Know Your Rights Guide: Chapter 12 - Getting Your Vital Documents

Jennifer Pokempner,

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Having your vital documents is essential to your transition plan and success in adult life.  If you do not have proof of who you are, it is hard to do things like get a job, save money, rent an apartment, get benefits, and travel.  This chapter gives you information so you can make sure you get your vital documents before you leave care, 

What are vital documents? 

  • A vital record is a government document containing information about a person’s important life events. Examples of vital records include your original birth certificate, social security card, and state identification (ID) or driver’s license.

Why do I need my vital documents? 

  • Vital documents are important because you need them to do most of the things that you need to do to be successful as an adult.  For example, you need identification to get a job, open a bank account, apply for benefits, get an apartment, apply for a GED and apply for college.  You need identification to be able to go places you want and need to go, like entering certain buildings and traveling. 
  • Without vital documents it is very hard to prove you exist and do the things you need to do.  

Should the child welfare agency make sure I have my vital documents before I leave foster care at age 18 or older? 

What should I do if I am about to be discharged from foster care and I have not received my vital documents?   

  • Let your lawyer know and let the judge in your case know if you do not have your vital documents and are about to be discharged from care. 
  • The judge should not close your case if you do not have your vital documents and should order actions be taken so the documents are provided to you.  The judge should  keep the case open until these actions are completed and you have your documents.2
  • If you do not have your vital documents, you should start asking about them at least a year before you discharge.  Asking about them at your case planning and court hearings a year and then 6 months before discharge will help make sure your documents are ordered and you receive them before you leave care.

I’m 18 or older. How do I request my birth certificate on my own if I was born in Pennsylvania? 

  • The cost of a birth certificate is $20. Go here to learn about the different ways to order your birth certificate.
  • You can also go to a local office that processes birth certificate requests. Offices are located in Erie, Harrisburg, New Castle, Pittsburgh, Scranton, and Philadelphia—click here to find their locations and hours.
  • Click here to download the birth certificate application.
  • You will need Pennsylvania state government issued photo ID to request a birth certificate. If you do not have photo ID, you can present other proof of your identify and address, like pay stubs, bank statements, utility bills, and mail from a government agency or public benefits agencies. If you do not have this kind of proof, ask a caseworker or other service provider to make the request for you.  

How do I request my social security card on my own? 

  • You need to apply for a social security card in person. There is no cost for a social security card. 
  • Click here and type in your zip code to find your local office.
  • Complete this application and take it to your local office.
  • You will need to show proof of who you are, usually a form of a government issued state ID, to get a replacement social security card. 

How do I get a state ID? 

How do I get help getting valid immigration status and documents? 



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