Maps to the Heart

Two tools we use in Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) to learn more about a person and their family are a connectedness map and an ecomap. A connectedness map is a tool that uses shapes and lines to illustrate a person’s connections, or lack of connections. An ecomap is a diagram that highlights different areas and connections in a person’s life.

At first glance, they can sound similar, as both are used to visually “map out” a person’s relationships. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end! Learn more about each tool and what makes them unique below.

Connectedness Map: Who Loves You?

A connectedness map is a tool that’s meant to be quick and easy to complete. It uses simple shapes and lines to map out people in someone’s life who care about and support them. It’s especially helpful in quickly determining the level of urgency needed for connection for a child or adult.

Example questions to ask when working with someone to complete a connectedness map:

  • Who loves and cares about you?
  • Who is going to be there for you after you are no longer in foster care?
  • Who cares about you/your family and is a support to you?

If many people appear on the map, ask the person where these people are now. How can we contact them? Can we invite them to a family meeting? If only a few people appear on the map, have a conversation with others on the case about how you can work together to find and engage people to help the child or adult feel more connected.

Ecomap: Who Is Important in Your Life?

Connectedness maps are all about positive, loving relationships. What makes ecomaps unique, however, is that they can show the flow of a relationship’s energy.

In an ecomap, the person draws arrows between circles (relationships) to demonstrate how the energy flows between people. The arrows could point both ways (reciprocal relationship) or one way (one-sided relationship). Plenty of times, someone will show up on a person’s ecomap, but not their connectedness map. Why does this matter? The fact is, even if a relationship is negative, one-sided or at the least, relatively unexplored, it can be equally important for us as advocates to know about.

What’s more, ecomaps can be helpful in exploring connections (or lack thereof) in all areas of life—work, school, neighbors, and more—since they can get more specific in defining a relationship beyond “love.”

Example questions to ask when working with someone to complete an ecomap:

  • Who is important in your life?
  • Who do you spend most of your time with?
  • What groups, activities or memberships do you hold or belong to?
  • Do you give or receive more energy from each of the various people in your life?

Discuss each person individually. Watch for themes or an excess of energy moving in only one direction.

You can also get more specific, by asking something like: What does your day/week look like? Each activity would go in a circle, which would then be broken down by who the person connects with now, or who is an opportunity for a connection in the future. Sample questions for a circle labeled “lunch break”:

  • Who do you eat lunch with? No one.
  • Who says hello to you when you come in? Jessie.
  • Would you consider asking Jessie to eat lunch with you one day?

Learn more about connectedness maps, ecomaps and other tools we use to explore connections for children and families in the CFE Manual and Pocket Guide.