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What to include in a private photolisting narrative

While the public narrative is a place for positive and strengths-based information about a child, a private narrative is designed to share additional information, often about challenges, with home-studied families who express interest and are deciding whether to make a more formal inquiry.

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

Purpose of a private narrative

The private narrative provides information about a child’s medical, educational, behavioral, and other issues. Providing this additional information helps to ensure that families don’t submit a home study for children whose needs they cannot meet, hopefully saving staff time and resources.

The private narrative is still not the right place for full disclosure, which would come later in the process with a family who is interested in moving forward.

Like public narratives, private narratives should protect the child’s privacy and dignity, be written clearly and accessibly, and help parents understand the children’s needs without being off-putting.

On the AdoptUSKids photolisting, registered families can view a private narrative. But you don’t need a registration process or complicated process to share a private narrative. It can be a print or emailed document you share with home-studied families who have expressed interested and agreed to protect a child’s confidential information.

What to include in a private narrative

The following items can be included in a child’s private narrative. Whenever possible, include information about progress that the child has made in these areas. See two sample narratives at the end for examples.

Functioning or disability level

We recommend including how a child’s functions in the categories below, with levels such as none, mild, moderate, and severe. Be sure to offer prospective parents a place where they can find general information about what the different levels might mean. If you are not a registered user of our website, contact us to see examples of our guidelines.

  • Physical disabilities
  • Emotional disabilities
  • Behaviors
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Cognitive challenges or learning disabilities

General, factual statements of diagnoses made by a qualified medical professional

The private narrative can include some information about ongoing treatment, but you should still avoid providing too many details, such as specific medications. We also recommend caution related to including any mental health diagnoses or treatment (see below).

Ongoing or long-term medical needs

You can briefly describe the medical care the child is receiving and will continue to need, but do not disclose details of medications or medical procedures.

Specific disabilities that relate to school, education, or intellectual ability

As with other diagnoses, we recommend that intellectual disabilities or developmental delays be shared, but factually and briefly if diagnosed by a qualified professional. Please do not include specific IQ scores or test results.

Special education status or individual education plan

In the private narrative, you can share information about the fact that a child has an individualized education plan (IEP) or Section 504 plan and brief information about what its goals, accommodations, or modifications are. Educational information in the private narrative might also include participation in special education classes.

Performance or challenges in school

If a child has no specific disability but is behind in school or experiencing challenges, you can include that information in the private narrative. Note progress or success whenever possible.

Support needs

Include information about specialized support services the child is currently receiving or is likely to need in the future to address educational or medical issues. Be factual, objective, respectful, and strengths-based.

Information about the type of family being sought and the skills parents should have

If there are specific limits on types of families, you can include them here with a brief description of why those limits are needed. You can also include the skills or strengths the adoptive family should have. Please note that any restrictions on the race or ethnic background of the child may suggest a potential violation of the Multiethnic Placement Act.

A child or teen’s expressed desire on family type

Include this information only if someone has had a thorough discussion with the child on the pros and cons and the characteristics are truly important to the child. When including desired family types, it’s best to list these characteristics as preferences rather than hard and fast rules unless it is an absolute requirement.

That a youth is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender

This information should only be included with the youth’s permission and if they understand the potential risks involved. Consider having the young person write or review the information, and exercise caution when discussing transgender children, who may face additional discrimination and safety threats.

Adoption assistance eligibility

You may also want to include information about the types of benefits that may be available to adoptive parents in this state or county.

Status as legally free or not

It’s best to use similar language for all children with a particular status and to explain what the status actually means.

What to be careful about including in a private narrative

Mental health diagnoses and treatment

If you do disclose a mental illness—as with other medical diagnoses—keep information related to treatment to a minimum. Be sure that a diagnosis is only shared if it is made by a qualified clinical professional. Do not share therapy goals, specific medications, or comments from treatment providers.

Challenging behaviors

Include general information about the types of challenges a family may need to address, but without going into great detail. Information about sexualized behaviors, self-harm, behavior that could be criminal, or similar behaviors is better shared during a conversation with prospective adopters who have expressed a more serious interest about this particular child. In cases where children have such behaviors, we recommend including a sentence such as, “Billie has other behavioral challenges that will require special attention, which we’ll discuss with prospective parents who appear to be a good fit for her.”

What not to include in a private narrative

The following information does not necessarily help a family decide whether to make a formal inquiry about a particular child and is best shared with a family after they have made an inquiry, when it can be discussed and clarified.

  • Identifying information such as last name, school, address, date of birth, specific places the child goes (such as a workplace or clubs)
  • The child’s immigration status
  • The child’s abuse and neglect history
  • Anything that discusses or alludes to the child’s potential to be a victim
  • Information about sexualized, self-harming, or similar behaviors
  • Information about the child’s birth family’s history of physical or mental illnesses, immigration status, criminal history, or other challenges
  • Reason for the child’s entry into care
  • Whether the child is LGBTQ unless the child has agreed
  • Information about the child’s criminal or delinquent behavior or juvenile justice involvement
  • Current placement information, placement history, details about the number of placements, or adoption disruptions
  • Negative statements or beliefs about the child (e.g., “She is arrogant and rude, and will test the patience of any parent.”)

Please note that although we do not believe in sharing information about a birth family’s history in the private narrative, if a child has a diagnosis related to prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol that information should be shared as a medical condition rather than as a discussion of the parents’ actions or history.

Sample narratives

Below are two sample narratives that demonstrate how you might share some of the information above. Each begins with the public narrative and then presents the private information that could be shared with individuals who have an approved home study and who have agreed to protect the child’s confidentiality.

These narratives are fictional.


Public narrative

This future scientist can see himself as a zoologist or marine biologist one day. Born in 2003, Nikolai loves his math and science classes (especially biology) and does well in school. In his free time, he loves to explore the outdoors, especially the two parks closest to his house. With his keen eye and interest in all living things, he often spots bugs and other critters that others never see. But spotting them isn’t enough for this kid—he wants to know what they are, where they live, and how they interact with the world around them. At the nature center near his house, Nikolai could spend all day talking with the volunteers about flora and fauna.

When he’s indoors, books, movies, and music keep Nikolai entertained. He’s a huge fan of Kendrick Lamar, but his musical taste is pretty diverse. He sings along with Andy Grammer and has learned to love the 80s music his foster mother plays in the car. Movies are also a huge hit with Nikolai—Guardians of the Galaxy is his current favorite. Nikolai reads every day and keeps a journal with his thoughts about every book he’s read. The Ranger’s Apprentice series has kept him reading in every free moment, and he’s almost finished the 10th book. A bit of a military buff, Nikolai also reads nonfiction about World War II, and was riveted by Unbroken. He’s hoping to take a trip to Europe one day to visit the places he’s read about. He’s particularly excited to see Dresden and see how the city was rebuilt after the destruction at the end of the war.

When asked about what his dream day might be like, Nikolai replied, “I’d start with my favorite breakfast of bacon and hash browns, with a side of blueberries. I can never get enough blueberries! Next I would meet my friends Jack and Antoine at the park, where we’d look for geckos and snakes. I like to find just the right spot where the snakes come to soak up the sun. After a few hours of that, I’d love to visit my grandma. Even though I know she doesn’t really care about reptiles, Grandma will listen to my stories and look at my pictures of snakes for as long as I’m willing to talk. Then I guess I’d end the day at home, reading or watching TV with my foster family. We like to spend time together after dinner, just hanging out. Sometimes we watch Master Chef Junior and make plans for what one of us might make the next night.”

Nikolai really wants an adoptive family: “I want a family who will be there for me and love me through thick and thin.” His family should encourage his love of science and nature and help him continue his relationship with his grandmother and two younger siblings.

Private narrative

Nikolai has the following functioning levels:

  • Physical disabilities—mild
  • Emotional disabilities—moderate
  • Behaviors—mild
  • Developmental disabilities—none
  • Cognitive challenges or learning disabilities—none

Nikolai has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He has been participating in therapy for two years, and is experiencing far fewer symptoms of stress. Being active has really helped him manage the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He will occasionally get a little distracted in school; if you let him know, he is able to re-focus. While he has several close friends, Nikolai can be a bit overwhelmed by huge gatherings or parties. He’d prefer to hang out with just a couple of people he knows well.

Nikolai is deaf in one ear, but is not limited by this disability. He has an individualized education plan (IEP) that enables him to sit in the front row so he can hear the teachers. He has a tutor in Spanish.

Nikolai is legally free for adoption and is eligible for adoption assistance. He would likely do best in an active family who can help him explore the outdoors and burn off the extra energy he sometimes has. He is open to a single parent or gay or lesbian family. He would prefer a family who lives in the state so he can continue to visit his grandmother and younger siblings.


Public narrative

A ray of sunshine is how her worker describes Alexandria, who was born in 2009. “This special girl really lights up when she has visitors and it just makes my day to see her smile!” She loves to listen when others read, and her foster brothers have started reading their books aloud to keep Alexandria entertained. When one of her brothers had to prepare for a speech at school, Alexandria was his practice audience. Her smiling face and congratulatory hugs gave him the confidence to continue.

The park and the zoo make Alexandria so happy! She looks at everything and points at her favorite animals. The giraffes get her most excited of all! At home, she really enjoys her stuffed animals and toys. You can often find her grinning ear to ear as she pushes buttons on her favorite toy, which plays music and has colorful lights. When she goes to bed, she snuggles with her Blues Clues stuffed dog. She does well at home and in school.

Her foster mother explains what a wonderful girl Alexandria is: “Her smile and happy personality make it easy to love and care for Alexandria! She’s a joy to be around.” Would you like to be the recipient of Alexandria’s love and smiles?

Private narrative

  • Physical disabilities—severe
  • Emotional disabilities—none
  • Behaviors—mild
  • Developmental disabilities—severe
  • Cognitive challenges or learning disabilities—severe

Alexandria has cerebral palsy and needs almost constant monitoring and supervision. She is nonverbal and uses a wheelchair. She is mainly fed through a gastric tube, although she can eat a little bit of regular food. Alexandria also has occasional seizures. Due to her disability, she will need lifetime care.

At school, Alexandria attends special education classes for children with very serious developmental and cognitive delays. Her individualized education plan (IEP) identifies goals such as increasing use of her hands and enhancing her ability to point at objects when asked. She has made significant progress at these goals in the last six months and is a willing and happy student.

When she can’t communicate her needs, Alexandria will occasionally get frustrated, but with a patient response, her foster parents are able to calm her down.

Alexandria will need a family who can provide the care she needs now and into adulthood and can advocate for her at school and in her medical care. Her adoptive parents will need to learn about cerebral palsy and how to best care for a child with serious physical and developmental challenges.

Alexandria is legally free for adoption and adoption assistance is available. She is also eligible for in-home services to meet her significant medical and personal care needs.