Vol. 17, No. 2 • May 2013

Lifebooks: Keeping It Together

By Donna Foster

As a foster parent, one of your goals--a goal you share with your partners in the rest of the child welfare system--is to support children and parents who are dealing with multiple traumas.

One way to do this is to help children understand and make new meaning of their traumatic history and current experiences. Foster parents can help children do this by encouraging them to share their life story, acknowledging their feelings, and reminding them that the bad things that have happened to them are not their fault.

Lifebooks are a great way to accomplish all these things.

A lifebook is a recording of a child's memories, past and present mementos, photos, drawings, and journals. These are preserved in a binder, photo album, or book.

The child uses his lifebook to record his history and the goals for his future. Written stories by the child and others are the heart of the lifebook.

Typically lifebooks are started when the child is moved from their birth parents' care. They're an ongoing process. While it's best to start a lifebook when the child is first placed in foster care, it's never too late to start.

The lifebook belongs to the child. The child decides who can look at it. If the child moves, the lifebook goes with him.

Because they spend so much time with the child and get to know the child so well, foster parents are in a great position to start the development of the lifebooks. However, be sure to check in with the child's social worker about your plans and what information to include before you start a lifebook.

Questions Lifebooks Can Help Answer

  • Why am I living in this foster/adoptive home?
  • Where are my parents?
  • Where are my brothers and sisters?
  • Where is my birth family (grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles, and
  • Why am I in foster care?
  • Why did I leave my other foster homes?
  • Where is my pet and who's taking care of it?
  • Where is my stuff?
  • What did I look like as a baby?
  • Who in my family do I look like?

Benefits of Lifebooks
The process of creating a lifebook can:

  • help the social worker, foster parent, birth parent, and child form an alliance.
  • help children understand their life events.
  • give kids a clearer sense of their life story.
  • provide a vehicle for children to share their life histories with others.
  • increase a child's self-esteem by recording the child's growth and development.
  • help the child's birth family share in the time when they are living apart.
  • contribute to an adoptive family's understanding of the child's past.

Source: North Dakota Department of Human Services

Backups and Copies
It's OK for the birth parents and caretakers (foster parents, relatives, guardians, residential counselors or adoptive parents) to keep copies of photos and other lifebook items. In fact, keeping copies is a good idea because the child's lifebook could be lost or destroyed and the child may need help in recreating it.

With permission, you can scan lifebook pages and store them in a file on the computer or on a CD.

Lifebooks can be so valuable. They are tools that can help eliminate a child's confusion about his life, answer his questions, and fill in gaps in his life story. They permanently record for the child the fact that we care about them and their well-being.

Important documents, clear explanations of what happened, and reminders that the child is loved: all can live safely in a lifebook.

Lifebooks Often Include Information about . . .

Birth Information

  • birth certificate
  • weight, height, special medical information
  • picture of the hospital

Child's Family Information

  • pictures of child's family
  • names, birth dates of parents
  • names, birth dates and location of siblings
  • physical description of parents, especially pictures of parents and siblings
  • birth parents' occupational/educational info
  • information about extended family members

Placement Information

  • pictures of foster family/families
  • list of foster homes (name, location)
  • first names of other children in foster homes to whom child was close
  • names of social workers; photos of social workers to whom the child was close


Medical Information

  • list of clinics, hospitals, etc., where child received care; and care given (surgery, etc.)
  • immunization record
  • medical information that might be needed by the child when growing up, or as an adult
  • when walked, talked, etc.

School Information

  • names of schools and report cards
  • pictures of schools, friends, and teachers

Religious Information

  • places of worship child attended
  • confirmation, baptism, and other similar records
  • papers and other materials from Sunday School

Other Information

  • pictures of child at different ages
  • stories about the child from parents, foster parents, and social workers
    awards, special skills, likes and dislikes, etc.
Adapted from North Dakota Department of Human Services

Lifebooks: Samples and Sources
Here are just a few of the many books, websites, and other resources available to help you in creating a lifebook from both the adoption and foster care perspective.

The Child's Own Story: Life Story Work with Traumatized Children by Richard Rose and Terry Philpot (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2005). Strategies for conducting life story work and applying it to therapy for children affected by trauma. The techniques can be used by adoption and foster care workers, social workers, psychologists, foster parents, mental health professionals, and other people who work with children. Available from: www.jkp.com.

Making History: A Social Worker's Guide to Lifebooks by Joann Harrison, Elaine Campbell, Penny Chumbley (2010). A guide to making a record of the places children have lived, the people they've met, and the feelings they have experienced. Part one is a "how to" book. Part two focuses on critical issues to cover in working with children. Available from: http://1.usa.gov/XUfBl1.

Lifebook Pages from the Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parents Association. Downloadable lifebook pages allow a child to pick the pages that fit his or her style. Available from: www.ifapa.org/publications/ifapa_lifebook_pages.asp.

My Foster Care Journey by Beth O'Malley (2001). Workbook for children in foster care to provide a record of their birth family and significant life events. Some pages are to be completed by a social worker about the circumstances surrounding the child's placement in foster care and the dates of court actions. Available from: www.adoptionlifebooks.com

My Awesome Life by Lutheran Social Services of Illinois. Provides a lifebook at cost to help celebrate a child's life and journey of adoption. Available from: http://www.lssi.org/SUPPORT/MyAwesomeLife.aspx.

Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway (www.childwelfare.gov)

To view references cited in this and other articles in this issue, click here.

~ Family and Children's Resource Program, UNC-CH School of Social Work ~