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8.18 Life Story Books Guidance

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

Good preparation for adoption and good life story work contribute towards successful adoptive placements and offers children and young people who remain in the care of the local authority an insight into their current situation and information with regards to their birth family. The Life Story Book provides an accessible and child-friendly explanation for the child of how they have come to be where they are today. However the Life Story Book, while complementing life story work, is not life story work. Life story work is a continuous process for all children whereas the Life Story Book is a tool to enable that work and give children and young people a narrative of their journey to adoption or through the care system.

This chapter explains the importance of the Life Story Book for adoptive children and children in the care of the local authority, and provides guidance for social workers on what to include in the life story book. All children with a plan for adoption must have a Life Story Book and best practice dictates that all children in the care of the Local Authority should have a Life Story Book to aid them to make sense of their current situation.

RELATED CHAPTER

My Guide to Adoption - Guidance for Social Workers

AMENDMENT

In March 2019, this chapter was substantially updated throughout and should be re-read.


Contents

  1. What is a Life Story Book?
  2. Who Should Write the Life Story Book?
  3. What Materials are Needed?
  4. What Goes Into the Life Story Book?
  5. Foster Carers
  6. Using the Life Story Book
  7. Children who are Adopted
  8. Children who Remain in the Care of the Local Authority


1. What is a Life Story Book?

All children with a plan for adoption must have a Life Story Book and all children in the care of the Local Authority should have a Life Story Book formulated with or for them as part of the ongoing Life Story Work. 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 before their adoption.

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 childhood makes sense;
  • Provide a basis on which a continuing Life Story can be added to;
  • Be something the child can return to when they need 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.


2. Who Should Write the Life Story Book?

The process should be initiated, driven and coordinated by the child's social worker and carried out in coordination with the other people who know the child, including carer(s), parents and other relatives.

Time and care should be given to:
  • Planning carefully how to undertake the work;
  • Reading the information about the child carefully and thoroughly;
  • Collating the information and presenting this using the Joy Rees model (please see: Joy Rees website: The Joy of Life Work). All Children and Young Persons Services and the Adoption Service also have a copy of Joy Rees’ book where the model is fully outlined for guidance;
  • Noting reasons for decisions;
  • Noting gaps in the records and attempting to fill them;
  • Supporting children, parents, friends, relatives and carers etc. to contribute to the book where possible and offering support in regards to the information the book contains.


3. What Materials are Needed?

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.

  • Use a loose leaf folder, this enables information to be added or removed from the book to enable a parent/carer to present the book in a child friendly and age appropriate way when sharing information;
  • Always work on clean paper;
  • Drawings and photos should be either mounted or if the Life Story Book is being compiled digitally, well presented;
  • Use neat headings;
  • Depending on the child’s age and participation within the process of formulating the Life Story Book, 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;
  • There needs to be a balance of words and pictures and all pictures needed to identify the date and the occasion and also the people in the picture so that they are meaningful for the child/young person. Where there are a large number of pictures a decision may need to be made with regards to compiling a photo album as well as a book. To ensure that the Life Story Book is not presented as a photo album;
  • A responsible adult should keep hold of the book until it is finished;
  • Good practice would be for 2 copies to be provided, one for the child and one for their parent or carer to keep;
  • A copy should be stored on the child’s electronic file.


4. What Goes Into the Life Story Book?

  • 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; Anecdotal information in regards to the events at the child’s birth using words from birth parents if and where possible;
  • The reason the child was named if known;
  • Careful consideration needs to be given to the inclusion of a birth certificate within a Life Story Book. Although this may be appropriate for children who remain in the care of the Local Authority it may not be appropriate for a Life Story Book for a child who is being adopted. • 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 narrative of the child’s journey into care and adoption (where applicable) written in a child friendly way which provides information for the child to make sense of their current circumstances. It needs to be written in such a way for further detailed and potentially distressing information can be shared by parents and carers at a later stage and complete any gaps;
  • Parents' stories;
  • Details of siblings;
  • The child's views and memories;
  • Photos of workers and their roles;
  • Story of the court process;
  • Photos of carers, including anecdotal memories using the carers own words about the child;
  • Story of family finding;
  • Details of ceremonies (e.g. baptism);
  • Anecdotes;
  • Favourite foods, likes and dislikes.


5. Foster Carers

Foster families should be encouraged to record the story of the child's stay with them as fully as possible. This should be undertaken regardless of the future plan for the child. The recording of their time with the carer should include:

  • 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;
  • Where appropriate, this memorabilia should be stored safely in a suitable box – a “memory box”.


6. 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.


7. 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 and “memory box” should be co-ordinated by one person, preferably the child’s social worker, and given to the child and prospective adopter in stages. The first stage is at the second statutory review of the child’s placement with the prospective adopter. 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, i.e. the ceremony to celebrate the making of the adoption order.

It is important to recognise the adoptive parent’s role in formulating the Life Story Book not only by giving photographs and information to be recorded in the book but also with the language used within the book and the way that information is presented. It is important that the adoptive parents are comfortable with the book and its contents and the collaborative work undertaken with adoptive parents will ensure that the Life Story Book becomes the tool it is intended to be and the adopters feel confident with its contents and how they can use this with their child.


8. Children who Remain in the Care of the Local Authority

Children who remain in the care of the local authority will undergo Life Story work as part of the ongoing work undertaken by their Social Worker and the Life Story Book will be a vital tool in this work to promote a knowledge, understanding and insight into their current situation and also ensure that they have the information they need and require with regards to their birth family and life before coming into care.

End