What do I write in a communication journal?
Updated: Feb 28, 2020
One way I encourage foster parents to build connection with parents is to send a communication journal with the child to visits. This is particularly important if the foster parents are not transporting the child to the visits. I’m often asked by foster parents what they should write in the journal. Here are a few of my recommendations:
· Send pictures! Print off several pictures of the child. Ask the parents about their preferences for pictures in the future. Do they only want pictures of their child? Do they want pictures that include your family (if it makes you uncomfortable to share your family’s faces, get creative. Maybe a picture taken from the back or a picture where kids are hugging would feel more comfortable).
· If it feels genuine, let the parent know that your family is here to care for the child while the parent focuses on doing what he/she needs to do so the child can go home. Reassure the parent that you want to see them succeed and reunify with the child.
· I can only imagine how scary it must feel to a parent to have absolutely no idea who is caring for his/her child, or where the child is living. Use the visit journal to paint a picture of where the child is living, and who is caring for the child. Not comfortable sharing personal information? That’s ok! But think of things you can share that may be reassuring to a parent. Maybe you can share that you live in a neighborhood full of children and love to go to the park. Or maybe your family loves to be outdoors, and you guys love to hike. Think about what you might want to know about the people caring for your child if the roles were reversed.
· Ask the parent questions about his/her child. Some examples might be allergies, medications, routines, favorite foods, and family traditions.
· Ask the parent for input on caring for the child. Did you just get a clothing voucher? Consider asking the parent about preferred clothing styles/colors/etc.
· Are you open to the parent contacting you? If so, this is a great place to share that info. Maybe it’s a Google voice number. Maybe it’s an email address? Maybe it’s a TinyBeans account (I’ll introduce you to this awesome app in my next post).
Here is an example of what I might write in a communication journal:
Dear Alice’s mom,
Hi, my name is Katie. My husband Jonathan and I are currently caring for your beautiful daughter Alice. Alice is such a fun, sweet child with an adorable personality! We have 3 other children, and live in a neighborhood full of kids and parks. Our family spends a lot of time playing outside and going on adventures.
If you have any suggestions of routines or like/dislikes that would help ease this transition for Alice, please let us know. We appreciate your help in making this difficult transition as easy as possible for her.
Please know that we honor and respect you as Alice’s mom, and want to see you and Alice together again. We have enclosed several pictures of Alice for you. Take care of yourself.
Katie and Jonathan
One last note – do not get attached to a specific journal. Journals go missing during visits all the time. I often hear from frustrated foster parents that journals never come back. It’s ok. Just keep sending new ones. Get some cheap notebooks from the Dollar Store and send a new one every visit if need be. Try to remember you are building a bridge, one step (or one journal) at a time. If you want to document something that does come back in a journal, like a super sweet note from a parent, snap a picture. These are awesome to put in a life book for kids in foster care.
It's daunting to write that first entry to someone you don't know at all, but in my experience, visit journals have been a great first step in building connection.