker, some keep journals, and others many keep notes in their phone. Use the method that works best for you and that you know you will be consistent with.
This habit is invaluable for your child’s case, and for their well-being. Although it maybe tedious or tiresome, do not neglect it.