So I'm finally getting around to writing this particular "Foster Friday" Tips post after having to put it off for months now. Things have been crazy busy with moving into the new place, respite, power outages, and other random things and all. Probably not the best way to start out a post on keeping organized and on track, but... ;-) I don't have any placements right now, so I can afford to let a few things slide.
I briefly touched on my method of keeping organized amidst the madness in this month's "Foster Friday Q & A." Fortunately for me, I am a Documentation and Organizational Queen! In other words, I am ever so slightly OCD and anal retentive. Both are fantastic traits for foster parents when it comes to keeping the paperwork and everyone's schedules together and on track... I'm actually so good at keeping organized that my agency recently asked me to help with the curriculum for a mandatory documentation training class. Here are my awesome tips for staying on top of things:
- Binders - Set up a permanent binder for each child in your home upon placement. My binders include everything related to that child from placement paperwork to shot records to receipts to contact information for CASAs, caseworkers, etc. Cherub Mamma and Melissa over at Fostering Love both wrote great posts about their organization methods utilizing binders for each child. When Cherub Mamma wrote her post, I almost thought she was stalking me because her binder is almost identical to mine! :-) Melissa wrote about her binder method that also included visit logs and documentation of contact with the bio families. Rather than go into great detail here on the individual sections in my binders, I'll let you follow the links to their posts.
- Appointment Folder - Within my children's permanent binders, I keep a smaller "frequent use" appointment folder. This folder has everything that I need on a more frequent basis so I can "grab and go" for doctor, dentist, and therapist appointments without having to lug around a huge binder. Medical consent paperwork, blank forms for medical appointments, contact information, medication lists, Medicaid card, etc. It's definitely easier to grab a small folder, throw it into the diaper bag, and head out the door than it is to haul around a massive binder or have to dig for the necessary paperwork each time you leave for an appointment.
- "To Do" Folder - Another small folder that I tend to bring to work with me. This folder contains everything that I need to turn in to my agency or to follow up with for the week. Weekly Status Reports, Recreation Logs, Medication Logs, Clothing Reimbursement paperwork, etc. If I need to send copies of updated insurance cards or shot records, I put those in the "To Do" folder as well. I will occasionally jot down notes to myself and throw them in the folder too. Things like "email the Invisible One about..." Having my "homework" together in one place definitely helps to keep me on top of everything.
- Super-cool, Mega-sized Day Planner - I have an awesome planner/calendar that never leaves my side when I have a placement. I use it to keep track of everyone's schedules as well as to jot down notes about visitations, milestones, behavior problems, giving medications, etc. It comes in incredibly handy when I complete my progress reports and other paperwork. Keeping it with me has also helped when I get the inevitable phone calls asking, "When did so-and-so last go to the dentist?" or "How many visits have the kids had with their parents now?" It's a great way to keep track of schedules as well as doubles as a diary of sorts. I can't tell you how many times I've had to go back and reference notes and other pertinent information in mine.
- Get Into a Paperwork Routine - I can't stress enough how important it is to get yourself on a "homework schedule." I do all of my paperwork every Monday morning as soon as I get to the office. (Shhh... Don't tell my boss!) Having a set time and place to complete your weekly reports goes a long way towards helping you stay on top of all of the required documentation without having it pile up and become overwhelming. Have multiple children or have trouble remembering what all needs to be completed each week/month/year? Make a checklist. I love me some lists, and they really do help.
So what do I do after my kids return home? I always send important health information and records home with them. Shot records, test results, etc. I always scan and save soft copies of everything on my computer so if for some reason the children ever return to my care, I still have their records. I empty their binders and put everything into an expandable folder initially because I use their status updates and other logs when I put together their lifebooks and albums for myself. I also keep anything that I might need for tax-related purposes. After I finish putting the books together, I discard the majority of the paperwork. I do keep their initial placement papers, their social security and birth information, and the contact information for the important people in each child's case. Having that information can help in the future if I ever want to try to track down my kiddos.
All of the paperwork that comes with foster care can be overwhelming if you don't have a good organizational system in place. Making documentation and organization a habit as well as a priority can make your life as a foster parent much, much easier.