Kids and Lifebooks: Tips for Social Workers

Every child who is adopted from foster care deserves a clear, detailed record of his or her life prior to adoption. While a foster child is waiting for a forever family, a lifebook can help her to make sense of the past and prepare to go forward.

Once a child is placed with a permanent family, lifebooks are a connection to the past that can inform and improve the future. Done with care, lifebooks are an invaluable tool for helping children through difficult life transitions and enabling them to take ownership of their unique histories.

Simply stated, a lifebook is a book that presents a child’s life story. Like other books, lifebooks can contain pictures, artwork, text, and other meaningful memorabilia that convey information about a child’s personal history. What child doesn’t like being the star of his own story for an audience of his choosing?

It is very simple in principle…until you begin to factor in abuse and neglect, multiple placements, loss and grief, complicated legalities, and disruptions. How can you translate abuse, drugs, and rejection in terms and images appropriate for a five-year-old? You may have to learn some new skills, but a well-constructed lifebook can hold a tale of even the most profound loss and pain.

Key Components

When I was a new adoption worker, the experienced writers in my office created a lifebook template/checklist of sorts. All of our lifebooks included:

o information about the child’s birth

o a copy of the child’s birth certificate

o birth family information

o why the child entered foster care

o a history of different placements

o a worker’s blessing page

To bolster children’s self esteem, our template included a very upbeat birth page. One common line was, “When you were born, the doctors ooohed and aaahed…”

While I believed in all the lifebook components, I never liked this line. For me, it just did not ring true. So many of our children were tiny drug-addicted babies, fighting for their lives. Lifebooks are supposed to be about the truth.

Lifebook Truths.

Because lifebooks are historical documents, it is never okay to lie. Sometimes, though, you may not know much about a particular event–say, the moment the child was born. In such circumstances, you may need to say, “I’ll bet that….”

For example:

I’ll bet that your birth mother was happy to have given birth to such a beautiful baby girl, but she may have felt sad and confused too because of her problems with bad drugs.

Official documents such as birth certificates and hospital birth records are a great source of factual information, and kids love to see the important pieces of paper that validate their very existence. Foster kids sometimes need to be reminded that they, like everyone else, started life by getting born.

Another way to promote lifebook truth is to involve the child. After all, this is his or her story. Grab crayons and markers, and find a quiet space. Younger children may enjoy dictating while you write; pretend they are guests on a talk show and interview them. Other kids may want to write down their own words, and have you transform them into neat, printed pages.

Some truths are hard to explain and accept. But if an event is an important part of the child’s history, include what you can in a developmentally appropriate way. A teenager may be able to understand “sexual abuse” and a birth parent who was “addicted to cocaine and alcohol,” but a younger child may make better sense of phrases like “bad touching” and “couldn’t stay away from bad drugs.”

Omissions say to a child that things are so bad they can’t be shared. Then the child may fill in the blanks with much scarier imaginings and a sense of guilt or shame. Truth leads to healing, and troubling past events, over time, can fade into “just the way it is.”

Family History

Think about your family for a minute. Which relatives do you take after? Whose athleticism matches yours? Whose laugh echoes yours at the same jokes? Whose nose is (for better or worse) stuck on your face?

Much of our identity comes from being part of the generations that came before us. Children who live with their birth family can see the traits they share with relatives. They also hear and relive family stories at the dinner table, at family gatherings, and through shared memories.

Children who are adopted from foster care may have vivid memories of their birth family, but relatively few positive stories or happy shared moments. Once the birth family is out of their lives, they lose major connections.

Can you imagine going through life without meeting anyone who looks like you? Imagine what it feels like to go through a significant life event–having a baby or being screened for cancer–without knowing your family medical history?

Lifebooks can help answer questions that keep kids, teens, and adults up at night wondering. Adoption social workers often have access to detailed social histories, old medical records, and other social workers who once worked with the birth parents. If visits with birth parents are still going on, you have a golden opportunity to gather important facts and images.

In my view, any chance to get information or pictures should be considered a last chance. Additional family photos and details about the birth family will be a treasure to the child–and to those who parent the child for the rest of their lives.

And let’s not forget siblings; they have a special magic all their own. A simple page with siblings’ names, ages, pictures, and locations can work wonders.

Asking Why

One of the hardest and most critical parts of lifebooks answers the question: Why don’t I live with my birth family?

It is unwise to tell a child that their birth parent was sick (unless it is an honest part of the story). Don’t sick people usually get better? And if Mom gets better, shouldn’t the child go back home? What if Mom doesn’t get better–is she dead, or dying? Why give the child this worry?

I tell children that their birth father, birth mother (or other caretaker) had grown-up problems and wasn’t able to take care of him- or herself. In fact, the caretaker took such poor care of him/herself that he/she couldn’t possibly take care of a child–any child–at that time in his/her life.

By placing responsibility squarely with the adult, we can help children work through nonsensical thinking evidenced in rhymes like: “Step on a crack and break your mother’s back.” Many children with abuse histories believe they were bad or somehow responsible for being taken from their birth families. As social workers, we must make sure that kids don’t carry this burden of false guilt through life.

I often directly ask children, “Why do you think you aren’t living with your birth family?” In 10 minutes, I get more information from this question than most therapists do in 10 sessions. Depending on the circumstances, I will then discuss each child’s specific situation.

Placements

Pages on placements are often the most straightforward. Start with here and now; do a page on the child’s current school, favorite foods, good friends, sports, and favorite activities. Get any photos you can. Do the same for past placements in foster homes, group homes, or emergency shelters.

If the child is just about to enter an adoptive placement, a favorite page may be one commemorating when the adoptive parents and child first met. Interview the parents and child separately, and then share their quotes. Now you are accumulating text for the lifebook.

Seek out school report cards, awards, and positive quotes from teachers and foster parents. Awards and praise can help children feel good about who they are–a feeling that can give them the ego strength to deal with difficult transitions.

The Worker’s Blessing Page

As a social worker, you probably have worked with this child for months, if not years. Just before the child is placed for adoption, take time to write one page for the end of the lifebook. Talk about the child’s strengths and what you think is special about him or her. Include a funny story or thought.

It is important to give a child permission to move on and be happy. This is a powerful message for the years to come.

Getting It Done

A team approach to lifebooks may be most rewarding. If foster parents can capture a few moments of the child’s life–maybe grab a picture of the birth family and share a picture of the foster family too–then the lifebook has begun. Social workers and therapists can add to the record.

When the child is adopted, carefully transfer the book to the adoptive family. Coach adoptive parents to keep the lifebook somewhere special and secure. If the child wants the book in her room, make a copy of the original for her to keep. The child gets to decide when the lifebook comes out and parents should never share the book without the child’s permission.

It may be that the book will become a part of adoption anniversary celebrations, provide help with a school family tree assignment, open the door to conversations about adoption and identity as the child gets older, and help the child to deal with the painful loss of his birth family. Then too, it may be something that the child can only appreciate once he starts his own family. The lifebook should be available whenever the child is ready.

Soon after I began working on lifebooks for children, I heard back from families whose children had my first plain, typewritten efforts. To my delight, they reported that the lifebooks became more valuable over time. Lifebooks give foster and adopted children crucial, life-affirming information: basic factual data about themselves, as well as an understanding of where they came from and why they have a new family. It also gave them permission to remember and grieve their losses and better bond with their new families. What a gift!

Psychology of Daily Living: Five Essential "Street Smart" Tips for Success in Life

Five Street Smart Tips for Success in Life…

Did you ever notice that some people with absolutely no education wind up in the same profession as those who had engaged in extensive training? And… get this… some of those “college dropouts” went on to become millionaires, extending light-years beyond their educated colleagues!

You might think it’s some sort of accident… you might think it’s because, well just maybe, they’re way smarter than their colleagues.

But the truth may surprise you…

Actually, those successful people you’ve heard of – Steve Jobs, Bill Yates, Bob Proctor, Oprah Winfrey – they all dropped out of college; and, they all had one thing in common, knowledge of the “street smarts” of becoming successful in everyday life.

You might think that success people had the advantage of a proper family life, surrounded by love, acceptance and encouragement.

However, in many cases, the opposite is actually true.

For example, what would you think the chances of success are for a 10-year old black girl growing up in the slums? Living in a single parent home, this child was abused both physically and sexually until the age of 13, where she found herself pregnant by one of the men who raped her.

And, after losing the baby, she found herself in a correction facility for misconduct, where she had to spend many of her teenage years.

Would it surprise you that I’m talking about Oprah Winfrey? Yep, that’s right… Oprah didn’t have an easy beginning…

… And neither did Wayne Dyer, today’s “Father” of personal development psychology. Having been brought up in a home during the depression with a father who ran out on the family, Wayne was given up for adoption by his mother. She loved him, but just couldn’t afford to support a family during the depression.

But, like Oprah, Wayne had something that many of us strive to have – those ‘street smart’ tips of the psychology of daily living.

So by now you’re asking, “So tell me already! What are these ‘street smart’ tips for success in life?”

Well for starters, you need to know what you want. And, I don’t mean just having something in mind… I mean know like it’s part of your identity – something that you just can’t stop thinking about… something that’s FUN for you to do!

Let’s say, for example, you HATE your job. So how many hours a week to you REALLY WANT to work? As few as possible, right?

But, let’s flip the coin for a second… let’s say you’re doing something that you REALLY LOVE to do. How many hours a week would you be working then? For many, time seems to stop as they continually work for hours… or as the successful person thinks of it, “playing” for several hours past that 40 hour a week mark.

“Doing what your love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life”… Wayne Dyer

So that’s number 1 for successful life tips: Know what you want, and go after it.

And the number 2 “Street Smart” Tip: Practice the “7 Day Mental Diet”…

The idea here is to practice the next seven days to not thinking a single negative thought. Don’t worry, that’s actually impossible! But what you CAN do is this: try to catch yourself whenever you’re thinking something negative… when someone cuts you off in traffic, or the boss is sarcastic with you. Make yourself think (or even say out loud) “Stop” or “Cancel”. Tell yourself you didn’t really mean it and try to think something positive instead.

Why would this make a difference? Negative thoughts breed worry, and worry, believe it or not, is even below hate on the emotional scale of vibrations! By law of attraction, worrying about anything (or thinking negative thoughts about something) breeds more bad stuff!

So if you know of someone who continually complains about their life, be aware that it’s the complaining that brings on the bad life, and try to bring that conversation around to a positive bend as best you can.

“Tips for Success in Life” Number 3: Find something to appreciate in someone else…

Every day, and make it a habit to give compliments to strangers whenever you can.

This is more than just a nice thing to do. Did you ever notice how good YOU feel when you compliment someone and you see their face light up? By law of attraction, those GOOD feelings you have will summon good stuff your way!

And, furthermore, when you practice thinking good thoughts and having faith in others, they tend to subconsciously have faith in you – and this gives you more self-confidence and energy towards your true life goal. It gives you “inspired action”… which is the real secret to knowing what you want and going for it.

Number 4: Ask yourself a quality question.

This is what Tony Robbins preaches, and I’ve found it to be SO TRUE. We actually are all continually “talking” to ourselves in our minds… asking questions.

“Why does his always happen to me?” – That question, for example, is a recipe for disaster! Because the Universe will answer – “Because you’re a SCHMUCK!” You subconsciously will find the answer to questions you’re asking yourself.

So the answer to this is easy; just ask yourself a better question; i.e., “How can I use this situation to learn from and become better at what I do?”

“Quality questions create quality life. Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers”… Tony Robbins

And last but not least for your “street smart” tips for success in life, number 5: Use the ‘F’ Word (Faith)…

Faith in that what we’re doing is supporting a higher purpose, a purchase greater than us… that’s the common denominator for success.

Wayne Dyer believed in himself so vehemently that he actually purchased thousands of his books himself and stored them in his garage – all to make it look like he was popular! And where is he now? A millionaire, of course, recognized worldwide as the Father of Psychology!

But what Wayne and many other people do is always strive to do and be better. Commit to yourself that you will learn something today to make you a better person than you were yesterday. When you believe in yourself, others will also believe in you. And it all begins with faith.

Once you combine the power of belief with the first 4 essential street smart tips, you’ll be well on your way to a successful and meaningful way of life.

The Psychology of Consumerism

On the marketing and behavioral aspects of consumerism and the advantages and disadvantages of consumerism

Consumerism is in a way the more human aspect of business and companies and businesses consider consumers along with their employees as the essential ‘people elements’ of their endeavor. Yet consumerism can have its other meanings and represent a culture of buying, highlight the virtues and vices of a materialistic society and emphasize on the importance of globalized business environment. Companies have to keep their consumers happy and develop and sell new products based on consumer needs. The needs of the consumers and the needs of businesses however seem to be circular as companies create needs of consumers and consumers also project their needs to businesses suggesting an interdependent relationship. When I say, companies create consumer needs, we can consider the example of Apple iPhone. Apple successfully created a need in consumers to possess a product that would successfully integrate the phone and the iPod. Of course Apple must have also done the initial survey to find out what consumer needs or demands are and then finally expanded and focused on these consumer needs to come up with the new products, including the iPhone. A good company is the one that can provide realistic and well defined frameworks for initial vague consumer needs. The needs of the consumers are initially not well defined or clear as consumers tend to have some idea about what they want but are not too sure about what they actually want. So through surveys and discussions with consumers and in house technical or product development advisers, companies are able to develop on these initial consumer ideas and vague consumer needs and provide shape to their future product plans.

Yet we could first try to define consumerism and understand why consumerism is such an important aspect of business and marketing. The term consumerism seems to have both positive and negative connotations as consumerism could mean a culture of possessions and glorification of materialism. Consumerism could however also mean progressively more consumption of goods and products that could benefit the economy and the markets with a heightened buying culture among people although consumerism could also mean the entire gamut of marketing and business activities that finally lead to the buying of products by consumers.

Consumerism thus has a broad definition and can include a range of buying and business behaviors, so finally consumerism is a ‘kind of behavior’ and that is how it is important to psychology and psychologists. Consumerism is about individuals or groups and how they select or buy secure and use or dispose products and services so that they can satisfy their needs of consumption and the practice of consumerism would also have a significant effect on society. The study of consumer behavior in a systematic and even a scientific manner would be the basis of the psychology of consumers and consumerism. The psychology of consumerism could be considered from two different aspects – one from a marketing or the business viewpoint in which consumerism is seen as essential since it helps maintain companies and businesses so the psychology would be based on how to attract consumers whereas the other viewpoint is the behavioral aspect of consumerism or why consumers buy or consume products and services, and what are the reasons of a buying culture and how this could be justified with normal or abnormal behavioral analysis.

The latter part of this discussion can help us answer several issues about consumerism.

Consumer Psychology from a Marketing Aspect –

Consumers buy according to their personal needs and what they feel is necessary and also according to social needs as they follow trends and thus become interested in certain products and services. Certain products appear more important, essential or attractive to consumers and these products tend to have certain value which makes it easier for companies to sell these products. Businesses and companies are capable of attracting more consumers by using the psychological principles of marketing and consumer behaviour and the key is to create want or the requirement for a product. Businesses and companies understand initial consumer needs through surveys and then they develop new products to attract consumers. Once products are developed, brand image and advertisements help in providing an association between products and companies and when consumers develop an element of familiarity with this association between brand name and product features, they tend to even want the product. In keeping with the demands of competition and consumerism, companies tend to give promotional offers, discounts, sales and low priced products with the aim of attracting more consumers. Considering the marketing perspective, consumerism is advantageous as more consumers and increased buying behavior would mean more sales of products although the disadvantages of increased consumer spending would be minimal except that increased consumerism would also signal increased competition from other manufacturers.

Thus the most essential features of consumer psychology from a marketing point of view are – creating the need for consumerism or for a specific product by advertising specific and unusual features of the product, developing the association between brands and products and offering attractive options such as discounts and sales to attract not just more consumers but also more sales.

Consumer Psychology from a Behavioral Aspect –

From a behavioral perspective, it would be interesting to engage in an analysis of buying behavior and we can try to understand why consumers buy in the first place. There could be several reasons for buying that arise from social and personal needs, from emotional and financial needs and some of these needs are healthy and positive and in fact essential in our daily life. However, buying behavior as in ‘shopaholics’ would be unpredictable, random, and even unhealthy, from a psychological point of view as excessive buying or consumerism cold indicate bipolar illness or a kind of addiction. However consumerism and specific focus on luxury brands could highlight the almost unhealthy addiction to fashion trends and status symbols in modern times and globalization seems to be encouraging this. Companies and businesses create choices in consumers so consumers already have a ‘need’ when they engage in buying behavior. Although this need could be personal and social, the need could also perfectly an emotional need to possess.

From a psychological viewpoint consumerism is about fulfilling our inherent need to control and possess certain objects which could well replace or substitute other possessions. For example, a woman undergoing divorce proceedings may suddenly develop the irresistible need to buy things continually because the need for possessiveness towards a partner has been diverted to other directions.

From a more clinical point of view consumerism could be explained with abnormal psychology and the role of depression, the need to satisfy excessive possessiveness and also the blind faith or dependence on fashion trends and all these are seen as negative aspects of consumer psychology. If consumerism is considered as a positive phenomenon, the advantages of consumerism would be the application of psychological principles in understanding buying behavior.

Consumerism and the study of consumerism helps us to understand and recognize not just consumer needs and how these needs are created or fulfilled but also the behavior and attitudes of consumers towards products and the business directions or endeavors to understand marketing from a behavioral perspective. The psychology of consumerism is thus about creating needs and associations so consumers develop certain familiarity with the product ideas even before buying them.

Consumerism could be both positive and negative and represent not just a global and globalized culture but also highlight the superficial trends and deeper necessities of individuals across societies and communities.

Four Tips for Multi-Team Early Childhood Assessments

School Psychology professionals and clinicians are often asked to complete multi-team assessments for early childhood and pre-kindergarten children. Here are four tips that may help professionals involved in multi-team early childhood assessments.

Tip One: A multi-team assessment can take many forms. Some school districts have the child go around to different clinician's offices and they are tested or interviewed individually by the school psychologist, speech therapist, school nurse, special education teacher, general education teacher and other professionals if needed (such as the occupational therapist, physical therapist or vision and hearing specialist.). The clinicians then consult with each other after the family leaves the assessment offices. Other school districts may use a more play-based assessment system where the child is playing with other children and all the clinicians are watching the child at the same time. The clinicians can quickly share information and make determinations as to whether the child continues in the assessment and needs no further assessment, a screener or a full assessment.

Tip Two: Seek outside assistance if needed. Some clinicians just need more information than they get from a one time assessment. It may be necessary to obtain consent from the parent to contact outside agencies or organizations. This may include obtaining additional medical information, contacting preschools or day care programs the child is attending and social service or foster care agencies to get a better picture of the child. It may be necessary for the school psychologists and clinicians to make additional observations of the child as he or she interacts with the same age peers in preschool. This outside assistance can help get a broader picture of how the child appears in different settings and situations.

Tip Three: Seek Parent or Guardian Input in the Multi-Team Assessment. Parents or guardians often know their young children best so it makes practical sense to collect as much information as possible from parents and caregivers. It is important to note that guardians can also have different perspectives about the child. The clinician or school psychologist can find similar factors that a parent or guardian reports, but the clinician can also note differences in reporting the results. Parents or guardians may not view the child in the same way so clinicians may have to share some unique or overlooked characteristics the child is presenting with in the assessment process.

Tip Four: Write Recommendations to Reflect Possible Changes in the Child. The clinicians and school psychologist may want to consider broad recommendations to understand the child may be making changes. Sometimes recommendations may include areas of the assessment where the child was inconsistent with task completion. It could be the child needs more practice to fully master a task or needs directions repeated to fully understand how to do an activity. There may also be inconsistencies in characteristics the child presents like limited eye contact that may need to be monitored or observed more as the child attends pre-school or participates in play activities.

The Top 10 Reasons To Become A School Psychologist

It doesn’t seem like that long ago I graduated from my School Psychology graduate program but it has actually been going on 16 years now. Time flies and much has changed in the field of School Psychology. However, it seems like my reasons for becoming a School Psychologist have relatively remained intact. Here they are:

1) The pay isn’t that bad. Even though we are required to complete 3 years of graduate school which includes a one year internship that is commonly unpaid, School Psychologists get compensated relatively well. The average salary seems to be in the $60-80K range after about 5 – 10 years of experience.

2) The vacation time isn’t bad either. School Psychologists are commonly on a 210 day contract or around there and don’t work through the summer unless they want to pick-up some extra money. This allows time to spend with family or to go on long vacations in the summer.

3) School Psychologists are relatively well respected in the school setting. Despite the fact that most individuals think we are guidance counselors and very few school officials even know exactly what we do, School Psychologists seem to be held in high regard and are commonly looked for when it comes to finding solutions to a wide range of issues.

4) School Psychologists have a great deal of autonomy in the work place. Quite often you will be assigned more than one school. This can be stressful in terms of work load but it can also be a blessing in disguise since you will be able to move from school to school depending on each school’s needs. You usually aren’t stuck in an office being watched by your boss. If you are, you probably need to re-consider where you are working.

5) Number 4 brings up another good point. The job outlook for School Psychologists is pretty good. I don’t have the statistics but it seems that there are plenty of jobs available to those that are willing to move about the country. With the economy taking a turn for the worse lately I have definitely seen a decrease but even in tough economic times it seems that there are opportunities still out there for school psychologists. I have found Schoolspring.com a great place to go to get a feel for actually how many schools are looking for new School Psychologists.

6) You feel like you are helping those that need help. Sure, weeks and months pass by where you slog through the paperwork and complete the evaluations. However, every so often you are confronted with a situation in which you are able to provide some real assistance to someone in need of it. That always feels good. I actually recommend finding a position in those areas that are the most economically depressed and full of problems. After all, this is where we are needed the most and is also where our efforts are appreciated the most by parents, children and administrators. I work on the Mexican border and wouldn’t change that for anything. Despite the news reports, the people and the community here are very grateful and value their children’s education quite a lot. I very rarely get the over aggressive soccer mom yelling at me because her child isn’t in the gifted program.

7) Opportunity to branch out into other fields. With a Masters in Psychology one can teach at the community college level, work weekends for the local counseling agency, perform outside evaluations for other local area school districts, and/or branch out into educational consulting. Not too many fields where you are qualified to do so many different things.

8) If you don’t want to supplement your income in the various methods in #7 the field of School Psychology offers a great many areas you can choose from to be an “expert” in and apply in your everyday professional life while being a School Psychologist. There are post graduate certificate programs in School Neuropsychology as well as behavior specialist and/or life coaching, all of which can be applied with your students in the school setting.

9) We are called “Psychologists” but do not have a license. This was actually up for review by the APA but thankfully we can still call ourselves School “Psychologists”. Funny thing how many Clinical “Psychologists” attempted to become School “Psychologists” due to the poor job prospects for clinical psych degrees but that is another story and issue.

10) Helping is something you are driven to do. If you like helping kids who are basically just in need of a bit of support to get them through to a successful life then the field of School Psychology might be fore you. I wish I were able to read the ups and downs of being a school psychologist back in the early 90’s before I ventured out into this profession. However, this article is there for those who want to consider this profession. No profession is perfect and jobs vary a great deal depending on locations, bosses, school boards and so on. In my experience it seems that School Psychology positions are more similar than they are different and the job is what you make of it. You have the freedom to start programs or specialize in your area of choice. Not too many professions out there where you can do that.