Lifebooks are a great way to honor your foster child's (or adopted child's) life - ALL of it. Lifebooks come in a variety of forms, but the basic premise is to gather information about your child's life before they came with you and their time with you as well. Many foster and adopted adults I have spoken with speak with pain about the missing pieces of their history. Many have chunks of their lives they cannot remember, they are missing - simply gone.
Since foster care and the timing of moves are so unpredictable, start a lifebook as soon as possible. Even if you only add one page, or one memory, you can create something that will follow the child throughout their life. Most people wait until the child is either adopted or going to be adopted to start, but they have already lived a lot of life before that happens.
When working on it with older children, I just let them know that it is a memory book and we want to get all the info we can together so that they have something that talks about their whole lives. For infants and younger kids I complete it and then pass it on. They can always add to it when they get bigger.
As far as format - it is wide open. What I have found works best for me is a 3 ring binder and those plastic sheet protectors. Then as you gather inforamation, photographs, school work, etc you can just slide it in. It also makes it super easy to rearrange and add to. My social worker was able to provide me with a blank lifebook in a three ring binder with some fill-in-the-blank pages. You can ask your worker if they have something similar.
Now to nuts and bolts of how to make one...
- All about me
- Details about them from whatever age they are at the time they make the lifebook - it can always be updated.
- All about my birth family
- This can be tricky, but gather info as you can. Tell the birth family you want to honor their child by making a memory book and would love their help. It can help break down barriers and help them be involved in the process.
- Letters from special people
- I always write a letter and invite other who are close to the child to do the same - birth family, foster family, etc. This can be a good way to involve other children in the home.
- Memories from birth family
- Older kids, I just ask them to tell me some memories while I type them down - works best after you have formed a relationship and they are comfortable with you.
- Younger kids, I ask older siblings, aunts, uncles or any cooperative birth family members to tell me memories - after I explain what I am doing and why
- Memories from other placements
- Again either self reported by the child or from the past foster family
- Memories from their time with you
- SO FUN to do anytime but also to revisit as they child is preparing to move on - honors your time together.
- Any you can get from birth family, past foster families and time at your home as well. (I love photography - so my kids have TONS of photos when they move on. I print out 4-8 for each month spent with me and put the rest on a disk - that they can use to print whatever photos they'd like when they get older).
- Samples of their school work/art work etc.
- Every kids memory book should have some art in it. :)
- Medical information
- Store it away as you get it - growth charts, immunization records are always needed by the child down the road. Once their primary pediatrician knows you, it usually isn't a problem to ask for these things a while back as well.
- There are quite a few online printable lifebook pages, with lots of ideas, and things to print - check them out.
- Just start. Whatever you do is more than they have.
- Work on it little by little if the child is helping you. Many times talking about the birth family with the foster family is complex emotionally and can be hard - take their lead and don't push it. Again whatever you do is more than they have.
- Make copies - The simple truth is that things get lost when kids are in foster care. You and your foster child have invested a lot of heart and soul in their lifebook, you'd hate to see it gone. So best practice is to make at least two copies. Keep one copy with you (the foster family) and give one to the child's social worker to put in their file. Give the original to the foster child themselves if they are old enough or to an adult in their new placement to keep safe.
- Encourage the next home to add to the lifebook and then SEND IT WITH THE CHILD wherever they go next. Whether it is an adoptive home, a foster home, or a group home, that child will make memories there - you want them to keep the ones they have and make more.
Here are some pre-made "starter" lifebooks that you can fill-in-the blanks with your child. Sometimes the hardest part is just beginning. You can do it. Your child will thank you.