As parents it is always hard to find the time to keep good records. I know at one point I considered giving up and telling my youngest birth child that his baby book was destroyed in a fire. A fire that mysteriously only consumed his baby book and nothing else. All joking aside, foster parents need to keep good records.
A lifebook is one of the records you should be keeping for your foster child. A lifebook is the child’s story. It should contain such vital information as date, time and place of birth. A copy of the Birth certificate and Social Security number should be included. Also, Birth parent information as well as any information on siblings should be put in the book. Pictures, school information, and immunization records are also good things to include. I would encourage you to take pictures of your foster child as early in the placement as possible and to send a disposable camera on any parental or sibling visits to capture those memories for your child. I recently had a foster parent tell me that she regretted not doing this because the birth mother disappeared after a few visits and her daughter now has no pictures to remember her birth mother by. A lifebook should travel from home to home with a child but I would encourage you to make a photocopy for your records, in case the original is lost. The caseworker may also like a copy for the records. This may sound like a lot of work but this information sometimes get lost when a child has multiple placements or is adopted by a different family than their foster parents.
The second record I would encourage you to keep is a journal. A separate one for each child would be a good idea. In this journal you would record, and date, concerns and problems, behaviors, child’s reactions to visits, milestones, changes in visits, etc. I personally have never been really great at this but recently learned my lesson when I had to count on my foster children’s caseworker to recall information I had provided to him over a year before.
For those of us that are journalizing challenged I have a recommendation. Keep a good calendar. If a visit is cancelled, record it. If your child has a visitor, write it down. If you foster child is sick, record it. Save your calendar. Pretty basic right? You already probably do this.
Now for the concerns and problems part. E-mail. If you have a concern email your caseworker. It takes less time then playing phone tag and you can send email at two in the morning, you don’t have to wait for office hours. The written word is far more likely to be taken seriously. You have time to review what you have written. You don’t get that option when you make “hysterical foster parent” calls. You also can send a copy to the caseworker’s supervisor if you desire. Save a copy of the email on your hard drive and print a copy for your files. Anyone who has ever fried a hard drive knows you have to have a backup. Also save and print any responses from the caseworker. I would encourage you to also ask your caseworker to put any changes in visits, instructions etc. in email form, not just verbal instructions, so that you can print and file that. If the caseworker doesn’t feel they have time for this I suggest that you summarize your phone conversations in email and ask them to merely acknowledge what you have written. If you keep a file of you correspondence you will have a pretty good record of your interactions with the department and will be able to pinpoint exactly when the visit schedule changed or when a visit went bad.
Photographs are the third records I am going to ask you to keep. I always get double prints to give to the birth family, an older foster child, or save for a younger child who has no family contact. I know of one adoptive mother who was thrilled to have a complete photo record of her daughter’s life before she joined their family.
I know that record keeping takes time, something we have very little of, but these records will mean a lot to your foster child as they wonder about their past and may protect you later down the road if there are ever any questions.
Source: By Deborah Southard, Reprinted with permission from “The Fostering Connection,” December 2004. A Publication of the Onondaga County Foster/Adoptive Parent Support Group.