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4.8.1 Life Story Work


Along with all the chapters relating to looked after children this chapter was added to the manual in June 2011.


A new Section 10, Children Who are Adopted was added to this chapter in June 2013.

Along with all the chapters relating to looked after children, this chapter was revised in December 2013.


  1. Background
  2. Purpose
  3. Principles
  4. Who should Carry out the Work
  5. Contribution
  6. What to take into Account
  7. What to put in the Book
  8. Timing
  9. Life Story Work
  10. Children Who are Adopted
  11. Checklist for Life Story Work

1. Background

To look at what every child who becomes looked after should have in terms of a life story book and life story work in order that they can make sense of why they became looked after.

For every child whatever their circumstances that they should have an accurate chronological account of his or her life, which is relevant and has enduring value, and can be shared with them in an age appropriate way.

Life story work needs to be differentiated from a life story book, as the timing of this work needs to take into account the child’s age, stage of development and ability to understand this complex and sensitive piece of work.

2. Purpose   

For every child and young person to;

  • Understand the background and history of their birth family;
  • Know where they came from and develop a sense of identify;
  • Understand why they are separated from their birth family, know who has cared for them and put their past into perspective;
  • Building self-esteem;
  • Can aid the expression of wishes and feelings and help children understand and articulate feelings;
  • Feelings about past future and wishes for future. Any worries?
  • Help worker understand who is important to the child.

3. Principles

The principles of the life story book are listed below:

  • The child’s life story book belongs to the child and should be readily available;
  • From the time a child becomes looked after they should have a photograph of their parents and siblings and important others;
  • The best authors of a life story book is the children and family themselves;
  • The gathering of information and the discussion to ensure that the child/ young person is an ongoing and continuous process, which needs continuing build on throughout child/ young persons time in care.

4. Who should Carry out the Work

Overall the responsibility should be the social worker for ensuring that accurate information is gathered and that life story work is undertaken where relevant, and should be identified in the child’s care plan from the first LAC review. The gathering of information should begin at this point whether the child or young person is returning home or not.

Foster carers and residential staff are often in the best position to gather information about the child's daily life and significant events.

Foster carers/residential staff should provide a memory box for children they care for, the memory box is in reality the start of the life story work.

5. Contribution

Who and what can contribute?

  • Child as best author of their own story;
  • Parents, siblings, grandparents, extended family members;
  • All carers who have been part of a child’s life;
  • Child’s guardian - explaining court process. They should also be visiting children before and after each court hearing and they should inform child of decisions being made;
  • Contact supervisors- take pictures of parents and children over the course of contact - when contact is very regular (every day) from initial contact and sporadically as the child grows;
  • ESLAC workers ensuring that school contribute - certificates of achievements, photographs, information on educational achievement, cards from classes. Photos of nursery / schools. Anecdotes from teachers;
  • Use of social care documentation/ permanency reports etc. Information drawn from social care documents rather than document itself;
  • IRO should ensure that their written reviews demonstrate decisions making about care plans that can be used within life story work;
  • Fun and fond memories of whoever has been involved including other children/foster children;
  • Kind words about parents from all professionals about the child's parents.

6. What to take into Account

The following should be taken into account when starting / working on the Life story work:

  • Effective communication with children with disabilities;
  • Cultures and religions sensitivity for taking photographs;
  • Asylum seeking young people who come with no paperwork and no background information;
  • World events at time of child’s birth;
  • Corporate parenting- the children should be aware of the role councillors have in promoting their well being and the philosophy and promoting good outcomes.

7. What to put in the Book

Below is a list of items that should be collected in the book:

  • Birth certificate- full copy;
  • Photo of the hospital where born - If possible wrist band and cot tags - The Rosie will do copies. Weight / time born etc. You just need to e-mail the child's names and DOB to Lead Midwife and then collect them;
  • Decisions from permanence/adoption panel-when this was made;
  • The child should have clear understanding about why they are in care which should include decisions made by Court and could include panel decision;
  • Chronology of who lived with, name of carers, others in household at time. Take into account foster siblings, important extended families;
  • Family Tree - photos of family members. Full names and dates of birth of parents and where they were born;
  • Developmental milestones;
  • Health records, illness, injuries, accidents;
  • Favourite activities and achievements;
  • Birthdays and religious celebrations;
  • Holidays;
  • Special friends;
  • Pets;
  • Funny’ moments caught on photograph;
  • Photos, anecdotes, stories about birth family contact;
  • School reports;
  • Special activities at school e.g. sports day;
  • Educational achievements e.g. Certificates;
  • Special interests e.g. Scouts, sports or leisure activities (certificates, photos etc);
  • Church, religious activities and significant events.

8. Timing

The timing of producing the life story book is ongoing and is built upon as a progression of work. Children/young people going into adoption should be able to take life story book to matching panel, much the same as the potential adopters will bring their own.

Open communication is important from the start of any placement so that carers are confident to respond to child. Adoptive parents need to talk from the start with the child and this needs to be embedded in their training and ongoing support.

9. Life Story Work

In order to undertake life story work child needs to be in a reasonable stable placement this can include being in a bridging placement if the future plan is clear. If still in parallel planning when there is a possibility of returning home then it would be difficult to start the work in any detail, although basics can be addressed like reasons why they are being looked after.

When children are in a state of anxiety or distressed, they cannot process their thoughts and the plan must be clearly be in place, before the work starts.

However information should be gathered from the start of the placement where photographs can be taken of a variety of situations, such as birthday parties, in contact visits, of all family members and carers and foster siblings. The child can be encouraged to draw pictures of themselves and family members, and contact visits and if these are signed and dated then a memory and story around the work, can inform future work. These need to be kept in one place and the social worker needs to keep on their agenda for future use.

Children being looked after often have vague understanding why they have been looked after but this needs to be updated as the child gets older and is able to understand fuller. A child may be able to say how they would like to hear and talk about difficult issues and what would be enough to hear at any one time, but workers need to be aware that if children do not get a full age appropriate explanation, they may begin to blame themselves.

The key to undertaking this work and the timing of this is about the relationship between the child and worker and if there is trust and understanding between them, they can progress at the child’s pace. The worker needs to be confident and enthusiastic about taking this journey with a child. Social workers need to be empowered to have the time, the priority to undertake this work and coordinate information from all sources.

In general the sooner the work starts with a child the better, however if support is required about when the right time to start is with a disturbed child then the LAC psychologist can be approached for advice. A disturbed child may ultimately feel better for undertaking the work, but if not right time, potentially can do basic work on chronological events or a lifeline. Children need to be engaged in the process and when they are they will be able to emotionally process their life history in depth. If they are not ready to work then this needs to be respected but should be kept in mind by the worker.

In coming into care the idea of a life story book can be introduced from the start with a folder being provided to the child who can then start to gather information. This makes undertaking life story work as less of an event, but something that progresses to be more in depth in time. The explanation can move with age and therefore a dynamic process that can continually be built on. Life story work can be a legacy that every child being looked after can have and this can be developed, worked at and progressed on, as they move into adulthood.

Older young people may want to progress from undertaking life story work to an appropriate therapy, life story work can educate them to talk about their past and therefore empower them to deal with complex emotions and difficulties.

Asylums seeking young people are a very vulnerable group they tend to be looked after for a short period of time prior to moving out into independent living. The uncertainty about their future plans can impact on them emotionally and they may also be suffering from post traumatic stress, which makes any work difficult to undertake. Culturally it is unclear whether talking about their history is how therapeutic needs can be met.

What needs to be done to promote this essential work:

  • Acceptance that social workers role to coordinate work- demystify process through training;
  • Time allocated for;
  • Commitment from Senior managers to ensure that time is built in for social workers;
  • That this work begins as soon as a child becomes looked after;
  • Social workers feel empowered to undertake this work;
  • Use of peer supervision group- that is ongoing so that remains focus of essential practice;
  • Reference books/links and team teams having resources;
  • A one and half day training for practitioners and a half day training package for managers was thought a very good idea as it is important for managers to agree, value and provide practitioners with necessary time to do the life story work;
  • It was thought that groups attending the life story work training should include: foster/link carers, intake and assessment practitioners, contact centre, LAC social workers, residential workers, IRO's and anyone that may have an input into life story work with children - this supports working together and promotes understanding.

Statutory Guidance has been developed to guide Independent Reviewing Officers about how they should discharge their distinct responsibilities to looked after children. This is addressed in a separate chapter (see Appointment and Role of Independent Reviewing Officers Procedure).

Review decisions should include timescales for the completion of:

  • Life story work;
  • Later life letter;
  • The post adoption/special guardianship order.

10. Children Who Are Adopted

Where there is an adoption plan for a Looked After Child, life story work should be part of the preparation of the child for the adoptive placement.

The Life Story Book will usually be handed to the adoptive parents, together with Later Life Letters, within 10 working days of the adoption ceremony, i.e. the ceremony to celebrate the making of the adoption order.

11. Checklist for Life Story Work

When child first becomes looked after
Action Date task completed Outstanding action - who has information
Social workers to ensure child has photographs of parents and siblings    
Contact supervisors be requested to take photographs of children and parents during sessions that reflect activities.    
Essential information to be gathered by social worker
Birth certificate with explanation on mother and father or if name not on certificate.    
Birth where born, weight, height etc Wrist straps etc. Photograph of hospital.    
Information from birth parents and family members on what child was like as baby and photographs.    
Ask parents to share why they choose their name.    
Information from birth parents and family members on what child was like as a young child and photographs of significant events e.g. christenings, first days at school. What nursery and school did they attend.    
Special family events that were part of i.e. birthday parties and weddings.    
Reasons why became looked after and why could not return to birth family and members of extended family. Use of kind words.    
Who made these decisions and why - emphasising adult responsibility and not child’s.    
Look at issues that impacted on parents and if relevant on specific issues such as alcohol/drug abuse, mental health etc    
What babies need    
What children need    
What parents need to be able to do    
What do you get from birth parents- any special stories they have about child.    
Special information e.g. on family identity, race, religion and culture    
Birth mum    
Birth dad    
How parents met, any info on marriage if relevant    
Birth siblings    
Birth grandparents    
Other birth relatives    
Birth family tree and explanation    
Life path    
What is foster care, name and pictures of those who looked after child    
Special times and festivals with foster carers    
Contact with parents and siblings - what it was and will be in the future.    
Where relevant what is adoption    
Adoptive family    
Any written information from birth parents and extended family members that will help child in the future to understand their experiences and the family’s wishes for them.    
Later Life letter from social worker    
Information to be gathered by Foster Carer
Memory box to include outfit child came with and any toys. Child may want to decorate the box themselves.    
Description of what child was like when arrived- any anecdotes.    
Photographs/discs/videos in date order of the time spent in foster care    
Any pictures or things that the child made that are special to them.    
Leaflets/tickets of places visited and holidays taken    
Birthday cards especially from birth parents.    
Special occasions at foster family    
First hair cuts if young child keep lock of hair for child and give to parents    
Significant events for child, first day at nursery and school- how occasion was marked.    
Members of foster family and people that the child would have met regularly. Include household pets    
Activities/sporting/musical events that child took part in.    
Likes and dislikes about food and whether this changed over time.    
Anything unusual about how child reacted and liked if poorly.    
Think if child moving on to adopters how write a letter to celebrate time had together and their wishes for the future.    
Information to be gathered by Residential Worker
Information on day arrived about what child could expect. Ensure that child understands why looked after.    
How residential unit planned to help young person and what was aim of placement    
Information and photographs on activities undertook, emphasising any achievements    
Key worker input on care plan and what was achieved, how the child was helped to move on    
Contact arrangements put in place with family- details of visits family members made    
Child needs written account of why in residential care and what was the outcome for them.    
Information to be gathered the Virtual School
Schools and nurseries attended    
Ensure nursery and school provide cars/photographs of time child spent there    
Ensure that school reports and parents evening feedback is available to child    
Key stage exam results to be available for young person so can evidence achievements    
Need to ensure that a copy of all of the Life story work is stored in a safe place- this place to be identified on ICS.