Documentation in the Digital Age

There’s been a number of posts here on the absolute need to store copies of all your little one’s documentation.  Erin’s not wrong.

With that being said, most items that we submitted to social workers were done via scanning and sending through an e-mail. However, there were a few times where we submitted hard copies of items to social workers, and they were misplaced. It came as a relief knowing we had another copy backed up digitally.

The sheer amount of paperwork we’ve had to go through in the past has been harrowing to say the least, but its not unmanageable.  You just need a system on how to keep track of it all, which we were slow to really lock down.  So, I thought I would put together a list of some of the things we’ve done in the past, as well as some recommendations of things you may want to consider doing digitally to keep all of that paperwork organized.

Obligatory Disclaimer: I’m going to recommend products and services on digital organizing and storage.  Take them for what you will, some might be of benefit, some might not, but all of these are purely my opinion from having used them.  I don’t (nor intend to) get any compensation from these recommendations (as tempting as that might be).  I’ve just had really good experiences with them.  End Obligatory Disclaimer

Guide for backing up your foster parent documents digitally

 

Recommendation Number One: Scanning

Ultimately, what all this really comes down to is scanning in all the dead trees you have to sign and keep track of into your computer for storage and reference.

Historically, we’ve always used a MultiFunction Printer (MFP) at home, purely due to needing a workhorse what with our various demanding careers.  I am REALLY partial to the Epson Workforce Pro line of printers, due to the small use of ink, and the ease of use with setup. We currently have a WF-4630, but I believe there are newer models.

With smartphones being so ubiquitous though, you don’t have to invest in a MFP if you don’t need to.  Apologies to the Android users as I’m not familiar with their offerings, but you iPhone users are well served with iScanner from the iOS App Store.  

Very easy to use, simply take a picture using the app, and it will automatically locate the edges of the document, and let you send/email the ‘scanned’ file to yourself for organization.

Recommendation Number Two: Organizing Your Stuff

On your computer, pick a directory where you will organize everything.  I’ll leave that up to you, but more often than not, your ‘Documents’ folder is a good place to start.  Create a folder.  Call it “[Insert little one’s name] Paperwork”. Then, create sub-folders for each of the various items you will be tracking (medical forms, visitations, etc).  If anything, you can use the Printables that Erin has put together as a starting point.  [If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend signing up here for access to said Printables!]

All that’s really left is to be vigilant in scanning in your various documents and storing them in those sub-folders.  You may want to create sub-sub-folders for various dates if you desire.

There may also be items that are sent to you by social workers, and maybe a few documents that don’t start from dead trees, don’t forget to save those as well.

Recommendation Number Three: BACKUPS.

This is the MOST IMPORTANT part! Backup! Backup! Backup! Please keep a back up of your digital copies. Sorry if this seems repetitive, but having decided (for better or worse) to base my career (hint: life) on the geeky, computer-y side of things, this is one of those items I really take to heart, and feel very strongly about, especially with the important nature of the foster and/or adoptions system.  The sheer amount of times I’ve had to deal with co-workers/customers/friends who have lost data is too much to count, and I hate hearing stories of such, especially with it being so easy.

A backup is simply another copy of your data that you can bring back in case of error/deletion/disaster/loss of hard copies, etc.  There are MANY ways to do this.  Some involve items you already have with you, some you may need to pay for, but almost always not hard to implement.  At a base level, you can start backing up your computer easily:

Both of these usually involve getting your hands on an external hard drive of some sort.  I’m partial to the Rugged HD’s by LaCie, but Western Digital makes some decent portable HD’s as well.  Honestly, if it comes down to it, just drag a copy to a flash drive.

However, if you can swing it, there is a MUCH better system to follow.  I humbly submit The 3-2-1 Rule:

  • Three copies of your data
  • Two stored on different mediums (not the same device)
  • One stored offsite (in case of disaster, like a house fire burning down your office where your computer AND hard drive were stored)

In our case, we store our important data both on my computer, which is also backed up to our home NAS (I’ll talk about that later), AND subscribe to CrashPlan for offsite backups (an AMAZING backup service.  HIGHLY recommended).  This hits all the bullet points on the 3-2-1 Rule.

Recommendation Number Four: Places to store your documents

So what options are there when it comes to storing the data itself?  I already talked a bit earlier about storing the data locally on your computer, but that can be somewhat annoying, as you may not actually have a computer in your household that you and your significant other can share easily.  

NAS

We ended up going a little heavier (partially because I already had it).  Its great having a central repository of all that info, so I installed a NAS (Network Attached Storage) in our house.  Think of it as an external hard drive that is permanently connected to the local network of your house.  It’s your own personal server (like the one you use at work) for your lives.

Setting up a NAS in general does require a little extra (or a lot in some situations) computer know-how, but if you are interested and willing, it can be a big boon to your digital lives.  For example, we run a Synology DiskStation DS415+ in our house that acts as a FileServer for hosting all of our little one’s digital data, but it is also doing much more than that.  Cue the technically savvy buzz words:

  • FileServer
  • Authoritative DNS
  • Web Hosting Services
  • Multiple Docker Containers
  • Live viewing/storage of Security Cameras

Fresh out of the box.

Picture 1 of 2

Yes, I’m doing quite a bit more with it than most, but there are some amazingly simple NAS products you can use as well.  I have heard many good things about the Western Digital My Cloud Series.  

And yes, our Synology is being backed up via CrashPlan as well.

Hosted Services

Many people rely on hosted services for their day to day lives.  There are MANY to pick from:

There are a number of positives with these including not having to setup your own hardware, syncing between multiple devices, and easy sharing of data.  

However, you have to keep in mind that these services exist on nebulous servers somewhere in the world, that you technically don’t have access to.  And you also have to keep in mind that your account with said service has the high possibility of being compromised ESPECIALLY if you share your account password with other online services (I REALLY don’t recommend that last part).  With the sensitive nature of what we are doing as foster and adoptive parents, I recommend making sure you entirely trust the service you are using, and possibly talking it over with your social worker. 

And yes, these are all needing to be backed up as well.  You can’t trust that your data won’t be compromised, and companies are going to avoid taking responsibility of your data in case of being released into the wild.

If you are willing to swing the extra investment and setup, the NAS can easily play the role of hosted service, but running locally on your home server.  Synology offers a piece of software called Cloud Station Server that acts as your own private DropBox.  This way, you always know exactly where your data exists.

Organizing and storing your data isn’t the hardest thing to do, but it does involve a little extra planning.  If anything, keep it all, as I can’t tell you the amount of times we’ve had to reference back to past emails or medical forms.  It really does help, and once in place eased our minds knowing that if something was misplaced or our computers crashed we had a copy of those very important documents for our little one and ourselves.

Related Posts:

As mentioned above there are three organizational posts to help with your foster care organizational needs.

Record Keeping with the Foster Parent Binder

Record Keeping with the Foster Child Binder

Staying Organized with a Foster Parent Planner

*Disclaimer: Please note that we are not experts. We are not social workers or lawyers. These are ideas that we have found handy for our own organization purposes. Everything you use should be used with careful responsibility since foster care is such a delicate topic. Please check with your social worker first before use of these ideas. For full terms and conditions of this website, please click here. End disclaimer.*

Happy Parenting,

Mike

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