For the child, this may simply be a pit-stop on their journey, as most children are returned home or go to relatives, but they will want to have a record of their time with you. For you, it will be a sweet (yet sometimes heartbreaking) trip down memory lane. For the parents and relatives of the child, this may be their saving grace. Can you only imagine not having your children with you? Not all parents are the horror stories that we see on the news, and even if they are, they are still God’s children. We must sympathize, soothe, and keep them in the loop while we are taking care of their children…..no matter what they have done (always check with your social worker before giving copies of a Life Book to relatives as the courts may have ordered no contact!)Our foster care agency calls this record a Life Book and I think that is aptly titled, as you are recording the child’s life, however, your agency might call it something different. Some foster parents will give the child a photo album when they leave, which to them serves as a Life Book. Others will write a summary of the time that they shared with the child and add photos. I have a different view of the Life Book. It should be about your entire family, not just the foster child. Yes, it should have them as the center, but they are not the center of the family so it is impossible not to include everyone when you are writing. Here is the way that I work up a Life Book:
1. Take pictures immediately upon receiving the child. If there is abuse, take close up pictures for your own documentation. As hard as it is, include these pictures in the Life Book.
2. A daily entry should be written for the first thirty days if there was major abuse. The first two weeks if the child adapts well and new things are not cropping up every day. Once they have settled into your home and family, then you can go to weekly entries. The entries should be about how they ate, how they slept, etc. Also include major meltdowns, tantrums, episodes of rage, etc.
3. Take LOTS of pictures. There is nothing in this world like a picture. No manner of fancy writing can duplicate it’s power.
4. Always include appointments in your daily or weekly entries. This will not only help you remember when an illness occurred, when an x-ray was taken, etc., but it will also let the relatives of the child know what is going on with their child. In my state, a foster parent must take a new foster child to the pediatrician and the dentist within the first 30 days of the placement. Documenting this in the Life Book will help you remember the exact date easily.
5. Include all activities that the child is experiencing with your family. We have taken our little one camping with us, to an amusement park, the movies, on a beach vacation and so much more. All of it is in the Life Book.
6. Explain how the visitations go with family members. How did the child react when the visitation worker came to your house to take him to his visits with his family? How did he react when the visitation worker brought him back home to you? How did the child act directly after the visitation? Sometimes children act out when they visit with their parents and relatives. It varies with the child, but you can bet it has some type of affect on them.
7. Any other important information that pertains to the child. Think about what the judge would want to know when he is determining which relative the child will end up with, whether or not the parent should regain the child, etc. You are the link between the legal case of whatever the parents did to lose the child and the actual child. What happens in your home can be clues to what has happened in the past. Just as what you do with and for that child can have a direct impact on what happens to that child in the future. Take it very seriously, but remember that a child will be reading the Life Book you prepared when they are older.My social worker loves my Life Book. My foster child’s relatives loves my Life Book. My foster Child’s GAL loves my Life Book. Why? Because they never have to come to me for information. They never have to wonder what is going on in this child’s life. All of these workers are very busy people, and they are working away at trying to do the best thing for these children. Sure, lot’s of people will say the system is not so good, but we have to have faith that God has His hand in everything. We can help these workers do a better job and a less stressful job by providing them a Life Book full of information.
Finally, give copies of the Life Book to your social worker every week for the first month and every two weeks after that (unless they want it more often). Copies of the Life Book should be given to the parents every week. Let me repeat…..every week. Please do not ever let them go longer than a week of not knowing what is going on in their child’s life. Again, even if what they have done is bad, really bad, we cannot judge. Who knows, maybe seeing their child’s life through your eyes might bring upon a positive change. We never know how God will use us for His plan. We can only promise ourselves that we will do the best of our abilities to honor Him in all that we do!