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4.8.1 Life Story Work

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

Good preparation and good life story work contribute towards successful permanent placements. The Life Story Book provides an accessible and child-friendly explanation for the child of how they have comes to be where they are today and lays the ground for the more detailed Later Life Letter in the context of children growing up with a developing understanding of their background.

AMENDMENT

This document was reviewed in April 2019.


Contents

  1. Life Story Books
  2. Preparing the Book
  3. Materials
  4. Recommended Contents
  5. Foster Carers / Residential Staff
  6. Using the Life Story Book
  7. Children who are Adopted


1. Life Story Books

All children with a plan for adoption or legal permanence must have a Life Story Book, where this is appropriate to their age. Making a Life Story Book is more than creating a photograph album with identifying sentences giving dates, places and names. It is an account of a child's life in words, pictures and documents, and provides an opportunity for the child to explore and understand their early history and life leading up to the current permanence arrangements.

A Life Story Book should:

  • Keep as full a chronological record as possible of a child's life;
  • Integrate the past into the future so that background and childhood experiences make sense;
  • Provide a basis to which a continuing Life Story can be added;
  • Be something the child can return to when they need clarification or reassurance;
  • Increase a child's sense of self and self-worth;
  • Provide a structure for talking to children about what may be difficult issues.


2. Preparing the Book

The process should be initiated, driven and coordinated by the child's social worker and carried out in coordination with the child, the carer(s), parents, relatives, friends etc.

Time and care should be given to:

  • Planning carefully how to undertake the work;
  • Reading information about the child carefully and thoroughly;
  • Collating the information in chronological order;
  • Noting reasons for key decisions; understanding placement moves;
  • Noting gaps in the records and attempting to fill them;
  • Counselling children, parents, friends, relatives and carers etc. as necessary.


3. Materials

Presentation is very important in terms of validating the importance of the life story and motivating the child to want to read it and show it to others. Some suggestions:

  • Use a loose leaf folder;
  • Always work on clean paper;
  • Drawings and photos should be mounted;
  • Use neat headings;
  • If the child is unable/reluctant to write themselves, let them dictate what they want to say;
  • Use good quality copies/photocopies of treasured photos, documents etc. and not the original;
  • Get a balance of words and pictures;
  • A responsible adult should keep hold of the book until it is finished;
It is important to keep a copy of all materials and the final book as a distressed child might damage their book or its contents.


4. Recommended Contents

  • Family tree, going– back at least three generations if possible;
  • Photos of maternity hospital (and, for younger children, a clock showing the time);
  • Weight, length, head circumference at birth;
  • Birth certificate, if possible;
  • Any items from the hospital (e.g. identity tag);
  • Dates of first smile, sounds, words, tooth, steps etc;
  • Photos of parents, including them with the child if available;
  • Photos and maps of places where the child lived;
  • Photos of relatives and friends, including them with the child if available;
  • A truthful life history which is age appropriate. More detailed and potentially distressing information about the reasons why a child could not live with their birth parents should be included in the Later Life Letter which is given to them when they are older and better able to cope and understand such information;
  • Parents' backgrounds and stories;
  • Details of siblings and whether with parents or looked after;
  • The child's views and memories (may be recordings as well as text);
  • Photos of important workers with an explanation of their role/importance;
  • Explanation of all stages of the court process;
  • Photos of carers and their homes (both short-term and permanent);
  • Story of family finding;
  • Details of ceremonies (e.g. baptism, adoption);
  • Anecdotes (may be recordings as well as text);
  • Favourite foods, likes and dislikes.


5. Foster Carers / Residential Staff

Foster families and residential staff should be encouraged to record the story of the child's stay with them as fully as possible, including:

  • Descriptions of what the child was like when they arrived, what they liked and disliked;
  • Details of development (e.g. learning to ride a bike);
  • Their own special memories of the child;
  • Birthdays, Christmases and other family celebrations/outings/holidays etc. - photos, favourite places etc;
  • Details and photos of the foster family (including extended family), home, pets etc. who they got on with and who they didn't;
  • If appropriate, times when they had arguments, sulks etc;
  • Special rituals the child liked;
  • Souvenirs of school - photos, certificates, reports, photos of and stories from teachers;
  • Contact visits;
  • Illnesses;
  • Photos of birth family with foster family;
  • Crafts/pictures completed in the foster home/school/playgroup;
  • Anecdotes (may be recordings as well as text).

This information and assorted memorabilia should be stored safely, perhaps in a suitable “memory box”.


6. Using the Life Story Book

Children need truthful and honest explanations that they can understand. This means using familiar and uncomplicated language.

It is important that:

  • Questions are answered as honestly as possible;
  • Adults acknowledge when they do not know the answer and commit to try and find out (rather than making something up);
  • Children are helped to accept that not everything can be explained or understood;
  • Information is given sensitively and honestly. Protection and evasion can lead to confusion and anxiety;
  • Adults help children realise which feelings are healthy and acceptable by discussing their own feelings frankly. If feelings are ignored, children can get the message that to express them is wrong. Bottling them up can lead to challenging behaviour, such as aggression or withdrawal;
  • Adults are honest about abusive/bad relationships and their impact on individuals and family life.


7. Children who are Adopted

Where the plan is for adoption, life story work should be part of the preparation of the child for the adoptive placement. The life story book and “memory box” should be co-ordinated by one person, preferably the child's social worker, and given to the child and prospective adopter/permanent carer. The completed Life Story Book should be handed to the adoptive parents, together with Later Life Letters, within 10 working days of the adoption ceremony, (the celebration of the making of the Adoption Order) or other final Order.

End