More often than not, a child comes into care, and as foster parents, we know very little about their story. And depending on their age, they may know little to nothing about their own story.
But…every child should be able to have their story (as much as is possible) recorded, because every child matters. Stating the obvious here…it’s much more difficult to record a life story for a foster child, because we typically don’t know many (if any) of the details. For instance, we don’t usually know things like birthweight, birth length, or time of birth.
Clearly, I could go on and on about what we don’t know and that often begins right from the very start of the placement.
Sometimes we are fortunate and can gather information; if we are able to cultivate some type of relationship with the biological parents. Or later down the line, we can get redacted medical files if an adoption takes place (which at least gives us some of that “newborn data” and such).
But regardless of whether we have some of the information, standard baby books just don’t usually work for kids in foster care; as a result, I ended up writing a story book for our son…and my point in today’s post is to encourage you to do the same.
The writing of the story can take whatever shape that you’d like. It does not need to be in the same format as a traditional baby book (i.e. one in which there are spaces for all those details to be filled in.) In my personal experience, all that would do is serve to frustrate you (and probably the child as well) because you’re going to have a lot of empty spaces.
Honestly, there are many different ways you could create a child’s storybook…the ideas are limited only to your creativity (and time…that’s a big one too, and when caring for kids from hard places, time can occasionally be a scarce commodity.) By all means, this is your creation!
If you are fortunate to have photos, you can make a photobook on one of multiple websites available.
Or, if you want to write it as though it’s an interview, (and this very well might be the journalism major in me coming out) you could always write a question and then a response; as though someone is answering questions in an interview. And this goes without saying, but I’m saying it: only include questions to which you know the answers!
Whatever you are able to use that helps flesh out the “scene” (both in words and pictures) will undoubtedly be greatly appreciated by the child. However, don’t be discouraged if the excitement over the book is more subdued than what you’d hoped, because it doesn’t mean it’s not appreciated. Likely if they don’t appreciate it now, they probably will someday.
The way that ended up working best for me was to write it like a story. Kind of a “once upon a time,” if you will. I included only the details I knew and put in pictures that I had (which were not many covering the time prior to his arrival).
Now I am certain that some of you are thinking, “But I’ll never know any of the details of their life before coming here!” And while that may be very difficult for you (and the child), you can still write a storybook for them. Write the story from as far back as you know. It may mean it begins that day they arrive at your home…and that is ok. Not just ok…it’s perfect! Regardless of the amount of info you have, you will probably never have as much info as you’d like; but that’s not on you. You do what you can and try to let the rest go.
But this whole thing is not to be embarked upon without a little planning and forethought. A quick word of caution: even though this is a book they will hopefully have for a long time, tailor it to what you think the child can handle at the time of writing. For instance, for our son’s story, I made it simpler/middle of the road. He was 3-months when he arrived at our home, and 2-years-old at the time of his adoption. When he was younger, we mostly just talked about the pictures, because he was not emotionally able to fully understand some of the concepts (adoption being one of them). As he’s gotten older, we’ve been able to share more of the story. Even now at age 7, he is still not a strong reader; so, we read the book to him. Sometimes we paraphrase, or add in additional details we now know. And as he gets older still, we can fill in some of the details as he’s able to handle them.
For a child in foster care, they might be better off with a storybook that is more “middle of the road,” because if they are not going to be with you forever, and you send it along with them, they will at least have some recorded history that can be cherished, and to fall back on at least for a specific period of time. Obviously, this isn’t going to be complete, and that’s OK. You will record what you know, as well as the time in which you have them…. which makes sense, because if they’re reunified with their birth family, they wouldn’t have much record for that time they were in foster care. You’re going to fill in those blanks for them on the time they (and their family) may wonder about later on. It’s one of the ways you, as a foster parent, can stand in the gap for the biological parents until they’re ready and able to reunify with their child.
And now a second word of caution: do your utmost to be very careful not to diminish or disparage the birth parents in the storybook. I know it can be really, really difficult when you see and experience what early trauma has done to shape a child, but ultimately it will make you look like the bad guy; they will always be part of the child’s family (whether involved and engaged or not) and part of their story. To diminish the biological parents can be perceived as diminishing the child and nothing good will come of that…especially in your relationship with the child or their birth parents. In our son’s case, we simply said they were sick and unable to care for him. That’s all a child really needs to know. It’s not until they’re older that they may need/want to know specific details about their parents such as cognitive delay, addiction, or anything of that sort.
And obviously, you can choose to stop the story wherever you want. We chose to take it up to the day of his adoption…the day at the courthouse and the party that evening. Since he’s with us forever, we can fill in any subsequent questions he might have, either about that time recorded in the book, or since that time when I wrote the book.
Hopefully this helps you think through how you might capture some of your foster child’s story and store it for them for a lifetime.