For foster children separated from their birth families, there’s a lingering sense of disconnection. Questions like “who am I” and “why am I here?” are all-pervading, especially in the first few months, and this can lead to further trauma if not addressed truthfully, with care.
Thankfully, life books make the transition into foster care a little easier by giving children all the information they need to understand their complex histories. Over time, these colourful biographies grow bigger with brighter memories and aspirations, meshing past, present and future to support identity development.
If you’re wondering how to make a life book for a foster child in your care, read on as we explain everything you need to know about life books, including:
- What is a life book?
- Why are life books so important?
- What should a life book include?
- Tips for creating a life book for your foster child
What is a life book?
Life books are exactly that – an account of a child’s life in words, pictures and documents from birth to entering the care system and beyond. Social workers, foster carers and adoptive parents use them to help a child tell and, most importantly, own their story.
The best life books include as much detail as possible, including sometimes challenging to read information about birth parents’ histories, court processes and events leading up to care. Of course, we all want to protect children from life’s tragedies, but honesty is the best policy, and compassionately presenting the facts facilitates understanding and better emotional wellbeing.
In severe cases of abuse, counsellors and medical professionals will unravel life books in a therapeutic setting. Guiding children through their experiences allows them to address complicated feelings like grief, loss and resentment.
Why are life books so important?
The first step to creating a life book is understanding why they’re so crucial for foster children. Some of the main benefits they offer include:
- Promoting identity development
- Encouraging self-expression
- Boosting self-esteem
- Dispelling false beliefs
1. Promoting identity development
If someone asked you who you were, how would you answer? Usually, people describe themselves through their career or academic achievements, relationships, possessions and interests. Some have specific religious or cultural practices that shape their everyday lives.
Now, imagine you’re a foster child who’s lost these primary identifications. You’ve had to move schools and wave goodbye to creature comforts. Perhaps, you now live with a family who doesn’t look or sound like you. This can make answering questions about who you are difficult.
Life books give children the key to their identity, reconnecting them to their roots and origin story. When they struggle to remember what makes them complete and unique, they have a reference point overflowing with trinkets, photos and family trees.
2. Encouraging self-expression
Although social workers and carers collate the information, life books have the most impact when children get involved.
By contributing, children become more comfortable hearing and talking about their experiences. Plus, adding drawings and doodles is a bit like art therapy – a healthy coping mechanism that allows children to express and organise their inner thoughts.
3. Boosting self-esteem
Life books are dynamic – as your foster child grows, so will the number of pages! You should leave plenty of space to document school progress, hobbies and relationships, and invite children to contribute through drawings, poems and recollections.
When your child looks through the book, they’ll recognise just how much they’re valued and celebrated. Re-reading the positives is a powerful reminder of how far they’ve come, and it’ll inspire them towards self-actualisation.
4. Dispelling false beliefs
There’s nothing wrong with imagination, but magical thinking can be dangerous. It refers to the idea that you can influence an outcome by doing something unrelated to the circumstances – if you only act (or acted) in a certain way, things might (or might’ve) been different.
Many children feel responsible for the tragic events that led them to care. Without an explanation, they might believe they had to leave because they were badly behaved or their parents didn’t love them.
Life books dispel these false beliefs by explaining what happened and why, relieving the burden of guilt and reassuring children that they aren’t to blame.
What should a life book include?
Every life book is different to represent a child’s personality. However, we suggest incorporating the following (you can contact your social worker to find any missing information):
- Birth certificate
- Place of birth
- Birth time and weight
- Items from the hospital
- Baby photos
Birth family information
- Names and birth dates of family members
- Photos of family members and friends
- Information about the parents’ backgrounds
- A truthful narrative of the journey into care
- Maps of family homes and memorable places
- Cultural background
- Places of worship
- Names of schools
- Report cards and other souvenirs
- Photos of schools, friends, and teachers
- Photos and recollections of foster families
- List of foster homes
- Photos of social workers and their roles
- Medical records from birth
- Information that might be needed when the child grows up
- Favourite foods, colours and hobbies
- Memories recorded by the child
- Milestones and achievements
Tips for creating a life story book for your foster child
Ultimately, life books are special scrapbooks that tell a story, and the sentiment matters more than Pinterest-perfect aesthetics! You don’t have to be an artist to make something engaging – simply draw from the child’s favourite colours and pastimes.
We recommend using a three-ring binder so you can add or rearrange pages. Leave lots of space to document your foster child’s development, and encourage them to add recollections and personal touches.
You should balance words and pictures to present a comprehensive and chronological account of a child’s life. While life books should be age-appropriate, children will crave more in-depth and sophisticated descriptions of what happened as they grow. Make sure you’re honest and don’t keep secrets – it’ll only lead to distrust in future relationships.
Are you ready to change a child’s life for the better?
There’s so much to think about when you become a foster carer, from life books and paperwork to everyday care. That’s why we offer a wealth of support, including 24/7 telephone lines, groups and ongoing training to help you and your family with the transition.
If you’re ready to change a vulnerable child’s life for the better, contact our friendly team or call us on 01706 558910. There’s no obligation to go any further, and we’re happy to answer any questions you might have.