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My Memory Book 0-4 is designed to record the experiences, approximately from birth to age 4, 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 has happened; preserve the memories of this important stage of their lives; help carers and professionals record the minutia and anecdotal aspects of development; 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 older children - My Memory Book 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. 978-1-903855-79-9. Published 2006. £12.95.
About being looked after
How I grow
My firsts and big events
My happy birthdays, holidays and special days of celebration
Other memories of me
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 0-4
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 0-4
The book is designed for children from 0-4 years old and when a child within that age range begins to be looked after the child's primary carer should be given the memory book to record all significant events and developmental stages.
The memory book should ensure that anecdotal stories are not lost forever. It is not designed to replace the NHS 'Red Book' which has a very different purpose.
If the child changes placement they should have a new memory book for that new placement and all the memory books belonging to the child should go with them when they move.
Depending on the age when the child was placed, the carer may or may not have access to all the background information, for example if a child was two years old when placed then details of development up to that age may not be available. Every effort should be made to seek out this information so that the child can have as much detail about their early life as possible. Ideally their birth family should assist in completing the book, but anyone with knowledge of the child can help e.g. support workers, social workers, extended family and so on.
Page iv deals with the dates the memory book relates to and it is important that those people who have participated in compiling the book record their names and how they knew the child. This will be of greater significance to those children who do eventually become permanently separated from their birth family.
Giving clear and additional information and explanation is an absolute must as children within this age range will have no recall of this time in their life, or only very little. If you want to record other memories, then do this on separate pages which can be attached to the book, or in a decent hardback book, or you could use loose leaves and keep them in a colourful binder. Never use scrapbooks as that description in itself undermines the importance of this work.
This memory book is divided into six sections, each one dealing with an aspect of the child's growth and development and their life within the looked after system. It is not essential to begin at the beginning and work your way through the book, since you can just as easily begin with Section 6 as Section 1. If information is not available this should be explained, and one example could be, say, the identity of the birth father; don't just leave it blank if not known.
Don't complete the sections all at once as the child may be with you for some months and there will be changes in that time. Leave room to come back to relevant sections. Most pages are self-explanatory but the following notes may assist with those that are not.
Section 1 - About me
On page 3, about the child's birth, in the column headed 'other things about my birth…' you can record details such as being premature or overdue (include time), who was at the birth, was it a normal or a caesarean delivery, any complications, funny little coincidences, e.g. born on the anniversary of when birth parents first met etc.
The pages to record family details are brief as the child could return home and would, therefore, have access to this information, and if the child does not return home family details will be recorded more comprehensively in their Family History Book.
Pages 8 and 9 need to be revisited from time to time to record changes, so remember to leave space. Include dates of changes.
The pages devoted to health matters are to record the sort of information not included in the NHS red book. It is not necessary to record every baby clinic visit although visits that proved significant should be, especially if there is a story attached to them.
Section 2 - Being looked after
Explanation as to why the child is being looked after should be honest and appropriate to the age of the child when they would read this book, possibly around four to five years of age. Do not use euphemisms such as 'your parents are ill' when in fact it was as a result of some form of addiction or abuse. If you need help with explanatory language for children then ask the child's social worker: indeed, they could complete this section for you.
If the agency responsible for the child has adopted the 'New Life Work Model', help with explanations for very young children can be obtained from The New Life Work Model Practice Guide (Nicholls, 2005).
'My Looked After Diary' on page 25 should record significant events such as review decisions, court outcomes, panel recommendations etc.
Pages 26-28 deal with nursery, playgroup and pre-school nursery. It may be that the child did not attend any of these whilst in your care and you should record this with an explanation.
Section 3 - How I grew
This section is to record anecdotal snapshots of the child's development, and if more space is needed there is a blank space on page 44.
The accompanying photograph album should be referenced to this section e.g. 'a photograph of you at 10 weeks old when you started to curl your hair around your index finger when you were tired'.
Section 4 - My firsts and big events
This section should be crammed with anecdotal explanation. It is not sufficient to just give the date when the child first smiled, although this is important, but the circumstances surrounding that smile. Where it happened, what led up to it, how the smile appeared and what you did. This should be applied to all firsts and funny little ways.
On page 58 note down events and happenings which did not necessarily impact on the child, such as a celebration in their birth family, or a time of sadness such as the death of a birth family member. Include happenings within your life too - moving house, changes in household membership, and the cat having kittens. In short, anything that happens in the time you are caring for the child.
Section 5 - My happy birthdays etc.
As the memory book relates to the child's temporary care there is only space to record details for two birthdays and two holidays. If the child experiences more within your care then they should be recorded under separate cover as detailed previously. Keep a newspaper of the day and date for their memory box.
Memory books are non-denominational, multi-cultural and multi-racial, and pages 66-68 deal with the child's special days of celebration according to their ethnicity and culture. Explanation of these two aspects of the child's identity should be recorded in consultation with their family and social worker.
Section 6 - Other memories of me
These are just a few pages to record your memories of the child that perhaps don't fit neatly into the other sections or are additional to them. You could add some information about yourself or your family or where you live. Examples could be - 'you were the first baby I had fostered and I…' or 'you were the tenth toddler I had fostered and you were the best!' or 'I will never forget the day…'
You are the keeper of the child's memories and recording as much anecdotal detail as possible will help the child in the future to develop their identity and make sense of their separation from their family of birth.
Have fun creating a memory book.
The child you are caring for will never forget you for it.
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