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Kids and Lifebooks: Tips for Social Workers

Every child adopted from a foster family deserves a clear and detailed record of their life before the adoption. As an adopted child waits for a forever family, a book of life can help them make sense of the past and prepare to move forward.

Once a child is placed in a permanent family, life books are a link to the past that can inform and enhance the future. Carefully crafted, lifebooks are an invaluable tool to help children through difficult life transitions and allow them to take ownership of their unique story.

Simply put, a life book is a book that presents the life story of a child. Like other books, life books can contain pictures, illustrations, text, and other meaningful memories that convey information about a child’s personal story. What child doesn’t love being the star of their own story in front of an audience of their choice?

It’s very simple in principle…until you start to factor in abuse and neglect, multiple placements, loss and grief, complicated legalities and disruption. How can you translate abuse, drugs and rejection into appropriate terms and images for a five year old? You may need to learn new skills, but a well-constructed life book can hold the story of the deepest loss and pain.

Essentials

When I was a new adoption worker, the experienced writers in my office created a sort of life book/checklist template. All of our life books include:

o information about the birth of the child

o a copy of the child’s birth certificate

o birth family information

o why the child entered foster care

o a history of the different investments

o worker blessing page

To boost children’s self-esteem, our template included a very optimistic birth page. A common line was: “When you were born, the doctors ooohed and aaahed…”

While I believed in all the components of the book of life, I never liked this line. To me, that just didn’t ring true. Many of our children were tiny drug addict babies, fighting for their lives. Lifebooks are meant to be about truth.

Truths from the Book of Life.

Because the books of life are historical documents, it is never acceptable to lie. Sometimes, however, you may not know much about a particular event, such as when the child was born. In such circumstances, you may have to say, “I bet…”

For example:

I bet your biological mother was happy to have given birth to such a beautiful baby girl, but she may also have felt sad and confused because of her problems with bad drugs.

Official documents such as birth certificates and birth certificates from hospitals are a great source of factual information, and children love to see important documents that validate their very existence. Foster children sometimes need to be reminded that, like everyone else, they started life at birth.

Another way to promote the truth about life is to involve the child. After all, it’s his story. Grab crayons and markers and find a quiet space. Young children may enjoy dictating while you write; pretend they are invited to a talk show and interview them. Other children may want to write their own words and you will turn them into neat printed pages.

Some truths are difficult to explain and accept. But if an event is an important part of the child’s story, include what you can in a developmentally appropriate way. A teenager may be able to understand “sexual abuse” and a biological parent who was “addicted to cocaine and alcohol”, but a younger child may better understand expressions like “bad touching” and “couldn’t not stay away from bad drugs”. .”

Omissions tell a child that things are so bad they cannot be shared. Then the child may fill in the blanks with much scarier imaginings and feelings of guilt or shame. Truth leads to healing, and troubling past events, over time, can fade into “just as they are”.

family history

Think about your family for a minute. What relatives do you take after? Which athleticism matches yours? What laugh echoes yours at the same jokes? Which nose is (for better or worse) glued to your face?

A large part of our identity comes from our belonging to the generations that preceded us. Children who live with their biological family can see the traits they share with those close to them. They also hear and relive family stories at the dinner table, at family gatherings and through shared memories.

Children adopted from foster care may have vivid memories of their birth family, but relatively few positive stories or happy times shared. Once the biological family is out of their lives, they lose important ties.

Can you imagine going through life without meeting someone like you? Imagine what it’s like to go through a major life event – having a baby or getting a cancer screening – without knowing your family’s medical history?

Lifebooks can help answer questions that keep kids, teens, and adults wondering at night. Adoption social workers often have access to detailed social histories, past medical records, and other social workers who have worked with the birth parents before. If visits with biological parents continue, you have a golden opportunity to gather important facts and images.

In my opinion, any chance to get information or photos should be considered a last chance. Additional family photos and birth family details will be a treasure for the child – and for those raising the child for the rest of their lives.

And let’s not forget the siblings; they have a special magic of their own. A simple page with names, ages, photos and locations of siblings can do wonders.

ask why

One of the most difficult and critical parts of lifebooks is answering the question: Why am I not living with my biological family?

It’s not wise to tell a child that their birth parent was sick (unless it’s an honest part of the story). Aren’t sick people generally better? And if mom is better, shouldn’t the child go home? And if mom isn’t better, is she dead or dying? Why give the child this concern?

I tell children that their birth father, birth mother (or other caregiver) had adult issues and couldn’t take care of themselves. In fact, the caregiver was taking such poor care of himself/herself that he/she couldn’t care for a child – any child – at that time. his life.

By placing the blame directly on the adult, we can help children overcome the silly thoughts highlighted in rhymes like, “Step on a crack and break your mother’s back.” Many children with a history of abuse believe they were bad or responsible in some way for being taken from their biological family. As social workers, we need to ensure that children do not carry this burden of false guilt throughout their lives.

I often ask children directly, “Why do you think you don’t live with your biological family?” In 10 minutes, I get more information from this question than most therapists in 10 sessions. Depending on the circumstances, I will then discuss the particular situation of each child.

Pitches

Locations pages are often the simplest. Start here and now; make a page about the child’s current school, favorite foods, good friends, favorite sports and activities. Get all the photos you can. Do the same for past placements in foster homes, group homes, or emergency shelters.

If the child is about to enter an adoptive placement, a favorite page may be one that commemorates the first meeting of adoptive parents and child. Interview the parents and the child separately, then share their quotes. Now you accumulate text for the lifebook.

Look for report cards, awards, and positive quotes from teachers and foster parents. Rewards and praise can help children feel good about themselves – a feeling that can give them strength to deal with difficult transitions.

The Worker’s Blessing Page

As a social worker, you have probably worked with this child for months or even years. Just before the child is placed for adoption, take the time to write a page for the end of the lifebook. Talk about the child’s strengths and what you think is special about them. Include a fun story or thought.

It is important to give a child permission to move on and be happy. This is a strong message for the years to come.

Do it

A team approach to lifebooks can be very rewarding. If the foster parents can capture a few moments of the child’s life – perhaps take a photo of the birth family and share a photo of the foster family as well – then the book of life has begun. Social workers and therapists can complete the file.

When the child is adopted, carefully transfer the book to the adoptive family. Train adoptive parents to keep the book of life in a special and secure place. If the child wants the book in her room, make a copy of the original for her to keep. The child decides when the book of life comes out and parents should never share the book without the child’s permission.

The book may become part of adoption anniversary celebrations, provide help with a school family tree assignment, open the door to conversations about adoption and identity as the child grows and helps the child cope with the painful loss of their biological family. Then again, maybe it’s something the child can’t appreciate until they’ve started their own family. The book of life should be available whenever the child is ready.

Shortly after I started working on children’s life books, I heard from families whose children had my first simple typed efforts. Much to my delight, they reported that lifebooks have become more valuable over time. Lifebooks give adoptive and adoptive children crucial and vital information: basic factual data about themselves, as well as an understanding of where they come from and why they have a new family. It also gave them permission to remember and mourn their losses and to better bond with their new families. Which gift !

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