By Peter Kenny, Attorney (2006)
The written word has power. Foster parents need to keep a record. The strongest material you can have in advocating for your foster child is a well-documented daily journal. Keeping a daily journal assists you when advocating for your foster child at case conferences or at court hearings. When opinions are divided, your journal provides you with reasons and documentation for your views. Keeping a journal is the number one way you can help your attorney.
Judges can only make decisions about a child's case plan based on the information presented in court. This information, as presented by the Child Welfare Department or the birth parents, is often incomplete, biased, or just plain wrong. Your foster child depends on you as the most informed person in the courtroom to give the judge accurate information about his or her needs. Your journal can provide critical written evidence which can correct misinformation and bolster your position for what is in the child's best interests. Federal law states that you have the right to present both written and oral evidence to the court.
Include everything in your journal; the more information the better. You never know what problems may develop. Here are some situations where a daily journal is extremely helpful:
- Write down behaviors, good or bad, and any progress made.
- Keep a record of doctor appointments.
- Report on school progress or problems. Keep notes from teachers.
- Write down any requests/communications between you and the case workers.
- Keep a record of visitation with the birth parents.
- Document interactions between the siblings and any behaviors after a visit.
- Document problems to anticipate defending yourself against false allegations of abuse or neglect.
- Document daily family contact to support an adoption which members of the birth family are contesting.
Write on a regular basis, daily or at least every few days. Set a regular time to write and stick to it. If you decide to write when you get around to it, the days will fly by and nothing will be recorded. Be sure to write when your foster child has had some special event in his or her life. Be sure to date your journal entries, day, month and year, at the start of each entry. The date can be important should a dispute arise at a later time.
Do not use your journal to attack the birth parents, the Child Welfare Department or any other interested parties. Instead pretend you are a camera, and record what happened each day. Did the child cry, laugh, get angry, act out, appear sad? Describe any actions of the child which lead to your conclusion: failing to eat, unexplained sickness or vomiting; fighting with another child in the household; destructive behavior of any kind. Describe the good things as well: school successes, kindnesses, good interactions with peers. Remember...facts, not feelings.
School Datebooks has produced “A Daily Journal for Foster Parents.” This book is a handy way for foster parents to keep regular notes. The book is inexpensive and contains much additional information of value to foster parents. See Appendix G.