By Dr. John DeGarmo
The departure of a foster child from your home is often a difficult time. Because this can be a time of great difficulty and one of emotional upheaval, it is important to prepare beforehand when it comes to the transition of your foster child from your home into another. From the very first day you bring a foster child into your home, it is critical to remember that he will very likely not be with you forever. There will come a time when he will move to another home; whether it is reunification with his parents, his family members, another foster home or adoption. Therefore, planning for his departure begins when he first arrives.
One of the ways you can prepare is by organizing a lifebook for your foster child. This book can be a wonderful healing tool for your foster child as he moves to a new home. For some children, a lifebook is the only reminder they may have of previous houses and families they once called home. Essentially, a lifebook is a scrapbook of your foster child’s life, and is something he can take with him to his new home, and throughout his life. Sadly, when many foster children are placed into a foster home, much of their early life story is lost, and can never be retraced. A lifebook can not only help the child remember important aspects of his past, it can also bring to light memories that fade away when a child grows older.
When designing a lifebook for your foster child, make sure you include him in creating the book. Do your best to trace his early life; ask your caseworker for information, try to retrieve early pictures and information from birth parents and family members, if possible. Add pictures of the birth family, when possible, as well as any other foster parents he might have had. Include pictures of his friends and other important people in his life. Be sure to identify each person in the pictures. If you have any certificates of any kind that he might have earned or received, include these also. Letters from important people in his life would also be a great addition to his lifebook. Also, be sure to include any medical history you can locate. You may need help from his caseworker, along with his birth family, if possible. Also, any family history you can add would be very beneficial to him, both now and later on in life. This might include military service, education and accomplishments. Don’t forget to add information about his own interests and hobbies, with plenty of pictures of him engaged in activities. Finally, leave several blank pages in the back of his lifebook, so he can add pictures, information and even his personal thoughts later on as he grows, or perhaps even in his next foster home.
A lifebook helps a foster child recognize his or her individual worth, something that is so very important for each child in foster care. For many foster children, placement into foster care is a traumatic experience. Lifebooks can be a testament to their strength and their ability to overcome whatever challenges they may face while in care.
Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 11 years now, and he and his wife have had over 30 children come through their home. He is a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system, and travels around the nation delivering passionate, dynamic, energetic and informative presentations. Dr. DeGarmo is the author of the highly inspirational and bestselling book Fostering Love: One Foster Parent’s Story, and the upcoming book The Foster Parenting Manual: A Practical Guide to Creating a Loving, Safe and Stable Home. He also writes for a number of publications and newsletters, both here in the United States, and overseas. Dr. DeGarmo can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, through his Facebook page, or at his website.