As an adoption professional and mom, I have witnessed the healing powers of a known personal history and the destructive powers of an unknown one.
Social Medical Histories and Lifebooks that tell the stories and share detailed medical information for adoptees and foster youth are often seen as “extras” or necessary boxes to be checked. Requirements to be fulfilled.
But I think they are POWERFUL tools that make an impact for generations, answer young people’s questions, and enable the holders of knowledge to share what they know.
I believe that high-quality social medical histories and Lifebooks are two of the most important pieces of “paperwork” that can be completed for a foster child or adopted person, and it is worth taking the time to do it well.
This is the idea of Power of Story. We are an organization focused on bringing the power of story to the world of adoption and care through high-quality and nuanced Social Medical Histories, Lifebooks, and workshops.
Power of Story is able to work with agencies, organizations, counties, and individual communities through our interactive live or virtual workshops. We work with those in open as well as closed adoptions and foster care journeys, capturing the personal stories of those children who have been involved in the child welfare system. We also love working with birth mothers and birth fathers by giving them a chance to share what they know about their child’s health care history as well as photos and their wishes regarding what their child’s future will look like. We do all of this through respectful person-centered work.
Alisa Matheson, Founder of Power of Story
In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage– to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. Alex Haley, Roots
Memories in care are slippery because there’s no one to recall them as the years pass. In a few months I would be in a different home with a different set of people who had no idea of this moment. How could it matter if no one recalls it? Lemn Sissay, UK Former Foster Youth
… this information isn’t just for me; this is for my children. Because they were my biological children, there’s a black hole for them as well. Linsey Furry, Adult Adoptee
…Children need a foundation for “self”; they need the truth AND they need to feel empowered by their story. Kids can’t go forward without a past. Jean MacLeod
…If you don’t know who you are, then you don’t know where anything else fits. Rev Katie Lee
When children are repeatedly separated by multiple moves from those individuals with whom they have shared life experiences, their personal history becomes fragmented. It becomes more difficult for them to develop a strong sense of self and for them to understand how the past influences present behaviors… Our past history confirms who we are and provides us with a sense of identity. Vera Fahlberg
Family stories provide a historical context for children, informing them of how they fit into a larger life framework. Family narratives are the way through which children and adolescents connect across generations and create self-identity. The whole process of sharing of family history and stories helps children develop a sense of self, connected to previous generations. By anchoring oneself in family history, children develop a sense of place and security that may facilitate self-confidence and self-competence. Rakesh Maurya
Human emotions are the core of stories. Across the world, stories tell of madness, sadness, badness, loss, betrayal, anger, joy, love… and often a “happy ending”. Perhaps this is so because we are optimistic beings: we are optimistic because we can narrate the past, and hope to change it in the future. We can use the past to serve the future if we take the time in the present to do so. S.M. Macrae, PH. D
I believe that children need their heritage – the good, the not so good, the fun, the painful, the easy, the difficult. In my experience as a parent and an adoption counselor, there has never yet been a single case where I supported a decision not to share. My focus has always been how to share: when, how much, and with whom if anyone besides the child. Holly VanGulden
I had so many other questions to ask: What did he do for a living? Did he have other children? Was he married? Did he drink coffee? Was he happy? Were there pictures of me — a smiling, chubby baby — on the walls of his home or was it easier for him to forget I ever existed? Jenna Britton
Imagine a picture of someone that gets cut off at the knees. This is what it feels like not to have or to discuss your history. Adoptees end up with a floating or numb sensation with no past history or roots. …Many believe that somehow, they are responsible for the separation from their birth family. Beth O’Malley, Adult Adoptee
It is difficult to grow up as a psychologically healthy adult if one is denied access to one’s own history. Vera Fahlberg
It is hard to face and document a story that is based on loss and early childhood trauma, but every child has the right to their story. It is validation that their life and their story matters. Martha, Adoptive Mom
My non-identifying information from the agency was one typed page. Betsie Norris, executive director and founder of Adoption Network Cleveland
Our story is the medium we use to interpret our life experiences and make sense of them. Sandra Marinella
What may be the hardest part of writing a Lifebook is that as parents we want our children’s stories to be happy ones… Biological children have baby books, our adopted children have their version: a Lifebook. Martha, Adoptive Mom
Why can these agencies have access to our origins, but we’re forbidden to access that same information? When are we considered “old enough” to know the truth? Why should strangers (even if they are employees) have more information on our ancestry than any of us? The Vance Twins, from, The “Unknown” Culture Club: Korean Adoptees, Then and Now, 2015
Social Medical Histories and Lifebooks are not new ideas, in fact, there are many interconnected subjects and conversations that impact this discussion.
- “Letter Box” Process
- Adoptee Access to Adoption Records / Original Birth Certificates / Adoptee Rights
- Autobiography / Memoir
- DNA Testing for Adoptees
- Family History
- Family Narratives
- Family Stories
- Family Stories
- Full Disclosure
- Adoption Information Gap
- Life Narratives
- Life Story Work (a Therapeutic Approach)
- Life Storybooks (and Later Life Letter) – Required in the UK Since 2014
- Narrative Identity
- Narrative Therapy (a Therapeutic Approach)
- Open vs Closed Adoptions
- Open-Ended Questions / Journals
- Oral History
- Parenting Narratives
- Secrecy in Adoption
- TROVE – Trove is a physical and digital tool that enables children to be in control of their own life story. Trove looks after children’s most precious objects, and uses simple digital technologies to bring these objects to life. The child’s own voice can be linked to objects, to keep a digital archive of their life to help support them through times of change and uncertainty.
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