Learn How to Use a Mobility Map with Youth

Have you ever told someone your life story? Chances are you have! It often happens casually, or in pieces over a period of time, when we’re introducing ourselves to someone or revealing more of ourselves as we get to know someone on a deeper level.

But what if someone asked you to sit down, right here and now, and draw your life story? How would you approach it? Where would you start? One of the Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) tools we use with youth and families in the foster care system asks them to do just that. We call it a mobility map. It is a wonderful exercise to do with young people while advocating for them—and to do with people of any age!

A mobility map is a visual timeline of a person’s life they create by drawing places they’ve lived and people that were there for them, from their earliest memory to the present day. The goal of creating a mobility map is to open up and explore positive memories of family, friends and community—pinpointing people from the past who care about the child or family and could potentially be re-engaged to provide support.

Everything about the process is meant to be intentional, and to help the person completing the mobility map feel comfortable, safe and in control. The person starts by drawing the first place they remember living in and builds from there, depicting as much as they can remember about each person and place. Importantly, the process focuses on the positives, with the goal of bringing back happy memories as well as potential people to reconnect with, while at the same time acknowledging any negative memories if they arise.

CASA Child Advocates of Montgomery County volunteer Carol Seltz recently shared a wonderful story about completing a mobility map with a teen girl during their monthly visit. We’ve shared her words below, and images of the map, with permission from the program.

“She is artistic – so I brought some small poster board paper that I had at my house – and a few different Sharpies. She dove into this activity – drawing the houses, added pets, put in the landscape around the house.

Then she began to add angels or devils – she put in stick figures with angry expressions, and put the hurtful words they said to her in the word bubbles.

She wanted to make a whole page of positive childhood memories – drew pictures of amusement parks, camping, stick people who she camped with, her dad with crab cages at the beach. It was beyond amazing seeing her create and talk about her life map. All in all, she filled four ¼-size poster boards and took 2 ½ hours to complete them.

There was so much information in the map, which she tied into each house she lived in.

She kept saying ‘I feel so good drawing this.’ Powerful.”

Interested in seeing the process in action? Check out this two-part video featuring Family Finding Model Author Kevin Campbell and a young person completing a mobility map.

To learn more about mobility mapping and other tools used in CFE, check out our CFE Pocket Guide!