Preparing for a Forever Family
I was asked on Twitter yesterday if I had any advice for what to include in the Forever Family Book adoptive parents provide for the children about to be placed with them.
I realised I hadn't blogged about this aspect of our children's move to live with us, so here we go.
If you've watched the documentaries about adoption which appear to have become a staple of Thursday evening viewing over the last few weeks, you will have seen the books provided by adoptive parents to be shown to the children about to be placed with them.
Used as an introduction to their new 'Forever Family' initially by their Social Worker and then by the child(ren)'s foster parents, as an aide memoir to frame the move that's about to happen. The books are usually put together by the prospective parents prior to the Adoption Panel that matches them with their children.
The books of course differ greatly dependent upon the level of understanding likely to be shown by the child(ren) who will be looking at them.
Therefore, for our three and half year old son, the book handed over to his Social Worker, to be passed on to the foster parents included both photos and some narrative about them.
For our daughter, who was just eighteen months at the time, the book was much simpler, just including photos and a brief description of who or what was in the photo.
Both books included photos of us, of course, and of our immediate family. They also included photos of our pets and of our home, its setting and most importantly the children's rooms. Which actually, as things turned out, happen to be the same room, just very differently decorated as our son decided to move to a larger bedroom prior to his sister joining our family.
Looking back the photos of the children's bedroom look terribly bare. And tidy! Uncluttered by the piles of books, toys, teddy bears that now make traversing them an enterprise of trekking proportions.
We discussed what to put in the book, agreeing the photos and order in which they were presented quite easily. Us first, pets and house following and then some photos of our wider family towards the end.
We realised though in putting the information for our son together that we were creating something that seemed very two dimentional, as inevitably it must be. It concerned us however that this wasn't something we perceived our son being able to pick up and put down easily. He would be shown it, he may not be able to peruse it whenever he wanted.
J therefore suggested to our social worker that along with the book we also prepared an electronic picture frame. Including the photos inserted into the Forever Family book, but also additional ones, giving a wider perspective. Different views of the rooms in our house. Photos of us in differing situations.
We hoped it provided a more 'all round' view of the family our son would be joining, the environment in which he would be living.
It also provided him with something that could be placed in his bedroom where he could look at it whenever he wished. Subsequently we heard from his foster parents that he insisted on it being placed on his bedside table, where he would go to sleep watching the slideshow of photographs.
We used the same idea again, successfully, for our daughter in preparing her for her transition. Her understanding of what she was seeing was much less, given her age, but again both we and her foster parents felt it helped in her understanding of where she was the first time she came to her new home during the transition week.
The electronic photo frames have served another purpose. As time has progressed we have added photos to them, updating them every six months or so. Providing a constant, positive, affirmative reminder in our children's rooms of their family and the experiences we have shared.
We've also taken the photo frames with us whenever we have gone away, be it to visit friends over night or for a longer holiday. The slide show of photographs, of familiar faces, scenes, of the reassuring surroundings of their own home, have provided comfort to the children and, we are sure, eased the uncertainty of being away from home.
We faced just the one challenge through this process. The Forever Family book and photo frame provided for our son included photos of the wider family. Including my parents.
If you've read the adoption blog post 'Sweet and Sour' you'll be aware that my mother died the day before we began the process of transitioning our son from his foster home to our own.
In the confused, frantic, devastatingly sad hours immediately after Mum's death, where we decided immediately to press ahead with the agreed timetable for our son's transition, we discussed what to do about the photos.
J felt we should perhaps remove the page with my parents' photo, replacing it with one of just my Dad. I disagreed. I felt strongly we should keep it there, explaining honestly when our son asked where the 'Granny' shown in the photo was the she was no longer there, despite hoping very much to be so.
Perhaps harder, both for our son to comprehend and for me to explain, I feel still this what the right decision. Explaining the loss rather than risking leaving a sense that somehow something was missing when he compared the photos with reality.
Seeing the Forever Family books prepared by the adoptive parents in the recent tv documentaries I feel a bit embarrassed our books were not more elaborate. They were, to be honest, plain. Colourful. But plain. Neither of us is particularly artistic.
They were however honest. Well received. And provided our children a small window into their new family. One they still, occasionally, ask to look at.
A happy aide memoir to the start of our journey together.