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Children involved in the child welfare system often have questions about their past and why they were placed in out-of-home care. Lifebooks are an important tool in helping a child understand his/her journey. A Lifebook can help a child in that situation process how their past relates to where they are today. 

Lifebooks are utilized within the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network (SWAN) child preparation unit of service. Child preparation can be referred for any child in the legal custody of a county children and youth agency, regardless of the permanency goal. The goals of child preparation are to give the child a voice, honor the child’s past, answer the child’s questions, make connections and look to the future. In the child preparation unit of services, Lifebooks are created for children in order to tell their story.

What does a Lifebook look like?

Lifebooks can be developed in many different ways. It can be a scrapbook, binder, photo album, or other book. It can include words, photographs, artwork, and memorabilia. It should be individualized based on the child’s experience. Ideally, the child should be engaged in making the Lifebook, though as you might expect younger children will require assistance.

What are some important things to include in a Lifebook?

The Lifebook should include birth history and birth family information, reasons for placement and a map of the child’s placement journey, and information relevant to the child’s future. It should also have an “All About Me” section, which can include information about the child, such as a physical description, likes, dislikes, interests strengths, accomplishments, and values. This section also includes information about how the child expresses different feelings and coping skills that are helpful. The birth family section should include information about the child’s birth, birth parents, siblings and any other significant extended family members. It is also important to include memories and traditions the child experienced while residing with their birth family. 

Next, information regarding the reasons for placement and a map of the child’s placement journey are significant in helping the child understand and process the separation from their birth family. Additionally, a section relating to the child’s future can help the child understand the permanency goal. This section should also include the child’s wishes and goals for the future. 

The Lifebook is meant to be ongoing; the child and/or family should continue to add the Lifebook throughout the child’s life. A timeline of life events is a valuable tool for helping the child understand his/her journey. 

Finally, the Lifebook should include plenty of pictures – including but not limited to pictures of the child, birth family, past and current foster families, and places the child has resided.

What are some benefits of a Lifebook?

The Lifebook is an important tool to engage the child in difficult and meaningful conversations. It can be uncomfortable for the child and family to talk about the experiences that led to out-of-home placement; the Lifebook can be utilized to begin and expand upon conversations. For example, the child may be curious about what his/her birth parents look like or about things that they like. The Lifebook can share important information about the birth family with the child, which can assist in reducing the child’s fantasy about his/her birth parents. 

Information in the Lifebook can also help to answer the child’s questions about family history, including medical information. Additionally, the Lifebook can help the child look to the future by having space for future events. If the child is being adopted, it can help to normalize adoption language and promote attachment and a sense of belonging within the adoptive family. 

Overall, the Lifebook is a significant tool to improve self-esteem, develop a positive identity, answer questions, and promote meaningful conversations:   

  • Jennifer Krepps, a permanency supervisor in KidsPeace’s office in Chalfont, PA, recalls a child who was so proud of her Lifebook, she excitedly ran into the house to show her grandparents. She was very specific with asking them to each sit next to her on the couch so she could show them all of her hard work! 
  • In addition, a permanency supervisor in Reading, PA, Nicole Gardecki, reported working with a family who said they were very impressed with the Lifebook – and excited about having a place to keep the child’s memories.

For more information about Lifebooks and the child preparation unit of service, please visit the following websites:

http://www.adoptpakids.org/Swan.aspx

https://swantoolkit.org/

Amy Silfies

Amy Silfies

Amy Silfies is Permanency Program Manager for KidsPeace. A graduate of Muhlenberg College with a master’s degree in school counseling from West Chester University, Amy worked as an outpatient and community-based therapist and HR training professional at a non-profit organization before entering the foster care and adoption field in 2004. In her current role, she oversees permanency services for KidsPeace Foster Care offices in Bethlehem, Chalfont and Reading, PA.