I had previously written a post about my personal organization method, and that really hasn't changed. You can view the entire post here, but in a nutshell, my biggest tips are:
- Set up a permanent binder for each child in your home upon placement that will ultimately include everything related to that child.
- Include a smaller "appointment folder" with frequently used forms and other paperwork that is required for doctor, dentist, therapist appointments, etc. This is your "grab and go" folder that you will take to routine appointments in order to avoid having to lug the huge binder with you.
- Create a "to do folder" that includes paperwork and other things that need to be followed up with that week.
- Find a good "Mom's dayplanner" that includes lots of room for jotting down notes and for keeping track of multiple children's appointments.
- Routine. Routine. Routine! Set aside the same time every week for completing foster care related paperwork. 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.
One topic that I haven't really elaborated much on is that of time management. After five and half years juggling home visits, doctor appointments, therapy, court dates, visitations, training classes, etc., I've developed some good time management strategies that have really seemed to help.
- Fill out weekly/monthly paperwork with the information that will not change (ex. name, ID numbers, address, etc.) and make copies for future use. This one quick step will save hours over the course of the year depending on how many children and how much regular paperwork you are required to turn in.
- Take the maximum allowed number of training hours completing online courses. Most agencies/counties allow a certain percentage of your annual training hours to be taken via different forms of media. You can easily get two hours of credit in 30 minutes or less when you take online courses. You also save on driving time and the hassle of locating approved babysitters. Ask your agency/county about how many online hours are allowed each year.
- Whenever possible, double up! Meaning if you already have to take a relevant class, seminar, etc., ask your agency/county if those hours can be counted towards your annual training credits. I have had agencies that issued 30 minutes of training credit when I submitted a copy of my quarterly WIC training certificate. The class is required in order to maintain your child's WIC benefit, so being able to "double up" and use it for foster care training hours as well is a time saving benefit!
- "Doubling up" works well when it comes to monthly home visits as well. In any given month, I can have 5 or more people visiting my home. Because I work full-time and can't be taking off work at the drop of a hat, I have a monthly home visit method that works out well for me. Each month, I set aside one or two days for home visits, doctor appointments, etc. I tell my children's caseworkers, CASA workers, my agency worker, etc. what days we will be available during the day, and tell them that they can come any time on those days or they will have to come in the evening or on the weekend. Once I have one person schedule, I try to get the others to come at the same time. This tends to be very beneficial to everyone as it's a good time to get everyone involved on the same page. Workers can ask questions to each other, and you as the foster parent, can learn a lot more than if you were simply meeting one on one.
- Ask if your workers can occasionally do their monthly visit's at your child's daycare or school. I had been fostering for nearly a year before one worker told me "That's okay. If you can't get off work, I can just stop by his daycare. We do it all the time!" That would have been nice to know before I took off work multiple times a month for nearly a year!
- Utilize therapists that come to your child rather than having to take your child to their office whenever possible. I had a similar experience when it came to my teen's weekly therapy appointments that I had with the caseworker. I had no idea that she made home visits until we had been going to her office every week for months!
I'm sure there are more time saving strategies when it comes to managing the busy schedules that being a foster parent inevitably create. I'm always looking for more! What time saving tips do you use when it comes to foster care?