We can all agree that foster care is a lot of work. Hard, emotional work. However, many foster parents report that one of the harder parts of fostering is not emotional labor at all–it’s the overwhelming piles of foster care paperwork and documentation that they must keep for each child they foster. Check out these organizational hacks for foster care paperwork.

organizational hacks for foster care paperwork

We asked our online community of foster parents how they stayed organized and as always, they came through. We are happy to share their organizational hacks for foster care paperwork.

Get a Good Binder

The number one suggestion among the experienced foster parents with whom we talked was surprisingly old-school: a good old-fashioned three-ring binder.

Experienced foster mom, Jocelyne, gave some great suggestions for how she used her binders efficiently:

I had a binder with our general foster care info: licensing letter, trainings, correspondence, and our home study. Then I had a binder for each kid with all their info that could be copied and sent with them. Page sleeves are nice for dropping in small documents or full packets.

Ronda S. and SaVanna mentioned that in their general foster care binder, they also keep records of fire drills, certifications, continuing education, and licensing documents.

The mention of page sleeves brought up other great suggestions for further organizing within the individual binder:

  • Pinterest for tabs, titles, and cover pages (Kerry J.)
  • Page protectors for loose items -insurance cards, birth certificates, immunization forms (Kerry J.)
  • Zip up binders, with tab dividers (Bri P.)
  • Pocket folders (Christy B.)

Pauline G. uses a combination approach which makes a lot of sense for her family, given that they do both respite and long-term placements:

A binder for each long-term placement, with dividers and poly pockets. And a separate divider section for each of the respite or short terms in a bigger binder. (O)ur own info goes in our family binder with taxes, birth certs, etc.

It occurred to me when reading all of these fantastic ideas, that it’s pretty important to get yourself a good quality three-hole punch if you decide to go the binder route. Manually punching holes in all that paper could foil even the best of organizational intentions!

Organizing and Tracking Foster Parent paperwork is a full-time job.

Breaking Down the Binder

Some of the information in foster care paperwork is standard across most cases. It’s also the kind of documentation that should be kept at the ready for easy access. We dug a little deeper and got some great examples for specific organizational sections within the foster care binder.

Christy breaks her binder down into three general categories of medical, court/placement letters, and school. Some of the moms found they need to break it down further. Emily offered us this list of the tabs that appear in her binders:

  • Information/Forms (appointments & contacts, height & weight chart, meds)
  • Monthly Treatment Plans
  • Medical and Dental Records
  • Education Records
  • Financial Records
  • Psych/Therapy reports
  • Reports (Intake, quarterly reports, incidents)
  • Legal/court documents and correspondence
  • Miscellaneous

Other considerations for breaking down the foster care paperwork binder included call logs, emergency contact information, case-worker and/or agency communications (copies of emails, etc), family visit reports, and a journal of birth parent/birth family communications.

Bri P. mentioned the importance of documenting the life skills and experiences that your foster teens are gaining, particularly if they are close to aging out of the system. If you engage in respite or short-term care, Jenny K. stressed the importance of including a section with “rituals/routines specific to the child” to aid in making the child feel safe and well-cared for during that respite time.

Obviously, each foster placement has its own individual documentation needs and like the moms we talked to, you will find what categorization works for your foster care paperwork, by hook or by crook.

Going High Tech with Foster Care Paperwork

We might have the best of intentions to “go green” with the copious amounts of paperwork that LIFE requires, but Sarah O. takes those intentions and puts real-life feet to them:

I scan everything into my computer. I make several copies of placement papers and keep one set in the glove box, one in the diaper bag, one by the front door. I need those all the time so best to have copies ready to go. Everything else I just keep the electronic copy on my machine and back up a pdf online so I can grab it with my phone if I need it on the go.

Oh! Doesn’t that sound dreamy? Or is it just me? Seriously, this calls out to my inner organization-loving, systems-craving geek. I’m not there yet with our paperwork, but ours doesn’t change as often as foster care paperwork requirements change. We see quite a few medical specialists throughout the year and we have a couple of IEP plans to track, with only a few private interventions. I found the accordion file system for each of my girls is sufficient.

Natalie F. tried the digital route but found that didn’t work for long and had to go old-school again.

Binders and plastic inserts to protect the documents. I used to have a bunch scanned on a CD due to agency requirements but (I) now just stick with clear protectors.

Or, You Could Just Chuck it All in a Box

Of course, the reality of growing piles of paper and notes mounding up on every flat surface in one’s home (or is that just mine?) sometimes gets the better of us. We so appreciated Sherry’s honesty and got a good chuckle out of it with her:

I shove it all in a series of 3 unlabeled boxes and pray to God the worker doesn’t ask for anything!

Find the System that Works for You

No matter what system you settle on, it’s imperative that you find one that works for you and your family’s style. It will make the paperwork feel less overwhelming so that you can engage more fully in the nurture and care of the precious ones in your home. These ideas are fairly simple and accessible solutions to a very common problem for foster families. If you are a systems person like me, your wheels are probably spinning right now.

What foster care paperwork hacks have you found that works well for your family?

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Image credit: BLW PhotographyDamian GadalMarc Görtz