Preparing a Life Book

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By Tom and Jean Gaunt, Foster/Adopt parents (2008)

Each child enters a foster home with cultural differences and considerable emotional baggage. To attach and perhaps bond, the foster family needs to listen to the child; to mentally go where the child is. This is very different from demanding that the child immediately accommodate to his new parents' way of doing things.

How can foster parents “listen” to their new arrival? One good way is to work with the child to prepare a story of the child's past. Called a Life Book, this is wonderful way to give the child an appreciation of his or her past. At the same time, the new parents are learning what the child brings to the present moment.

Life Books create connections. Connections with our past are what give us our identity, stability, wholeness, a sense of permanence. Connections allow us to enter new relationships as a complete person, without feeling so lost and adrift, and without feeling empty. Connections are relationships, memories, feelings, places, and things that make up the fabric of belonging to and being a part of a family or a group. Connections are essential to us because they help define who we are and help provide the foundation for our well-being.

If your foster child is returning to the birth home, you want to maintain and honor as many home connections as you are allowed. Simple connections that make a difference for children are continuing their religious tradition, maintaining the parent’s preference for their child’s hair style, and including the child’s favorite types of food at dinner. In this case the Life Book would be a collection of pictures, impressions, and feelings collected during the period they were placed in your home.

If you are adopting a foster child or are the foster parent of a child that is being adopted, Life Books help prepare the foster child for adoption. Help your child collect pictures, record memories, and write down his or her feelings. This allows the connection process to begin. The child’s past will always be a part of who they are and the Life Book provides an appropriate way to help frame their past in context with their new family.

Your child's Life Book might contain five chapters. Start with a standard binder and a clear pocket cover. Let your foster/adoptive child design the insert for the front cover. You should also include envelopes in the back of the binder for your child to collect keepsakes. This provides an opportunity for your child to claim ownership of his or her Life Book. Work with your child and be creative!

Chapter One- Who Me?
a)	Baby pictures
b)	Important information like copy of birth certificate, birth information (hospital, date of birth, weight, length), social security number, etc.
c)	Questions to be answered.  What is my favorite food?  What do I want to be when I grow up?  What makes me happy?  What makes me angry?  …and on.  
Chapter Two – My Birth Family
a)	This chapter should include as many pictures as possible of birth relatives such as mom and dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings, and other relatives.  If no pictures are available, then provide space for your child to draw pictures of their family.
b)	You could help them make a family tree.
c)	Take a trip and take pictures with your child of their birth homes, schools, play areas, fun spots, etc.
d)	Ask them to write their feelings about their birth family.  What was your favorite family holiday?  What do you miss about your birth home?  What would you say to your birth parents?  …and so on.
e)	This chapter could include a letter to their birth parents saying good bye.
Chapter Three – My Schools
a)	A place for each school grade picture.
b)	A listing of schools attended.
c)	Pictures of teachers or class pictures
d)	An art picture for each grade.
e)	Report cards.
Chapter Four – What Makes Me Tick?
a)	Shot records.
b)	Child’s medical history.
c)	List of doctors and professional service providers.
d)	Family medical history.
e)	Special needs information.
Chapter Five – Getting Adopted!?!?
a)	Listing and pictures of previous foster parents.
b)	Questions to answer before meeting adoptive parents.  Where would I like to live?  What do I think my adoptive parents will be like?  What would I like my bedroom to be like?
c)	Questions to answer after moving in.  Date when I met my new adoptive parents?  Date when I moved in?  Date my adoption was finalized?
d)	Pictures of my new family and me!

Memories provide us with a base. We need a base from which to grow. That is what a Life Book does: it provides the displaced child with a tangible foundation. Where he can go depends on where he’s been. Give your child the gift of his or her past.