Worksheet One - Adoptions Studies

Worksheet One
Where Have I Been? Milestones and Touchstones
Purpose: To help participants consider what it feels like not to have
basis information about one’s past.
1. Most of us can identify aspects of our physical self among our
family members.
Who do you look like in your family? (Give examples)
Consider not only immediate family but ancestors.
How do you know you resemble those people?
2. Most of us can identify aspects of our personality, other traits,
talents or habits/quirks in our family members.
Who are you “like” in your family? (Give examples)
How do you know you share traits/talents/quirks?
3. Who do you turn to (beyond a partner/spouse) for support in
times of difficulty?
How do you know how to contact these people?
4. Do you have siblings? What are their names and ages?
Where are your siblings?
5. Do you have (or have access to) a picture of yourself as a
Do you know the story of where and when you were born?
6. Where did you live when you were 1?
7. Who was your favorite grade school teacher? Why was s/he
special to you?
8. Think about the most difficult loss which occurred in your family
before you were 18.
Who explained the loss to you?
Who helped you express your feelings? Answer your questions?
How did people who were important to you help you grieve this
If no one helped you make sense of this loss, how did this make
you feel?
How did your understanding of this loss change over time?
Components of a Lifebook
Cover – decorated by child, personalized to represent aspects
of self.
Because Lifebook work can lead to complicated feelings and
memories, it is usually best to start with the present,
discussing neutral or positive things
The child/youth now:
[Section could be titled “All About Me” or “Janelle at 9”
a)hobbies, interests (illustrated)– identified by child
b)pictures of current caregivers and others in home, living
c)observations by caregivers, teachers, coaches, friends
(e.g. “Things Janelle is good at”, “The best things about
Janelle are”, “Janelle helps others by …”)
current school photo, school information
d) self-identified strengths, talents
e) people the child cares about (with pictures and descriptions
of relationships, examples of why the person matters
f) what else? (Brainstorm with the child and those important
to the child about what should be included to capture who
the child is at this point in life.)
Moving to the Past
The transition to the past can be accomplished a number
of ways depending on your sense of the child’s comfort.
a) The Timeline
Strategy 1 – Timeline – from present to past.
perforated paper, beginning with the child’s current residence,
move backwards in time – listing/drawing pictures, noting
dates and listing who was in the household and dates/season
of each change and age of child.
Strategy 2 – Timeline – from birth to present. Birth stories
are almost always positive. Helping the child think about
him/herself as tiny and vulnerable may help the child
understand how much care and love small children need.
From birth, move forward through each living arrangement
and transition, including dates as above.
Strategy 3 – earliest memory. Have the child think about
their earliest recollection and then move both backward and
forward from that time.
b) File review: Most children’s files of their sibling or family files
contain information that can be used in the Lifebook.
Check the file for photos, letters, pictures or mementos that
can be placed into the section on the child’s past.
Information in the file can also clear up questions or
contradictions in the child’s memory and fill in holes about where
the child was and when.
Casenotes, psychologist’s reports and other data can give insight
into why the child came into care. Reviewing and “growing”
the story about why the child came into care is a critical
part of Lifebook work.
Remember: If the child’s explanation is very different from what
you understand to be the truth, don’t contradict the child. Let the
story play itself out as you review the circumstances with the child
and, over time, gently suggest other possibilities.
Essential pieces:
 Birth certificate or hospital record. Valuable to include footprint
or other symbol of how small a baby is.
 Pictures of the child across all stages of development to date.
 Pictures of birth parents, other relatives, all siblings.
 Pictures of all foster caregivers
 Explanations of each transition in developmentally appropriate
 “Wishing you well” notes from caregivers, workers, teachers etc.
at transition points.
Although best done at the time of
transition, they should be done retroactively if not collected at
the time.
NOTE: Even (or perhaps especially) when a move was abrupt
or tumultuous, the caregiver needs to write a note regretting
the change and wishing the child well. If possible, it should
include positive memories as well. Letters from parents are
particularly valuable.
School reports and other
movement through time.
A chronology of the child’s living arrangements
The child’s explanations for changes in caregivers (possibly with
“amendment” section by worker). E.g. “I had to leave Mrs.
Rove’s house because I was bad and wet the bed every night.”
“My worker Larissa wonders if I had to leave because Mrs. Rove
didn’t know how to help a little boy who was so scared he wet
the bed.”
Future goals and plans including what a child will do as a
profession, the kind of parent they may be, and what they
hope to accomplish in life.
 For older children, a section on “what my life has taught
me so far.”
This section illustrates resilience and
growth, emphasizing the meaning the child makes from
 Questions the child still has and a plan for answering
them (or trying to).
Lifebook Principles
1. Every child deserves a Lifebook. Children who go home, children who are cared for by
extended family, children who stay in care and children who are adopted all benefit.
2. Lifebook work (especially gathering essential raw material) should be begun as soon as
a child is separated from an important attachment figure.
3. The primary responsibility for assuring that a child in care has a meaningful Lifebook is
the child welfare specialist/ caseworker.
4. Lifebook work is best conducted as a team process. Birth family members, current and
former foster parents, therapists, current and former workers and the children
themselves are partners in the work.
5. The Lifebook is the child’s story. We must respect the child’s presentation of what has
happened and offer alternative possibilities in ways that support and respect the child’s
In the Lifebook, each and every transition and important loss must be presented and
addressed, in developmentally appropriate terms.
The Lifebook must include information about the child’s talents, abilities and
achievements (including positive aspects of self likely given by birthparents).
The Lifebook should (ultimately) illustrate the child’s strength and resilience.
Every question a child has must be addressed even if it cannot be answered.
10. Lifebooks must be honest and complete. Children deserve to know the truth about
their lives and to be helped to find meaning in their histories.
11. Lifebook work is a process not a product. The Lifebook must be revisited and
amended as additional transitions occur and as a child’s emotional and cognitive
capacities grow.
12. There are no excuses for failing to do Lifebook work with children. Lifebook work can
be part of regular casework duties,family visits, foster parent interaction and therapy
and the memories, reinterpretations and healing it brings.
[Good by letter from foster father]
June 17, 2005
Dear Jamie:
When you came to our house just before Halloween last year you were a
sad and scared little boy. You wanted to be with your mom and dad and
were pretty mad and upset when you had to come and live with
strangers. We were sorry to see how upset you were but happy we could
give you a safe place to stay until things were better with your mom and
We really liked having you live with us. Once you got used to us, we got
along well. You were a great foster brother to Dane and Whitney and
they will miss you now that you are going back to live with your mom.
Mrs. Steadman and I will miss you, too.
Jamie, you are a special boy. You are kind to others. You are so good at
taking care of pets. Josie and Penny will really miss all the walks you
gave them and the treats you used to sneak to them in the backyard. We
will always remember your great smile (especially after you lost that front
tooth!) and your silly jokes that made us all laugh at the dinner table.
Here is a picture of you with all of us. We kept a copy, too. We will
always remember the time you lived with us and we hope we can see you
or at least hear from you so we know how you are doing. You were a
special part of our family and we will always care about you. But we are
glad you and your mom can be together again.
With love,
Charlie Steadman
Your foster dad
[Letter from birth mother at surrender]
April 16, 2007
Dear LaToya:
I love you. This is a real hard letter to write. I am writing it because I
need to explain why you and me can’t live together and why Aunt DeDe is
adopting you.
I was so happy when you were born. You were a beautiful little baby,
even though you was so small. You had to stay in the hospital quite a
while. Back then I didn’t know much about taking care of babies. We
stayed with DeDe and she helped take care of you. I got mad at DeDe
cause I was young and wanted to do things my friends did like staying
out late and partying. So you and me moved in with Ronnie and then I
had your little brother Marcus. Ronnie had lots of problems and he
wasn’t good to us and he hurt you and me. So then the people from
DCFS came and took you away because I needed to stay with Ronnie
because I didn’t have no place to you. You wasn’t safe there.
Latoya I am really sorry I didn’t take better care of you. I tried but there
was a lot going on and some things I didn’t know how to do, maybe
because I was so young. I really wanted to do the things I needed to do
to get you back with me but I just couldn’t seem to do all the things I
needed to do, especially after I had to take care of your next little brother
This is hard for me because I love you. But I know that DeDe loves you,
too and will take real good care of you. I will always think about you and
I hope you will think about me. I want you to be happy with Dede and be
a good girl. Do good in school and have lots of friends. I bet you would
be a really good teacher someday, you are so smart.
Love forever, your mother,
Ruth Jones
[“After-the-fact” goodbye letter from a foster parent]
Dear Robert,
This letter took me a long while to write. I was so angry with you when you left that I
couldn’t say the things I needed to say then. Now that some time has gone by I am ready
to say the things I should have said when I asked that you leave my home.
First, Robert I feel very sad that you could not stay with me. Even though we had
problems, I always thought you were a boy with good inside him, who needed lots of
love to feel better about yourself. I know some real bad things happened to you before
you came to live with me. I don’t think I understood how hard those things made it for
you to live in a family with other kids. I wish I had understood this better and could have
helped you more.
When I learned about what you did with Richard I was very upset. I said some things I
wish I hadn’t. I also made you leave right away without saying goodbye to anyone. That
wasn’t fair to you and I am sorry.
Robert there are so many good things about you. You are a brave young man and you
want to do right. You have a lot of work to do to understand what has happened to you
but you can learn and grow from the bad things as well as the good. But I know you will
work hard Robert and that someday you will make sense of all these things and grow up
to be a strong and loving man.
I know living at the group home is different than living in a family. I hope you will do
well there and be able to live in a family again someday. You deserve a family Robert, a
family that will love you and see what a good young man you are and will be proud of
you and will keep you safe. I am very sorry that my family could not do that for you. I
will keep you in my prayers and if your worker says it’s alright, I will write to you again.
May God bless you and keep you,
Joanne May (Mama Jo)
Respecting the Child’s Truth
Jenny reports that she came into care because she told her teacher
mommy was always asleep in the morning and didn’t get Jenny and
her brothers up and fed and on the bus to school. Jenny (age 8
when she entered care) states that because she was the oldest kid,
she should have gotten everyone up, made sure they had breakfast
and lunch money and were clean, made sure her mother was OK
and gotten everybody to school every day. You know that mom’s
severe alcohol problem and the alcohol problems in the extended
family were the reason Jenny and her brothers were placed.
What should you say to Jenny when you first work on the “Why I
came into care” page?
What are the implications of challenging her interpretation? [Why
do children so often blame themselves?]
What words demonstrate
How would you, over time, offer other possible explanations for her
entry into foster care?
Helpful books for talking about the “hard stuff”:
Telling the Truth to Your Adopted or Foster Child: Making Sense of the Past by
Betsy Keifer and Jane Schooler (2000, Greenwood Press). This book explains the
importance of sharing all the hard realities of a child’s background, and models
developmentally appropriate language for introducing and discussing even the most
difficult information.
Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge.
(1999 Dell Publishing). Written from the perspective of adopted youth, this book
examines children’s needs for knowledge and connection to original families, why
they need to be helped with loss and grief (even if they don’t ask) and a wealth of
other important information.
Lifebook pages to download (free):
Iowa Foster Parent Association –
Foster Club -
Lifebook packages for purchase:
Lifebook Videos for Purchase
‘I just want to know more about who I am’: The Search for Meaning (20 minutes)
This video examines the reasons Lifebooks have value to adopted people across the
lifespan. James Gora – shown with his Lifebook as a young child and again as an
adult with children of his own – illustrates the healing power of Lifebooks and how
they help those with histories of maltreatment make sense of their lives. Center for
Adoption Studies at Illinois State University
Contact: Jeanne Howard – to request
Putting the Pieces Together: Lifebook Work with Children (1 hour)
Through youth, foster parents, adoptive parents, caseworkers and therapists, this
video explains the importance of Lifebooks and illustrates aspects of the Lifebook
Available from
Lutheran Social Services of Illinois Lifebooks