My mother put together a fancy photo album for every year of my life until I graduated high school. In my dad's attic are plastic tubs full of childhood ephemera that my parents found sentimental enough to keep; toys, clothes, artwork, even my baby teeth. I have a DVD of home video compilations and giant ziplock bag full of my childhood diaries. As a baby, I had one tuft of hair on top of my head and chubby cheeks, so I earned the nickname Tweety Bird. As a little girl, I was a shy, curious, and a rule-follower who burst into tears if someone raised their voice at me. I know all of this because I have parents who told me and documented it. If I didn't have any of these things, or any link to those who cared for me as a child, how would that impact my sense of identity? This is the reality for many foster and adopted children, especially those who are adopted internationally.
Research conducted by Coram & the University of Bristol found that while life story work is becoming more popular within this sector, work needs to be done to prioritize the efforts more. Additionally, research has shown that the quality of Life Story books vary greatly. Adoptive families felt that life story work could benefit from a standardized framework that takes into consideration age appropriateness and narrative. Furthermore, there was consensus that access to support for adoptive families to engage in life story work with their children over time.
Why do Life Story work with adopted children or foster youth?
Life Story work helps kids separated from their birth families to make sense of their early lives. Children who go through the foster care system often experience multiple different placements and social workers before ageing out or being adopted. Life story books that feature information about a child's birth family, carers, life experiences and development enables them to access memories, background and personal history that may otherwise be missing, lost or forgotten. Life Story books, when created thoughtfully, can serve as lifelong tools for children, providing answers to their questions and tying their past to their present. Consequently, this supports their self-awareness and self-esteem. Additionally, Life Story Books can be used by foster or adoptive parents to get to know a new child in their home.
Renuka Jeyarajah-Dent, Coram's Director of Operations said, "Adopted children cannot start with a blank slate. Their past is significant and should be valued. Understanding life history becomes particularly important when young people reach adolescence and develop and define their sense of self."
What goes in a Life Story book?
There's a lot of flexibility when it comes to creating a Life Story book. Some agencies may provide a template. Some foster parents take the initiative to create one on their own. There are a lot of resource on the internet to help the process along. Where possible, a child can and should be involved in their own Life Story book. It is important for their life to be recorded in his or her own words. Life Story books could include:
- Information about birth parents
- Important dates and places
- Important documents and records
- Growth and development charts or milestones
- Art work
- School progress
- Various 'About Me' information
- Special memories
Using Storii for a Life Story Book
Storii can serve as a digital alternative to a paper Life Story book, ensuring that important stories and memories are never lost or damaged. Storii comes with hundreds of life story prompts that can be customized or edited to suit the individual. Each question can be responded to with photos, videos and/or text, making it a multi-media album. Then, answers can be shared via email. This would be a wonderful tool for social workers, agencies, and foster or adoptive families to use.