Lifebooks – A Tool for Foster and Adopted Children

Lifebooks are a tool used to help foster and adoptive children better understand their past, how it connects to their present and future.

Interviews with former foster children show that even as young adults, many do not have family or childhood photos, information about their birth family, past placements, or a story that makes sense to piece together their fragmented memories of the past.  

This is regrettable, as research shows that understanding your past is key to achieving a clear sense of identity, security and even placement stability.  A Lifebook is healing and therapeutic, because a child can start processing their story while they are growing, thus saving future mental health care costs. In fact, those who know their family stories have lower depression, anxiety, and aggressive behaviors.  

A Lifebook tracks a child’s journey through foster care, including reasons for entrance, placements, information and photos of the child’s birth, foster and adoptive families. It also includes medical and educational history, and detailed information about the child at various ages.

Many youth, even those who live in states that require Lifebooks do not have them. We want to help change that.

Although life books may be a requirement… our child welfare agencies don’t really have a practice of maintaining them. I don’t have a life book, nor do any of the foster youth I know and grew up with have life books.

Joymara Coleman, MSW, ASW and Former Foster Youth

In order to capture the uniqueness, depth and nuance of each child’s story, Power of Story interviews each child over the age of six twice, does a full file review and connects with all involved professionals, birth, foster and adoptive families (view full model).

Lifebooks completed by Power of Story are a intentional, impactful and child-led tool, that brings together missing photos, information, and the child’s own memories, so they are able to understand their past, in order to thrive in the present and future.

Power of Story is able to work with MN Counties and Organizations to complete Lifebooks, for youth experiencing out of home care. Our model goes beyond the basics listed below, and includes two Therapeutic Life Story Work approach interviews with each young person 6 years and older, a full file review, contact with birth, foster and adoptive families, document redaction as required by MN law and regular updates.

*Lifebooks are required for all adoptions in the UK and Ohio. In MN, a Lifebook is not required, but is HIGHLY recommended for every youth in out of home placement, that is updated as young people age.

What benefits are there to completing a Lifebook?

  • CHILD focused – and child available at any age
  • Help child understand how he fits in their birth and current family
  • Provides context for their life – past and future
  • Provides history in a more approachable, child-focused way – And LOTS more photos
  • Empowers the keepers of knowledge.
  • The story is POWERFUL and changes lives.

Who gets a copy of a lifebook or Lifestory Book?

  • The young person themselves
  • A copy for the file (or parents)

Because a lifebook is a photo-based book geared to young people, it needs to be updated as they age. What a three-year-old will be interested in will be different from a 16-year-old. And as the child grows up, so do biological siblings and parents, so as new information is collected, update the lifebook.

We recommend that adoptive and foster parents give a complete overview and update every year or at the time of a change in placement. It is important that parents do not erase the previous information, but supplement it.

Adoptees and former foster children can also create their own lifebook, journal what is remembered about each placement and what questions remain. This can be pulled together in a formal lifebook format or in a more open scrapbook or memory book.

Note: Most lifebook templates are currently focused on children and adolescents, but the seed of an idea is there and can be therapeutic at any age.

Possible topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • All about me (at various ages)
  • All about my birth family
  • Letters from special people
  • Letter to child/self at various ages
  • A chronological age progression
  • Memories from the birth family & past placements
  • Photographs
  • Placement history
  • Schools attended
  • Samples of school work/artwork etc.
  • Medical information

Additional articles

Learn more at a Power of Story workshop: Learn more or register now.

Links to FREE Blank Lifebooks

Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parents Association (IFAP)A Lifebook Pages: IFAPA has created over seventy free lifebook pages for foster and adoptive families and social workers to use. IFAPA created these lifebook pages to allow a child to pick the pages that fit his or her style. Each page can be downloaded and printed separately which allows a child the ability to hand-select a preferred page. View printable pages

Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange: These Lifebook pages are a tool that can be useful in any stage of foster care or adoption.  The pages can be individually downloaded and printed, allowing the child to hand- select pages they are interested in.  It is important to note that not all pages need to be used, only the pages appropriate to the child.  Once the pages are printed, it is recommended they be placed in a three-ring binder.  Print Lifebook Pages

Story of Me: Created in partnership with Ampersand Families, Shutterfly based drag and drop lifebook, with pages that have text options as well. View customizable book

New South Wales: The government of New South Wales (NSW), on the east coast of Australia has the following two publicly available lifebooks for foster parents to complete with the children in their care:
  • My Life Story book: My Life Story Book has been developed to assist children and young people in out-of-home care develop a sense of self, in relation to their life experiences. It is a chronological account of the child or young person’s history, and should be started when the child enters out-of-home care and maintained throughout their time in care. Download My Life Story book – PDF File
  • Aboriginal life story: The Aboriginal version of My Life Story Book supports Aboriginal children in out-of-home care in understanding more about their cultural identity and in developing a sense of connectedness to family, kinship groups and the community. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people placed in care have similar needs to non-Aboriginal children. However, there are differences that are specific to Aboriginal children and young people. Download My Life Story book – Aboriginal version PDF, 11884.97 KB

The Children’s Psychological Health Center, San Francisco, CA put together the Personal Life History book contains a template which is intended to be used as part of therapeutic life story work. As a 30 session brief psychotherapy tool, the Personal Life History Book is designed to help children reduce their transfer rates to new homes. The child’s distress is channeled into a personal record book of positive memories as well as traumatic ones. This enhances the sense of personal continuity and conscious access to mental rather than behavioral representations of past relationships. Any or all members of the child’s network may be included: birth parents, foster parents, caseworker, and extended family members. In addition to children in formal foster care, the Personal Life History Book is useful for: children of incarcerated parents, in the process of family reunification following foster care placement, in guardianship homes, and in homes with relatives. Workbook for children / Accompanying manual 

Oregon Post Adoption Resource Center, All About Me Books honor Oregon’s children in care. They are a way to reiterate to every child who enters the foster care system that their story, perspective, culture and identity matter. Anchoring children in “the now” helps them to better process their past while embracing their future. ODHS Child Welfare has taken the bold and exciting step of adding All About Me books into procedure for all children experiencing care! Choose from 50+ themed All About Me Templates available in ORPARC’s library, including animals, sports, art, Legos, Superheroes, Disney and more. Or, order a blank template to create your own! Download Now

Blank Lifebooks to Purchase

Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, My Awesome Life. Craft Meaningful Life Stories, Help Foster Children Make Sense of Their Lives, includes versions for Lifebooks for Children in Foster Care, Lifebooks for Children Returning from Foster Care and Lifebooks for Children Adopted from Foster Care. Purchase now

The Adoptee Collective brings us, My Story Book: My Life Story by Me and for Me: Baby books and case files can’t tell a life story. My Story Book is our innovative workbook and cornerstone resource. My Story Book helps you capture & preserve your own story, in your own words, for your own sake. My Story Book is available on Amazon, in both a Kid’s Edition for ages 5-14, with essentially the same content in an Adult Edition for ages 14 and up. KIDS Edition | ADULT Edition

Beth O’Malley, My Foster Care Journey: Affordable and easy-to-use, these lifebooks are the perfect tool for foster care agencies, adoption agencies, CASA volunteers, and state agencies. Designed by an adult adoptee, this 27-page, coil bound lifebook allows you to work quickly as you capture vital information. The pages are written to complement any permanent goal (i.e. guardianship, return home, adoption). Appropriate for ages 1-8. Affordable, Kid Friendly, and Easy to Complete. Purchase now

Beth O’Malley, For When I’m Famous: A Teen Foster Adoption Lifebook (spiral): Reviewed by teens in care AND written with the ever busy social worker in mind, For When I’m Famous even includes places for 14 moves (group homes, kinship, running away, psych hospitals). Case managers, social workers, therapists, foster parents, CASA workers as well as the teen/tween will enjoy this fill-in-the-blank-format. For When I’m Famous works for ages 10-17, tackles tough issues, and is designed for the young person who is sick of talking. Perfect for group homes and foster care. Purchase now

Therapy Redeemed, This is Why I was Adopted: Navigating Loss on a Journey Toward Hope: This interactive memoir walks you through my adoption journey and gives space for you to reflect on your own. You’ll receive prompts for self reflection, touchstones regarding adoption and clinical mental health education, along with vivid recollections of my personal journey through Korea and throughout my life. It’s ok if you don’t like talking about adoption. Maybe it feels difficult or strange or uncomfortable? You don’t have to talk about it. You can think about it. Write about it. Organize your feelings about it. So that whether you choose to keep it to yourself or tell it to the world, it no longer stands in the background of your life as a mysterious unknown, but a newly understood feature that inspires and propels you toward good things, toward hope, toward belonging, toward true joy. Purchase the eBook Here

Lifebook Guides for Workers + Parents

Making History: A Social Worker’s Guide to Life Books: An excellent guide for social workers on how to create a life story book. Click here to view

Social Work Handbook: Life story for work children and young people in care: Guidance on life story work for social workers by Kent County Council (includes an example of a completed life story book). Click here to view/download

Life Story Work: A resource for foster carers, residential social workers, adoptive parents, and kinship carers, to support this work: A guide for carers/foster parents explaining what life story work is and how they can contribute to it. Click here to view/download

Lifebooks: Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child: This bestseller delivers tips, insights and ideas to help you create a lifebook. In this adoption classic, Beth ( who is both an adoptee and adoptive parent) guides you step-by-step and page-by-page just as if she were right there with you. It’s all explained in full detail with a light touch of humor. Would an actual sample help? That’s covered too, with three full- length examples include: Domestic/Infant, Foster-Adopt, and International. Purchase now  

IF you appreciated this article, please share with your networks!

The ultimate resource for FREE downloadable, lifebook templates, recommended versions to purchase and guides for parents and workers on creating lifestory books.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: