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Session 7/13

Page 3/4: Helping children understand their many backgrounds: Suggestions for activities

Helping children understand their many backgrounds: Suggestions for activities


A professional way of showing respect for the child’s parents can be to talk to the child like this:

“I’m quite sure your parents have always WANTED to take good care of you. But sadly not all parents are ABLE to give their child the love they want to give, however much they wish to do so. Even though they love you, you know your parents have many problems in their own life (you may give some examples the child can recognize, such as “Your mother learned to drink when she was only a child herself, and now she simply can’t stop drinking no matter how hard she tries”).

This is why they did something very responsible. They decided to do a very difficult thing:
To ask us to take good care of you! Perhaps they did not ask directly, but by showing their problems they were really asking for help to save you – only this was too hard for them to say directly.

So your parents try to do their best for you. Even when they are angry or jealous with us and want to have you back, we know this means that they love you, and it is difficult for them to let others give you care. Deep down they know this is too difficult for them, but they show you that they wish to give you care. We are not angry with them when they do this – we try to help them accept that they took the right decision asking us to care for you.”



To help the child understand its situation, this explanation offers an attitude free of conflicts between staff members and biological parents:

“You know, you are lucky – you have parents who wish to give you a good life, and you have caregivers in our place who also wish to give you a good life. Your parents did a wonderful thing: they gave birth to you, and you were in the stomach of your mother for nine months. When your parents were exhausted you came in our care. So in a way you have both your parents and us as caregivers. What one of us cannot do, the others can do. If we sometimes disagree, it is only because we all want to care for you the best we can.”


For this activity you need scissors, tape, some large sheets of paper and pencils or crayons in different colours. You can use other materials if this suits the child better, such as creating figures in clay or in plaster of Paris, LEGO cubes or other materials.

The activity can be performed with children from age five to fifteen.
This activity can take days or weeks and it can be repeated when the child is older and understands more about its situation.

  • First you ask the child (or help it) to draw “All the people who have ever cared for you” in different groups on the sheet. Each group should have its own colour.

There may be grandparents, parents, siblings, caregivers in former placements, the midwife and doctor who helped at birth, the present placement and the children living there, a dog or pet, which the child is attached to, a neighbour, other children in the child’s group, school mates, etc. etc.
Help the child create the number of groups it is able to overlook and take your time for it.

For each group, choose some of the following questions and ask them to the child. Ask the child to find one word as an answer. Whatever the child answers, write a word or a symbol under the group in question.

  • “What is the best memory you have about this (or these) persons?” (write the word/symbol)
  • “What is the best thing about this person” (beautiful hair/ voice, love, kindness, strong, etc. etc.)
  • “What is the best thing this person ever did with you” (give birth to you, remember your birthday, etc.)
  • “What can make you laugh about this person –what is the funniest thing about him/ her?” (for example: the way he walks, crazy things he/she says, strange little habits, etc.)
  • “What is the best thing you have received from this person” (courage, strength, endurance, good health, red hair, etc.)


Next, you take a new paper sheet and ask the child to draw (or help it draw) a very large silhouette of itself which is so large that it will fill out the entire sheet. Ask the child to put its name or a symbol over the silhouette of itself and say:

“Now we are going to find out who you are! We are what others have been giving us along the way. We are like pick-up trucks that pick up all the good things people give to us. Finding out who you are is to find out what others have given to you, and it seems they gave you a whole lot of wonderful gifts! You have met many people in your life, so it’s quite a puzzle we are going to make now!”

Now take the first sheet with groups and qualities and ask the child to cut out each group including the words/symbols for each group, and tape each “piece of the puzzle” on the silhouette of itself. The child should place the groups or persons on the silhouette of their body where they belong. For example if someone loved it, the piece should be placed near the child’s heart. If someone was a good listener, place that piece at the ears, etc.

The child or you can modify the cuttings when placing them so that they fit into each other like pieces in a puzzle. You can comment on this, for example: “Where do you think we, the caregivers, should be and where do you think your family should be? Perhaps if we cut a little to adjust the piece of your favourite caregivers, they can fit better with your own parents?” In this way you can help the child make the idea of parents and key caregivers “fit into each other”.

After this process of fitting the pieces together, you can direct the attention of the child to “Who am I then?”:

“Now you can see all the things that fit together in who you are! You are Jack, and you are funny, strong, you have red hair, you know how to give a goodnight hug (or whatever the symbols and words in the silhouette say). You are all the good things that people gave to you, and they are all part of you now! What a wonderful child you are.”

Then, you can hang up the drawing in the child’s room or in the living room where you can see it every day and continue having a dialogue with the child about it. You may find out that adjustments are needed which you can discuss and perform.

When you have done this individually with children, you can make the same activity in a group of children. This will help them understand each other’s situation and share, compare and understand the common challenges of children placed outside home.


For older children (approximately from age 10 and up) and youth, this video can be an activity where you see it together. You can then have dialogues about what Suzanne says in this movie – and how she has formed an independent identity based on her experiences with different caregivers in her life.
In this process you can discuss with the young person how he or she reflects on the topics presented by Suzanne: the different caregivers she had, the separations, how similar experiences affected your child in care, how this child tries to cope with this and form an independent opinion about itself and others.

The Struggle/De Worsteling
Suzanne over haar adoptie
© Universiteit Utrecht, Afdeling Adoptie, David Blitz productions

We have been given permission to show this video on this website.

For more information about the film visit:


After seeing the video together and discussing it, you can encourage the children or young persons to use a mobile phone, tape recorder or a camera to make a similar video about themselves and people they have been attached to – and about what it feels like to have different sources of origin. This includes the process of coming to terms with having both parents and you as caregivers. If the children are not familiar with using video, they can write a story about this topic. You can also encourage the children to show this video to friends, family or in school. Encourage the children’s pride in being so experienced at such a young age.

You can make this as an individual activity, but it is much more powerful if you create situations regularly where the children work in groups to make projects about being placed in care, and the problems attached to their situation. You can also help them write a theatre play about the issues of their situation. You can then invite peer guests from outside to see it and discuss what it is like to be in residential care.


The purpose of all these activities is the same: to demonstrate to the children that you accept their sources of origin, that you are open to dialogue about these sources with them and about the problems connected with having many sources of identity. By doing that you support the children or young persons in creating a positive idea of themselves. This process should be constantly going through the years in care.