Social Stories when Kids Move Homes in Foster Care

Social stories are often used for children and youth who are on the autism spectrum, to work on social skills, understand social situations (developed by Carol Gray in 1990). As a foster family and worker, I have found that beyond being a great tool for people with autism, social stories are also helpful for children in foster care, in the days and weeks coming up to moving day, when a child is moving to a new house, either for adoption, new foster home, or reunification.

Similar to a Lifebook, a social story (or scripted story) is often used during a time of transition and is for a specific event (like a move) not to encompass a lifetime of information (like a Lifebook). However, both put adult information into a child’s world using age-appropriate language and pictures.

Here is an example of a social story to help children who are entering foster care.

Social stories are beneficial because they assist young children in memory development and self-regulation. For memory performance, story scripts offer general information of what will happen and when it will happen (Berk 2003).

Jennifer Briody and Kathleen McGarry

For foster youth, a social story is a powerful tool to help special needs and non-special needs children understand typical reactions to UNUSUAL situations – like moving from one home and one set of parents to another. Changing homes multiple times in early childhood is not typical in the general population, but for those involved in foster care, it is far too common.

Before a move, we as foster parents, social workers and all involved in social services, have a responsibility to guard the mental health of the children we care for as we are able to, by pushing for a thorough transition plan and good preparation of the children themselves. A detailed social story is one piece of this.

The social stories (three foster care specific examples below) written by my friend have been the most helpful tools for helping my youngest foster care placements understand the mixed up emotions involved in moving homes. 

Toddlers and young children think in stories, aren’t able to sit down and have a deep conversation, so we have to be creative.  A social story incorporates all the pieces they like best, fun photos of people they love, a story that is about them, and cuddles on a lap.

Key points when writing a Social Story for Kids in Foster Care:

  • Use words at the child’s level – a book for a 2-year-old should sound very different than one written for a 10-year-old
  • Tell the child’s story from their perspective (where are they starting, where are they moving and why. State how they MIGHT be feeling and be sure to share some positive AND negative emotions. We might assume Johnny is happy to be moving into an adoptive home, but he is most likely also feeling scared, nervous, sad that he’s not returning to birth family).
  • Use descriptive sentences.
  • Give them feeling words (and let them know it’s okay to be happy AND sad, scared AND excited, especially around feelings about moving)
  • Personalize it!  Use your kid’s names, their foster, birth and adoptive parent’s names, photos of everyone you can.
  • Use a story structure – a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Remember the child is the star of the story, don’t embellish anyone else’s feelings (it may be very true that you will miss them terribly and their parents will smother them with love, but this story is kiddo focused – and they might have all kinds of different feelings.
  • Good tips for writing social stories

Resources


Foster Care Specific Examples of Social Stories

A genius friend of mine wrote a social story for my two-year-old, complete with photos and a simple story, to help with the transition. When written, Pumpkin was two-years-old and had been with me in foster care for one year.  She and her teenage sister (Star) were moving with her other siblings.

The story was written to and for Pumpkin, but as we read it, in accomplished two things, it helped make it less scary for her and pushed me to process before the move as well.  I gathered pictures from our time together, her siblings, and photos of the inside and outside of her new home. 

In the weeks before she moved, we read this little book at least 50 times.  Each time, she’d get quiet, snuggle in and listen. Sometimes pointing things out and asking little two-year-old questions, but often just listening, quietly, which was very unlike her.   I wish I knew what her little brain was thinking…  Ooh, foster care is hard.

PUMPKIN’S VERY SPECIAL FAMILY

Pumpkin is very special and she has a very special family.

When Pumpkin was a baby, she moved from her first Mom’s house and came to live with her second Mama, Alisa. She did not come by herself. Her big sister, Star, came, too.

Pumpkin’s second Mama, Alisa, took care of Pumpkin and Star. She taught Pumpkin lots of things like baths are fun! She taught Pumpkin that the vacuum makes a loud noise, but it won’t hurt us.

Pumpkin got to do lots of fun things at Alisa’s house. She got to play with toys and go swimming and go to the museum, too!

One day, Alisa started telling Pumpkin about the day when she will move to a new home. Pumpkin does not understand.

Alisa tells Pumpkin that moving means living in another house. One where Jose and Marlene will be there to love and do fun things with Pumpkin.

Pumpkin and Star will move, but Alisa has to stay at her own house. Alisa will visit Pumpkin at the new house. Maybe, she will even send special mail in the mailbox just for Pumpkin!

Alisa loves Pumpkin very much. When they are not together, Pumpkin misses Alisa a whole bunch and Alisa misses Pumpkin, too.

When she moves, Pumpkin has lots of big feelings inside. When Pumpkin misses Alisa, she can say, “I miss Alisa.” When she feels sad, she can cry. When she feels mad, she can stomp her foot. When she feels happy, she can laugh.

Sometimes, Pumpkin can dream happy dreams about Alisa and the fun times they had.

Alisa will always love Pumpkin and Star, no matter what. They will always be a very special family.


Buddy and Bug’s Social Stories

The same amazing friend wrote another version, this time for my seven-year-old and four-year-old who are transitioning back in with their parents (yeah for reunification!!!).  Here is their social story, along with a few modifications for confidentiality.

Buddy’s story was written for a 7-year-old who loved superheroes, helping people, and was so excited to move back in with his parents. When I read the story to him, he asked, “Why is everything so super in this book? ‘Cause I like it.” Then he asked, “Can I really stomp my foot if I’m mad? Because sometimes I’ll miss you.” Spot on in helping him verbalize some of the mixed-up emotions present in reunification and adoption situations.

Bug’s story was written for a 4-year-old girly girl a pink-loving princess. She was also reunifying with her parents. She also loved her story, as well as the pictures of the pretty princess (clip art) I put on the front. She also really, really enjoyed the photos of her, Buddy, her parents, and me throughout the book.

SUPER BUDDY

Once upon a time, there was a superhero named Super Buddy. Super Buddy does not have a cape, but he has something even better. He has strength and gentleness inside him that make him so special to those who love him!

Super Buddy has superpowers. He is a great big brother, helpful and kind. Lots of people love Super Buddy!

One day, Super Buddy and his little sister, Princess Bug move to a new place. A place they have never been before. They meet someone who loves them and takes care of them. Her name is Alisa.

Super Buddy goes to school, takes swimming lessons, and gets even better at using his superpowers of caring, helpfulness, and kindness.

Time goes by, and Super Buddy and Princess Bug spend time with Alisa and time with their parents, who loves them very much.

One day, the word comes from the galaxy that Super Buddy and Princess Bug are going to live with their parents again! Super Buddy has lots of feelings inside about moving.

When Super Buddy moves with Princess Bug, he is excited to live with his parents again, but he misses Alisa, too. When he misses Alisa, Super Buddy can send a letter in his magic mailbox. He can talk to people. He can stomp his foot if he is mad and he can cry if he is sad. When he is happy, he can remember that it is okay to smile and laugh.

Super Buddy can remember his superpowers of strength and gentleness. His strength inside helps him deal with hard things. Super Buddy’s gentleness helps him treat others with care, helpfulness, and kindness. These are the things that make Super Buddy so super.

Super Buddy can trust that Alisa is sending her love to him, even when they are apart. Super Buddy can know in his super heart that so many people love him. And he can believe that this love is more powerful than any superpower.

PRINCESS BUG

Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, there was the greatest princess in all the land. Her name is Princess Bug.

One day, Princess Bug and her big brother, Super Buddy, move to a new house with someone who will love and care for them. Her name is Alisa.

Princess Bug learns lots of things at Alisa’s house. She gets a special tutu and wings and a magic wand at Christmas time!

Princess Bug is so great. Now that she is four, she can do lots of great things. Her favorite thing to do is love others. She can also zip bags, write her name, snap her fingers, pour her juice, put on her seatbelt, put on her clothes, walk her baby to the park, brush her teeth and stay in bed!

Time goes by, and Princess Bug and Super Buddy spend time with Alisa and time with their Parents, who loves them very much.

One day, the word comes from the kingdom that Princess Bug and Super Buddy are going to live with their parents again! Princess Bug has lots of feelings inside about moving.

When Princess Bug moves with Super Buddy, she is excited to live with her parents again, but she misses Alisa, too. When she misses Alisa, Princess Bug can say, “I miss Alisa.” When she feels sad, she can cry. When she feels mad, she can stomp her foot. When she feels happy, she can laugh.

Sometimes, Princess Bug can dream happy dreams about Alisa and the fun times they had.

Princess Bug can know in her heart that Alisa will always love her, no matter what. And she can know that she is so special for all the great things she is inside: strong, smart, sweet, and funny. Princess Bug is the greatest princess ever.


IF you appreciated this article, please share with your networks!

Before moving day, create a social story for your young foster children, to help them understand the move (to adoption, new foster home or reunification). Lots of tips and examples!

Published by Alisa Matheson, Attempting Agape

I’m Alisa Matheson. Previously a foster parent, an educator, recruiter for teens aging out of the foster care system. I became a full-time contractor and photographer in 2019. I love coffee, deep conversations, snuggles with my kid and justice on the street. I welcome you to share in my journey.

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