How the app Memorybox helps foster children to remember
Children who grow up in institutions or with foster parents are often unable to develop a continuous memory. The Departments of Technology and Computer Science and Social Work at BFH have developed a web app with which children and young people placed with others can creatively document their biographical affiliations. The resulting mementos are to be available to them in a digital “MemoryBox”, self-determined, independent of location and long-term.
“I have been in so many little beds that to this day I don’t know where I have been everywhere. I didn’t know where I was, I didn’t know which place, which house, which bed I was in”.
This interview quote comes from a woman who grew up as a child in numerous children’s homes and foster families in the 1960s. Growing up in various institutions of inpatient educational assistance such as children’s and youth homes and foster families can still be characterised by changes of location and relationship breakdowns today, as the current research situation shows. The documentation and biographical processing of this period is often subject to a degree of randomness (Chapon, 2019). However, existing research findings suggest the importance for successful growing up of reflecting on this specific form of growing up and biographically integrating processing procedures (Höfer et al., 2017). The further development of systematic biographical and memory work with children and young people in out-of-home placements is therefore central.
In the joint project of the Departments of Technology and Computer Science and Social Work, the web app MemoryBox was developed to support children and adolescents in their biographical work. The MemoryBox is also a central building block of the first qualitative longitudinal study in Switzerland (planned to run from 2021 to 2027), which deals with the question of the affiliation of children and adolescents placed with others in the course of their biographies. The memoirs created during this data collection are to be made available to them digitally in the long term. For the development of this digital component, the question arose as to which individual needs and technical conditions must be met so that the MemoryBox can be used by the children and adolescents for biographical and memory work, both during their out-of-home placement and in the period afterwards.
The MemoryBox is a web app that enables both children and young people as well as professionals to collect memories and store them for the long term. The Department of Social Work is increasingly concerned with the question of how digital media can be used in the fields of social work. The MemoryBox is a contribution to promoting the use of digital technologies and simplifying the management of digital memories. Different types of media (photo, video, audio) can be directly integrated into the MemoryBox.
Focus on children’s needs
The development of this web app marked the beginning of the collaboration between the Departments of Social Work and Technology and Computer Science. The first step was to discuss the necessary requirements with the target group of the web app: What must it be able to do and what is expected of the children and young people as well as the professionals? – Before further concrete steps of the development could be defined. The requirements were then distilled in order to be able to convert them into simple logic so that they could be implemented technically. As the target group of this project consists primarily of children and young people, special features emerged during the development that would not have received the same attention in other projects in application development. These children and young people grow up outside their families of origin.
This results in additional focal points such as the recording of memories by professionals (secondary users), special data protection requirements in institutions or foster families as well as the influence of behavioural or perceptual abnormalities in the children and adolescents on the use of the application. Also worth mentioning here is the colour choice of the operating elements and the animation of elements. The former is usually thought about in terms of “How can our web app look as attractive as possible and stand out from others? In the present project, this consideration took a back seat and was replaced by a more specific thought: “How can we make this application explicitly attractive for children and young people? Thus, other influences acted on the choice of colour, such as the consideration that applications for children are often given a more playful appearance (for example, children’s books, children’s programmes).
Special options for teenagers
However, it also became clear that a web app designed purely for children would not appeal equally to teenagers and might hinder their use. So two views were developed. These are called “Children’s View” (see Figure 1 in the background) and “Youth View” (see Figure 2).
|Figure 1 A child tests the application (child’s view)
|Figure 2 The home page of the app (youth view)
Small animations were built into the application, such as an animated logo on the start page or a moving background image. However, this can be disturbing, especially for young children or children and young people with behavioural problems, which was pointed out to us by experts. Therefore, the possibility to switch these animations on and off was built in. During the practical tests in spring 2022, the children and young people were asked about this point and their preferences.
About the project
During the entire duration of the project, there was a sounding board with three practice collaborations consisting of professionals from the Children and Adolescents Department of YOUVITA Switzerland, the Aeschbacherhaus and the Schlossmatt Competence Centre. These representatives pointed out blind spots in the development of the web app to the research team and gave us access to the children and young people for testing the web app.
This project could be carried out thanks to the support of the BFH Call for Proposal. The project team includes the following persons: The project leaders Prof. Dr. Mascha Kurpicz, Prof. Dr. Emanuela Chiapparini and Prof. Dr. Andrea Abraham, as well as the project collaborators Tomaso Leoni, Yalda Samim, Cynthia Steiner and Kevin Bitsch.
- Chapon, N. (2019). L’histoire de l’enfant confié : album de vie ou projet pour l’enfant ?empan, 3(3), 103-109. https://doi.org/10.3917/empa.115.0103
- Höfer, R., Sievi, Y., Straus, F., Teuber, K. (2017). Realisation Opportunity SOS Children’s Villages. Empowerment and pathways to independence. Opladen, Berlin, Toronto: Barbara Budrich.