As a foster parent, you should keep certain documents for your records. These should include a monthly journal, incident reports, respite requests, mileage and transportation, reimbursement requests, and any law enforcement interaction. The documents you may be required to keep may vary based on your agency requirements.
One way to keep documentation as a foster parent is to set up a monthly writing date and log notes in the calendar on your phone, notebook, or online resource. Although you may not have much time to write, writing as often as possible is important. The best time to write is at the end of the day or early in the morning before the kids get up when you have time to reflect and decompress. Writing everything down will allow you to sleep better at night or start the day with a clear mind. When I have appts with the kids, I enter notes on the appt entry on my phone so that I can have what the service provider has stated for the appt. In addition, it makes it easier for me to cut and paste into a Google doc later. This documentation helps me with the caseworker's monthly appt to have the notes, dates, and times for each appt.
Foster parents must document any incidents or accidents at home, school, or in the community. Most agencies will have a reporting policy for accidents, but make sure you keep a copy for records and when the incidents are cleared, make sure you get the resolution in writing for your records. I had a little boy in my care, and we were at an Occupational Therapy appt; as he was trying to sit in a chair, he fell forward and hit his head on the edge of the table. It split open his eyebrow, and he needed to be rushed to urgent care, where he received stitches. The caseworker contacted the therapy office to confirm the incident, and it was closed, but I never got a copy of the resolution. I had the comment in a text message but not a form or letter. When it came time for my annual renewal, it came up as an open incident, and the only proof I had was the text message. My caseworker was able to get the incident closed because she had a copy of the text message. I learned my lesson to have as much documentation as possible.
Respite requests and approvals
Respite providers provide breaks for foster families in the community. Respite providers must also be licensed and receive reimbursement for their services. Foster parents should develop a network of respite providers and submit all paperwork required for approval to their caseworker. Foster families can find respite providers by requesting help from their caseworker, asking other foster parents, or approving homes that are allowed to provide respite care. I can utilize “Prudent Parenting,” which means if I would trust my biological children with someone, I can trust my foster children with them. For example, if the kids can spend a weekend with grandma, then all the kids can go.
When a foster family wants to take a trip, they must get permission from the caseworker; usually, the caseworker will need approval from their supervisor. A letter of approval for the trip should be kept with you while traveling and in the foster child's life book for memory afterward.
As a foster parent, there will be items that you will pay for upfront and need to have reimbursed. The main reimbursement cost will be transportation. Whether for a trip or taking your foster child to service appointments. You'll need to know how to document transportation reimbursement to avoid delays. Your agency will have a policy on reimbursement; make sure you have a copy and follow the instructions. Fill out forms and submit them by the deadline outlined by your agency. For example, if you travel out of state on a vacation and a portion will be reimbursed for the foster child, you should submit mileage, rental car, food, or any other reimbursable receipts along with the required forms. Before submitting, you make copies of all receipts and forms for your records. Submit the reimbursement documentation electronically, and copy your casework and supervisor.
Social media postings
Using social media as a foster parent is a challenging task. It involves managing your foster child's online presence, as well as protecting your foster child from predatory characters. However, limiting the risks involved in exposure to privacy settings is key to keeping your foster child safe.
Posting pictures and videos of your foster children on social media is not a good idea. It could be considered a confidentiality violation, but you need to confirm with your agency the policy on social media. Social media is a way to stay connected with other foster parents and foster children, but you should also be cautious about how you share information. It is not okay to post personal information about foster children online. If you post images of your foster children, you should crop out the features that may make them identifiable.
My agency will allow social media posts if the child's face is cropped out or covered by an element or if the child is pictured from behind. However, I take it a step further, and if I post a picture with my foster child, I only share it with a limited number of family and friends. But, again, this is the permission I make sure to have documented in writing from my caseworker.
When it comes to documenting as a foster parent, be smart. If it may come up to be questioned later on, make sure you keep a record. If you are given permission verbally, send a quick email or text to confirm.