Life Story Books
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
Please read in conjunction with Direct Work and Life Story Work with Children and Young People Procedure.
The chapter was significantly revised in September 2017 and should be re-read in full.This chapter is currently under review.
The "life story book" is the means of recording information about the child's past in an accessible way for the child. It will include both photos and narrative. For the majority of children could be the tangible outcome of life story work. For those children who cannot be engaged in direct work (mainly the under 2s) the book will be prepared on their behalf for the future.
Any use of photos, other than the child's own photo, must be agreed upon during supervision between the practitioner and line manager to determine suitability based on any identified risks (e.g. use of any particular photos may trigger memories of trauma).
Long Term Fostering
The culmination of life story work into the child's desired format (e.g. book, folder, etc.) is on an ongoing basis agreed between the child and practitioner. There are no specific timescales for the completion of the development of a life story book or specific templates to use, such as within the adoption process.
Book 1 should with the child by the second review in the adoptive placement.
Book 2 should be given to the adopters by the second adoption review meeting and the completed life story book 2 should be provided within 10 working days (or as soon as possible) of the adoption ceremony (i.e. the ceremony to celebrate the making of the Adoption Order).
3. Guidance - What to Consider When Preparing Life Story Books
- This tool is designed to help social workers consider and prepare for the task of producing a life story book. It should be used in supervision when discussing and monitoring the progress of life story work;
- Please note that even children as young as 2 or 3 years can be involved in some form of age-appropriate life story work;
- The Virtual Library provides helpful resources to support Life Story Work, which contributes to the life story books.
Please also consider the following questions:
- At what stage is the child? (e.g. age, stage of development, level of understanding, knowledge of their past etc.);
- What is going on in the child's life at the moment? (e.g. contact arrangements, change of school, change of placement, therapy etc.);
- What key background issues need to be communicated in the life story book? (e.g. drug or alcohol abuse, domestic abuse, neglect or abuse etc.);
- What methods will be used to do the work? What resources are available? Are additional resources needed? (e.g. books, CD-roms, materials etc.);
- What form will the life story book take?
- Who will undertake the work? Who else will make a contribution and how?
- Who will supervise the work? The line manager or a colleague with experience of life story work?
- How will the progress of the work be monitored?
- What time will be set aside to focus on the work? (e.g. duration, frequency of visits, time of day, length of sessions etc.);
- What other agencies are involved with the child and need to be consulted?
- Who else needs to know that life story work is about to begin? (e.g. foster carer's supervising social worker, school, social workers for siblings placed elsewhere etc.);
- Who needs to be seen to gather information?
- What other sources of information might be available?
- What steps will be taken to ensure difference and diversity is respected and addressed?
- Does a "consultant" need to be identified to support the life story work?
When considering what would be appropriate to include in a Life Story Book, please consider the following:
Life Story Books…
…should be organised
Given the importance of the child's life story, life story books should be in a format that's child friendly but also as durable as possible to reduce the risk of losing information within it. If possible secure books/binders where pages can be added or removed as appropriate could be considered.
…are not fairy tales
It is important to achieve the right balance in the way information is recorded and explanations are given. The narrative should present an honest view of the child's life; the negatives should not be under-played, and the positives should not be over-played. This can be a difficult balance to achieve. Whilst it is possible to offer a sympathetic explanation of parental behaviour, for example, the fact that they could not meet the child's needs or that what they did to the child was wrong should not be compromised. Life story books which strive to accentuate the positives at the expense of the real life experience of the child leave a child confused and offer no helpful explanations as to why the child was unable to remain within their birth family. The child needs to understand why he or she was adopted.
…are not dictionaries of euphemisms
The child's early life always contains events or circumstances which are difficult to put into words that are age-appropriate and understandable. There are no easy phrases for explaining sexual abuse, parental drug abuse, being scapegoated or rejected, and so on. Social workers on the one hand may find themselves unwittingly seeking refuge in jargon, and on the other using euphemisms which may be unhelpful, inaccurate or so obscure as to make them meaningless. For example, having to be removed from a birth mother who was "poorly" (= abusing drugs) is likely to set up anxieties about any other carer who has a medical problem or ill-health. And how does a child understand having "rude things" done to him as an explanation of sexual abuse, when he is told off by his carer for interrupting a conversation and "being rude"?
There are no definitive formulas for expressing such experiences, but a few general principles might be helpful when tackling this difficult area:
- Remember the book should be child-centred. Try to put yourself in the child's shoes and ask what would I understand from this explanation? How might I misunderstand it?
- Try to "unpack" what you want to say - E.g. some drugs are "good drugs" - your doctor gives you these as medicine to make you better when you're ill. Some drugs are "bad drugs" - people take these to make themselves feel happy but they don't last. So people have to take more and more which can damage their bodies.
…are not tablets of stone
Inevitably life story books are completed at a particular point in the child's life. The terminology and explanations used tend to reflect the age of the child at the point when the work is done. As children grow older and their understanding develops, they will demand more detailed explanations. Obviously the life story book will have its limitations in this respect, but this should be augmented by the detail that has been included in the Child's Permanence Report (see 15.1).
Adoptive parents should be able to use this information to re-interpret the explanations given in the life story book.
…are not reference books
It is true that the life story book records information, and should be a useful source for the child to refer back to. However, that should be where the similarity ends. For babies and very young children, social workers will need to compile the life story books, but children from 2/3 years upwards can be involved in some way in putting together their book, with the worker recording information.
...form only the first volume of the child's biography
At the point where a child is placed for adoption the life story book constitutes a record of the whole of the child's life thus far. As time goes by it becomes a smaller and smaller proportion of the child's life. Many adoptive parents build on the life story book, continuing to record through photos, and perhaps a narrative, key events in their adopted child's life. Nevertheless, the significance of the child's early life experience and the influence this has had on the child's development should never be minimised.
Life Story Books can also…
…have a therapeutic effect
For older children every effort should be made to engage them in working alongside the social worker to produce their own life story book. Wherever possible this should be approached as a therapeutic opportunity, exploring feelings and reinforcing positive messages about the child. Happy memories and experiences are important to record, but can also be ways into exploring the deficits in the child's experience - times when parents were unable to sustain good parenting, for example.
One aspect of this work may be to check out a child's understanding of words, especially those which describe feelings, and their emotional impact. This is important as the meaning we invest in a word such as "love" for example, may be quite different to a child's.
…provide an opportunity to further assess the child
The process of talking about birth family members, experiences and feelings can add to the social worker's understanding of the child, and consequently lead to a clearer assessment of the child's needs. One example might be gaining a greater understanding of sibling relationships.
- Although the life story book should be an honest account of the child's life, caution should be exercised about certain factual information which is included or which could be disclosed inadvertently by the inclusion of certain documents. The address of a birth parent, for example, which might encourage the child to try to trace that person could compromise the safety of the child, and the security and confidentiality of the placement. A useful question to ask when preparing to do life story work and deciding what should be recorded in the life story book is "What does the child already know about their past?";
- Life story books should be comprehensive, but workers should always ask themselves whether the child needs everything all at once. For example, does the child need information and photos about less significant members of the birth family from the outset, or would this be more appropriate if it was introduced later. Children should not be overloaded with information which may not be of immediate importance. The advantage of a ring-binder format for the book is that pages can be removed or introduced as and when appropriate;
- Life story books must always be read by the Team Manager, but should also be checked and commented on by a colleague with experience of compiling life story books. Not only is this to check the content and logic of the "storyline", but also the impact of phrases and terms used, and to weed out jargon. It becomes increasingly difficult for the author who has worked on the life story book for some time to view it objectively, whereas a fresh pair of eyes can work wonders.
4. Layout of Life Story Books
Life Story Books for Long Term Fostering and Adoption Layout
|Long Term Fostering||Adoption|
|Format agreed upon between child and practitioner.||LIFE STORY BOOK 1||LIFE STORY BOOK 2|
|Introduction||Letter to Child|
|About You||Current Family Life and Situation|
|Favourite Things||What Does Adoption Mean?|
|Your Story So Far||Different Kinds of Families|
|How You Met Mummy and Daddy||Your Name|
|Your Birth Family||Your Birth Family|
|Your Birth Brothers and Sisters||What Happened before You Were Born|
|When You Lived With Your Birth Parents||Early Life|
|What Foster Carers Do||Your Social Workers|
|My Foster Carers||Things Children need to Grow|
|Making the Best Decision||When you Lived with Your Foster Family|
|Where You've Lived||Your Adoption|
|The Adoption Celebration Day|
5. Template Examples of Book 1 and Book 2
6. Consultation Information and Resources
This chapter was developed in consultation with:
Hertfordshire County Council (HCC)
- CLA Service;
- Fostering Service;
- Adoption Service;
- 0-25 Together Service;
- Assessment Service;
- Liquid Logic Children's System (LCS Team);
- Children's Services Learning and Development Service;
- HCC Foster Carer; and
- Advice also provided by Bournemouth Borough Council.
Templates are based on the Joey Rees Model of Life Story Work and Life Story Books.