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My Memory Book 4+ is designed to record the experiences, approximately from ages 4 to 8, of a child separated from their birth family. It will also: help them understand the reasons for their separation and to make sense of what is happening; give them an opportunity to express their wishes, ask questions and explore their own feelings about the separation; help carers and professionals offer explanations and information; assist the child in the formation and promotion of their 'identity'. Guidance for professionals and carers on use of this book and those for younger and older children - My Memory Book 0-4 and My Memory Book 8+ - is provided on removable pages and in more depth in The New Life Work Model Practice Guide, all available from RHP.
Large format wiro. 80 pages. 978-1-903855-78-2. Published 2006. £12.95.
About my family
About being looked after
About seeing my family
About where I live now
About my school and friends
About my holidays
About my special days
About my other memories
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Edith Nicholls is an Adoption Support Social Worker with a local authority. She has over 24 years social work experience and has worked in education, generic social work, child protection and finally specialising in the field of Adoption and Fostering. She is also the author of What Does Adopted Mean? A Young Child's Guide to Adoption (RHP 2005)
ABOUT THE MEMORY BOOKS
Each Memory Book is designed to record the experiences at different ages of a child separated from their birth family. The age ranges for each book are not fixed; the books can be used flexibly with children of different abilities. Each of them contains age-specific guidance for workers and carers that can be removed before the book is given to a child. This guidance can be read at www.russellhouse.co.uk. It conveys in full the 'how-to' as well as the spirit of doing this Life Work, which is what makes these books so important and unique. The Memory Books will also: help children understand the reasons for their separation and to make sense of what is happening or has happened; give them an opportunity to express their wishes, ask questions and explore their own feelings about the separation; help carers and professionals offer explanations and information; assist the child in the formation and promotion of their 'identity'.
Guidelines for My Memory Book Age 4+
My Memory Books and the New Life Work Model
My Memory Books are essential components of the 'New Life Work Model', full details of which can be found in The New Life Work Model Practice Guide.
The Purpose of My Memory Book
My Memory Books are used to record a child's experiences whilst separated from their birth family. The main purpose is to ensure that their memories of this period in their lives are not lost as they play a very significant role in the formation and promotion of identity.
There are a number of secondary purposes of memory books:
The Formation and Promotion of Identity
The memory books may become a platform from which to raise a child's self-esteem by giving them a positive view of themselves and their families and to help begin the process of promoting their genetic identity.
Identity is not something that is presented to a child at birth but is formed and gathered gradually along life's path. It comprises a myriad of inter-connecting fragments of memories and experiences, not just personal ones but also those of other significant people around us.
Accessing the information that forms someone's identity is fairly straightforward providing their life's path stays close to the sources of the information; whether this is their birth family, or, as is the case for a looked after child, those significant adults in their lives at that time. When the child moves on from temporary care access to those significant adults becomes difficult or non-existent. This is why memories, happenings, life events and so on need to be recorded to help with the formation and promotion of the child's identity.
What Information Should be Recorded?
The short answer is - anything and everything. Factual, but with a thick icing of the anecdotal! Looked After Children (LAC) documentation provides the essential facts, memory books should provide the why, what, when, where, how, and who.
Think about the sort of information that was given to you that helped form your own identity. For example:
The information should be reframed to ensure it is age appropriate and information that would adversely affect a child's self-esteem should be omitted (e.g. negative comments about a child's physical appearance or aspects of their personality that cannot be changed). Be positive without being untruthful.
My Memory Book-Age 4+
This memory book is designed for school age children between the ages of 4 and 7-8. However, there should be no restrictions in relation to the upper age limit and if a child has limited ability or other learning difficulties and is over the age of 7-8 and this book's design is more suited to them - then use it!
Memory books belong to the child and should not be treated as 'precious'. The child should be able to do what they want with them; scribble on pages, colour them in, add and remove art work and so on. Some children may decide that they want to destroy the book, and if they want to they will. Every effort should be made to preserve the book and keeping photo copies as it progresses might prove invaluable.
The decision about when a child should be given their memory book should rest with the child's primary carer. Some children can cope with the book immediately whereas others may need more time. In cases where the child needs more time, carers and professionals should ensure that information is not lost by making their own set of notes. If there are long delays in presenting the book you may need to ask yourself 'Why am I delaying this process?', 'Who am I protecting?' and 'What reasons do I have for the delay?'
Children should be encouraged to contribute to the book themselves but their inability or reluctance to do so should not result in the book being left incomplete. The child's primary carer has the day-to-day responsibility for ensuring memories are recorded and the child's social worker should check that it is completed properly.
Try not to fill up every section in a single session, you will need to revisit certain sections as the child you are caring for changes and grows.
There are no hard and fast rules as to where you begin with the book, you could just as easily start with the last section as the first. It might be a good idea to let the child decide, give them the book to look through.
Never make the completing of the book a task like home work: it should be fun, fun, fun and not a chore! If the child never wants to do it then the primary carer should fill it in on their behalf. If you think that the child will eventually add something, some day, make notes so as not to lose the sense of the occasion.
Section 1 - About me
This is a fun section to initiate the child's interest in the book: children like to talk about themselves, draw around their hands etc. The references to 'my family think I am..' and 'I think I am.' and so on are about the child's personality - be positive.
The pages 'My Firsts' and 'Big Events' presents an opportunity to improve a child's self esteem. Recordings on this page should not be confined to events of excellence only but should also include the trivial such as the first time a child finishes a meal, goes a full day without a tantrum, cleans their teeth without being told and so on. You could even mark important events with stars and in some way develop a mini behaviour modification programme. Never use these pages to record negative firsts and big events.These pages can also be used to record details of growth, weight and even hairstyles!
Section 2 - About my family
This section has two objectives: to involve the birth family in the book (if appropriate) and to assist the child to talk about family matters and gain an understanding of the significance of family origins, culture and ethnicity.
It is not designed to gain an in-depth report on family history, if the child does eventually move on to permanence and you are following the 'New Life Work Model' then the 'Family History Book' will deal with these matters. If the child returns home then 'in-depth' is irrelevant.
Section 3 - About being looked after
This section is about explanations and information. While it may seem difficult to address these issues early in the placement, if this important work is left for too long it can lead to confusion and anxiety.
Section 4 - About seeing my family
Being positive about contact is important but not to the point that the child should be inhibited in talking about their negative feelings. If the child wishes to let their birth family participate in this section then this should be encouraged. However, some children may want to exclude their birth family so that they can write more freely about their thoughts, wishes and feelings.
Section 5 - About where I live now
In terms of memory this is probably one of the most significant sections. There should be no limit to the information you include here but don't just put in the sort of things that you want the child to remember: keep in mind what is important for the child in terms of identity promotion. Do not confine the information to the immediate household but include the positives of other people and places the child came into contact with whilst living with you.
Section 6 - About my school and friends
Keep a mental note of their tales and stories about school and friends so that you can prompt the child to write about them or record them yourself later.
Section 7 - About my birthdays
This section has space to record memories of just two birthdays as the book is a record of a child's temporary looked after experience. The page headed 'A Birthday Story' is there to let your writing skills run amok and to give the child a colourful picture of the day.
Section 8 - About my holidays
As with birthdays this section covers only two holidays and should not be used for short breaks such as weekends away which can be recorded in Section 5 under Days Out etc. Again the holiday story page, like the birthday story one, should have colourful memories of the holiday: this could be something that happened on the journey as well as what happened while you were actually there.
Section 9 - About my special days
'My Memory Book' is multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-denominational and so the pages in this section have no defined racial, cultural or denominational celebration days.
Section 10 - About my other memories
You should record in this section anything and everything that does not fit neatly into the categories of the other sections. Do with it whatever you and the child want. It could as easily deal with dreams as it could with reality. It could as easily list the child's possessions as it could the child's wants.
Have fun creating a memory book.
The child you are caring for will never forget you for it.
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