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6.20 Life Story Work

AMENDMENT

In January 2017, this guidance has been reviewed and updated throughout to reflect the importance attached to Life Story Work in Calderdale. Good preparation for adoption and well prepared Life Story Work are vital as they help young people have a better understanding of their lives and contribute to long lasting placements.


Contents

  1. Key Principles
  2. Introduction
  3. What is Life Story Work?
  4. Children with a Plan for Adoption
  5. Who Should be involved in Life Story Work?
  6. What Methods should be Used?
  7. What Information is Needed for Life Story Work?
  8. Using the Life Story Book


1. Key Principles

We recognise and respect that children and young people need to be able to make sense of their history. We understand that we have a responsibility to support them to do this by capturing their unique life experiences. We do this by sensitively collecting information that is important to them about their family, friends and significant relationships. We do this from the beginning to end of our involvement in their lives.


2. Introduction

Life Story Work and preparation for adoption lie on a continuum of direct work with the child, which at its best will equip the child to make a smooth transition from their birth family, through foster care and into a new adoptive family with the capacity - according to their age and development - for a sound understanding of the reasons why such a fundamental and permanent change has been necessary.

Good preparation for adoption is one of the contributing factors towards a successful adoptive placement.

In practice, it is impossible to separate good preparation for adoption from good Life Story Work, which should precede it and go with the child into the adoptive placement in the tangible form of the Life Story Book. There the book will form the basic tool for early conversations about the child’s past experience, and will be the only tool designed for the child’s particular use. The information contained in the Child’s Permanence Report is intended for the prospective adopters at this stage of the process, and will only be shared with the child when he or she is older. The Life Story Book, however, should be the most accessible and child-friendly explanation of how the child comes to be where he or she is today. Its importance therefore cannot be over-emphasised.


3. What is Life Story Work?

All children with a plan for adoption must have a Life Story Book. Foster families and residential staff should be encouraged to record the story of the child's stay with them as fully as possible. Life Story Work 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 an opportunity to explore emotions through play, conversation and counselling.

A Life Story Work should encompass:

  • Description 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.;
  • Details and photos of the foster family (including extended family), home, pets, etc. who they go 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.


4. Children with a Plan for Adoption

Where there is an adoption plan for a Child Looked After, life story work should be part of the preparation of the child for the adoptive placement. Further details are set out in the Placement for Adoption Procedure, Preparation of Child for Adoption.

Additional statutory requirements:

  • Keep as full a chronological record as possible of a child's life;
  • Integrate the past into the future so that childhood makes sense;
  • Provide a basis on which a continuing Life Story can be added to;
  • Be something the child can return to when he/she needs to deal with old feelings and clarify and / or accept the past;
  • Increase a child's sense of self and self-worth;
  • Provide a structure for talking to children about painful issues;
  • The Life Story Work 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.


5. Who Should be Involved in Life Story Work?

The Life Story process should be systemic and involve significant people in the child's life present and past. A plan and process should be initiated, driven and coordinated by the child's social worker in consultation with the child, the carer(s), parents, relatives, friends etc.

Time and care should be given to:

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

The process should be reviewed at regular intervals and form part of their care planning process e.g. Child Looked After Reviews.


6. What Methods should be Used?

The methods used can be varied but should reflect the child's creativity, ideas and involvement. The information should be presented in a usable way appropriate to the child's age, and cognitive understanding. (It is not advisable to cut and paste information from agency reports).

  • It is important children feel emotionally supported and safe when undertaking life story work. A significant adult should be identified to whom the child can signal their distress and worries;
  • Use a loose leaf folder, information can be inserted and removed as necessary;
  • Use heading to structure information to make it accessible;
  • 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 and use language which is age appropriate;
  • A responsible adult should keep hold of the information until it is finished;
  • Keep a copy or photographs of the completed work;
  • Consider non-traditional methods of Life Story Work, i.e. digital technology, child friendly genograms, life maps and site visits with the child (if appropriate), testimony letters from significant other the child has been involved with.


7. What Information is Needed for Life Story Work?

  • Strengths should be identified as part of a child's life story. Information from the present past and future should ensure that stories are not problem saturated;
  • Family tree - back 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;
  • Photos and maps of places where the child lived;
  • Photos of relatives;
  • Photos of friends;
  • A truthful life history - including abuse, neglect etc. - that is age appropriate to the child. More detail can be added later as the child needs to know;
  • Parents' stories;
  • Details of siblings;
  • The child's views and memories;
  • Photos of workers and their roles;
  • Story of the court process;
  • Photos and information relating to carers past and present;
  • Story of family finding;
  • Details of ceremonies (e.g. baptism);
  • Anecdotes;
  • Favourite foods, likes and dislikes;
  • Child's future hopes and wishes;
  • Where appropriate birth families hopes and wishes;
  • Consideration should be given to creating two books for a child taking into account the cognitive ability, and chronological age. A primary book i.e. Nine years and under, then a secondary book appropriate for a child of high school age.


8. Using the Life Story Book

Children need truthful and honest explanations that they can understand - that means using language they know.

It is important that:

  • Questions are answered as honestly as possible;
  • Adults admit when they don't know the answer and offer 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 leads to confusion and fear;
  • Adults help children to realise which feelings are healthy and acceptable by discussing their own feelings frankly. If feelings are ignored, children get the message that to express them is wrong - bottling them up can lead to negative behaviour like aggression or withdrawal;
  • Adults never pretend abusive/bad relationships didn't exist.

End