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Information to include when writing child photolisting narratives

We believe that information about children must be shared on a continuum, with positive, descriptive information in the public profile available to all and information about challenges and support needs provided to home-studied families only through private narratives and conversations.

Because public narratives can be viewed by anyone who visits the photolisting website or picks up a printed flyer—including birth family members, tech savvy peers, and the children themselves—it is especially important to keep these principles in mind when writing a public narrative:

  • The first obligation is to protect the child or youth.
  • The goal of a public profile of a child is to encourage prospective parents.
  • The narrative should be positive, descriptive, and strengths-based.

Also see our list of information that you should never include, and use our public narrative-writing checklist (55 KB PDF) to help you write compelling narratives.

Preferred first name

If a child always goes by Bobby, use that rather than Robert. If it will help workers effectively respond when someone makes an inquiry, you might use Robert the first time and then switch to the nickname.

Gender they identify as

In a public narrative use the youth’s preferred first name, gender, and pronouns, and a photo that is approved by the youth and reflects their gender identity. However, be careful that the narrative does not accidentally out a transgender youth by ensuring that their gender, first name, and pronouns included are all up to date and consistent throughout the profile.

Positive personality traits

Use adjectives that paint a picture of who they are and, whenever possible, give examples:  A thoughtful teen, Juana takes the time to listen to the other children in her foster family when they are having a hard time. She really gives great advice, and the other kids have learned they can trust her to care about them.


Highlight anything the child does well. It’s important to make a concerted effort to identify strengths of many kinds:

Destini loves to help her teachers at school. She often volunteers to pass out papers, clean erasers, and organize books. Her homeroom teacher can’t say enough about how nice it is to have Destini in class.

Hobbies, interests, and favorite pastimes

Include details and examples that give the profile life and increase the odds of a prospective parent making a connection because of a shared interest:

Theo enjoys arts and crafts and is particularly proud of the piñata he made for his sister Laila’s birthday. It was shaped like a guitar because they both love country music (Theo’s favorite artist is Keith Urban; Laila prefers Meghan Trainor). On weekends, you can find Theo playing football at the local rec center or watching the Seahawks on TV.

What they like about school and school successes

List the favorite subject or activity at school. If they are doing well, note that. You can talk about child’s work ethic, interests, or enthusiasm even if they aren’t getting the best possible grades. Discussions about a child’s favorite subject can be a nice segue into what they might want to be when they are older:

A stellar athlete, Precious enjoys her physical education class most of all. She’d love to be a soccer coach one day so she can share her love of sports with other kids.

Things that are important to them

It could be a recent accomplishment, a new skill, or a description of a toy that makes them particularly happy. This information can be especially important for young people who are nonverbal or seriously intellectually disabled:

Sophie loves SpongeBob Square Pants more than almost anything else. A smile lights up her face when her foster mother places her stuffed SpongeBob in the crib. She’s also got quite a gift for technology. She loves to scroll through pictures and videos on her foster mother’s smartphone and to point at those she likes the best.

What makes them laugh? What makes them proud?

Example: Jamal is a great writer and is proud that one of his poems was published in the school paper not long ago. He wrote beautifully about his pride in being African American and the challenges young black men face in the country today, and the whole school cheered when he read it aloud at a special assembly.

Ways they are connected to the community

Examples of community involvement include participating in a religious or spiritual organization, volunteering with a local program and participating in scouting. This is also an opportunity to mention career aspirations that relate to community activity or clubs, such a youth in the ROTC program being interested in joining the military:

At school, Vicky tutors younger children who are just learning to read. Her positive attitude really keeps the first graders interested and engaged. Vicky is pretty sure she’d like to volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters when she’s old enough.

Information about cultural connections or languages they speak or use

Example: Aron grew up speaking Spanish and is now fluent in English too. He is committed to staying bilingual and comfortably switches back and forth between the two languages when he needs to.

Dreams for the future

When possible, integrate the future aspirations into information about the present: Fashion is his passion, and Paul makes or modifies his own clothes to suit his great sense of style. His favorites this season are skinny jeans with a colorful vest. Some day, he’d like to be on Project Runway and hear Tim Gunn tell him to “Make it work!” His success with design and fashion has really given Paul the confidence to pursue his dreams.

Quotes from the child

Some of the best narratives include quotes about what is important to them, how they describe themselves, or why they want a family. Some narratives are written completely by the young person themselves:

I’m a great kid with so much to offer,” Quinton told his recruiter not long ago. “I love to play games, go to the park, and teach dogs new tricks. I recently taught Cassie—my foster family’s yellow lab mix—to roll over, beg, and pretend to sleep.

Positive quotes or input from others in their life

A quote from a foster parent or caseworker can help make a narrative more compelling and highlights that this child has made connections with others:

Sarah’s foster father says she’s a great helper when he’s working on the family car: “She loves to see what I’m doing and hands me the tools I need to get the job done.”

Interesting photos or videos

Whenever possible, include a recent, compelling image that shows the child or sibling group in the best possible light. Videos can do even more to show who a child or teen really is and to engage prospective parents. See our photo guidelines for examples.

Important family connections

Be sure to note if the child needs a family who will support connections with brothers or sisters, birth parents or grandparents, foster parents, and others who have become important to the child:

Each week, Chris loves talking on the phone with his older brothers who were adopted a few years ago. The brothers are very close, and Chris will need a family who supports their ongoing connection.

How siblings relate to each other

Example: Thomas is so proud of his little sisters. When Kate and Liz learned to read, he announced it to anyone who would listen. They go to the library every month for reading group, and Thomas loves to brag about how smart his sisters are.

Birth year

Because the profile may be posted for some time, listing a birth year (but not the full date) is usually better than including a child’s age.

How a family might be a part of their life

The key is to include information that is important to the child but does not limit the pool of prospective families:

Bettina wants a family that will encourage her love of music. She says it’s okay if they can’t sing or play guitar, but she hopes they come to her concerts and cheer loudly.

Appeals to families

A heartfelt ask for a family can touch the reader and encourage them to act. When possible, include quotes from the child themselves:

“I’m ready to unpack for the last time and move into my forever family home,” Karla explains. “I’d like a family who will make me feel at home and who will go on adventures with me. Will you consider being that family for me?”

How to learn more

Unless your photolisting has an automatic inquiry system, don’t forget to include contact information.

Read more about writing children’s narratives in our guide, Creating Effective Narratives for Children Waiting to Be Adopted.