How to Write Effective Documentation as a Foster or Adoptive Parent

How to Keep Written Track of your Fostering Experience

Man struggles with paperwork at desk.
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Documentation — keeping written track of problems and progress — is a vital and important aspect of foster parenting and adoption. Here's an explanation of tools that can help you document your situation effectively, and the kinds of incidents or events you might want to addresses.

Effective documentation doesn't mean reporting only negative events or problems. Positive changes should be included as well. They'll help your social worker, therapists and physicians plan appropriate supports.

Documentation Tools 

Helpful documentation tools include calendars, computer files, paper notebooks and behavioral charts — anywhere you might note the details of a child's behavior, his grief cycles, his medical problems and his emotional status. You might also want to keep a record of the various activities a child is involved in and how he's doing in those activities, including school.

Not all important information will come from your own notes, so you'll also need a binder or similar "paper file" to organize and save important documentation that may come from your child's school, therapist, pediatrician or others. The idea is to have all this information at your fingertips so you won't have to hunt for it or try to remember events when you need the information. Set up a special email file, too, for all mail and reports you receive electronically regarding your child. 

Contact your foster care agency and ask if they have logs or forms that can help you ​document incidents or even daily occurrences.

Some agencies use online reporting and record keeping. If so, ask how you can maintain copies of anything you input for your own files. Some foster care agencies also offer a form of organization for each foster child's file. If not, you can create your own binder for your foster care records. 

Incidents and Events 

Make note of conversations that take place between the child, his therapist, his birth parent, your day care provider, his teacher or your social worker whenever you feel that points of these conversations may be relevant. Make a written record of what was said and how you responded.

You'll also want to record visits between the child and his birth parent or parents, or his prospective adoptive parents. Note how the child is adjusting and handling grief. Explain steps you've taken to help the child manage any negative behaviors, both before and after the visits.

Record situations and behaviors that occur in the home or in school, such as arguments, temper tantrums, tears, stealing, incidents of lying, sexually acting out or poor grades. Note what happened just before the incident and how you responded. Be sure to include mention of how the child reacted to your response.

You'll also want to document injuries and sickness, especially when the child has hurt himself or missed school due to being ill. Note what happened and how the child was treated.

Keep track of the times you've called for support when you felt overwhelmed and sought help. Note who you contacted as well as the dates, times and the responses you received. If it helped, say so, but also make note if it didn't. 

Document breakthroughs and moments of change when you notice that your foster or adopted child has started healthier habits or when his negative behaviors have decreased. Perhaps he did well on a test at school, or maybe he didn't do well, but he handled it much better than he did last semester. 

Writing Effective Documentation

We were taught to remember the who, what, when, where and how of a situation when we were writing a report or essay in school. Documenting your parenting situation is basically the same principle. It's about sticking to the facts.

  • Who was involved in the conversation or incident? What children or other individuals were present?
  • What exactly happened? Report what was said and by whom.
  • When did the event or conversation occur? Note the date and the time.
  • Where did the situation occur? Was it at school, at home or in the car?
  • How did you handle the situation or event? Describe what you said and how you said it. Detail the results and how the child responded.

What Not to Write 

Try to keep your own opinions or fears to yourself. Find another outlet for them, perhaps in your own journal or even in an email to your family's social worker or a friend. Your personal feelings don't belong in your documentation. It's important to vent and to share thoughts and feelings, but not in the same report you'll use to document an incident that occurred with your foster child in your home. If nothing else, it might be seen as unprofessional.