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6.2.19 Life Story Work

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

Young people in care or placed permanently with family and friends need to have an understanding of their own life history. Evidence and research suggests that emotional well-being and therefore placement stability is enhanced as a consequence of young people having a good understanding of their past and a sense of their own identity.

It is therefore important that services for young people in care provide adequately for these children in terms of life story history resources such as life books and also skilled professionals to support with life work in a timely fashion when this is required.

A ‘virtual’ Life Story Team has been assembled, which consists of a representative from each of the following teams – Assessment and Social Work, Children in Our Care, Contact, Fostering and Adoption and this will be co-ordinated by the Principal Social Worker and an Advanced Practitioner. This ‘team’ will provide a monthly drop in session once a month with two ‘team’ members offering advice, life story examples and the opportunity to complete books. All students are to be part of the Life Story Team during their placements to be involved in the development and implementation of resources. The Life Story Team will also manage all Life Story resources.

Example Life Story Books in the agreed format are stored on Blackburn with Darwen Children’s Services in-house information website Sharepoint.

This policy seeks to provide a framework that Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council will adhere to in permanence planning for young people in care and beyond.

RELATED CHAPTER

Later Life Letters Guidance

AMENDMENT

In August 2016, this chapter was extensively updated and replaces the previous chapter entitled Life Story Books.


Contents

  1. Policy
  2. Guidance

    Appendix 1: Life Story Gathering Process


1. Policy

Adoption

Each child with a plan for adoption MUST have a Life Story Book, with older children having some Life Story Work, the intensity of which will be dependent on their emotional well-being and level of understanding at the time. The progress of this will be discussed during the Family Finding Referral Meeting and must be near completion (up to the point of adoptive placement) prior to the match being agreed. The Later Life Letter should be prepared in consultation with the adoptive family post placement and prior to the Adoption Order.

The process will be supported by the Life Story Team. Social Workers will be expected to attend at least one Life Story Workshop whilst completing their book to have it checked through before the final product is evaluated and quality assured by the Social Worker’s line manager, who will record in a case note on Protocol that the book has been seen and endorsed and contains all the relevant information and history. Progress will be monitored by Independent Reviewing Officers at each Looked After Child Review and prior to the Adoption Order being granted.

When considering an Adoption match, the child’s Social Worker in the Assessment and Social Work Team will complete a Life Story Narrative before transferring to the Adoption Team. A case summary discussion of what direct/indirect work has been completed with the child will take place at the point of handover. Photographs must also be collected. Any direct Life Story Work completed with the child prior to placement should include the foster carers to enable them to support the child and understand their journey.

When considering the match, Adoption Panel will check that photographs, the ‘My Life’ books from Foster Carers, the narrative for the Life Story Book and the Later Life Letter are completed/up to date. Arrangements need to be in place for giving these items to the Adopters by the first LAC Review at the latest for children over 3 and by the second LAC Review for children under 3 and babies. In addition, at the point of placement with Adopters, the Social Worker will share the Life Story information so they can ask any additional questions and increase their understanding and knowledge of the child’s journey. The Adoption Social Worker will continue Life Story Work with the child in placement and the Life Story Book will be completed by the Adoption Team worker prior to the Adoption Order being granted. The adoptive family should be part of any direct work undertaken with the child once in placement, so that information about the child’s new family can be added to the Life Story Book. The adoptive family should be given the opportunity to look at the Life Story Book and the Later Life Letter before these documents are completed as a final draft so that they can suggest and agree any amendments.

The completed Life Story Book and Later Life Letter should be saved electronically and physical copies should be handed to the child/Adopters within 10 working days of the Adoption Ceremony, i.e. the ceremony to celebrate the making of the Adoption Order. No adoption file should be closed until the completed Life Story Book and Later Life Letter have been passed to the adoptive family.

Looked After Children

Every child in long term foster care should have a Life Story Book and staff will be trained appropriately to achieve this. The Life Story Book should be started by the Social Worker in the Assessment and Social Work Team in terms of the narrative for the child’s background and birth family information, and developed throughout the period that the child is looked after by the Social Worker in the Children in Our Care Team. A case summary discussion of what indirect/direct work has been undertaken with the child prior to handover to the Children in Our Care Team. It is the responsibility of the child’s Social Worker to ensure that Life Story Work is undertaken and that the book is maintained. The child’s Social Worker takes the lead in the planning and coordination of the various tasks involved and to gather and create the resources. They will be expected to present evidence of their planning to LAC Reviews. It may be appropriate for contributions to be made by the child’s foster carer, staff in residential homes and others involved with the child and in some cases by the child’s birth family, but the Social Worker has direct responsibility for the production of the Life Story Book.

The Life Story Book should be saved electronically and physical copies should be handed to the child when the permanence plan is established and the child is matched with long term carers, or when the child ceases to be Looked After.

Special Guardianship Orders

Children subject to a Special Guardianship Order should have a Life Story Book within a month of the Special Guardianship Order being made.


2. Guidance

The Life Story Book is more than a photograph album with identifying sentences giving dates, places and names. It is an account of the child’s life in words, pictures and photographs and is a tool to help a looked after/adopted child to understand their past and Life Story Work gives the child an opportunity to explore emotions through play and conversation. The Life Story Book should start with the child’s current situation and then move on through the child’s life from birth to the present. The language should be child focused, and for children who are being adopted, it should reflect that the prospective adopters are the children’s parents. Therefore, birth parents should be referred to by name.

The Life Story Book provides a record to which the child and the adults caring for them can refer at any time. It provides the opportunity for the child to know about things to be proud of and the book should be compiled with this in mind.

It may be appropriate to give parents, grandparents and other members of the wider family the opportunity to contribute to the book, for example memories / funny stories, favourite things, sharing photographs of extended family members.

The Life Story Book should be written specifically for the child and should not include generic copies of worksheets or copies of books prepared for siblings.

A Life Story Book/Work 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 the continuing Life Story can be added;
  • Be something the child can return to when he/she needs to deal with old feelings and clarify and/or accept the past;
  • Recall past events at the child’s pace and provide a structure for talking to children about painful issues;
  • Enable the child to share their past with others;
  • Build a sense of trust between the child and the worker/s who help them to compile the book;
  • Facilitate bonding with the carer;
  • Increase the child’s self-esteem and aid their development.

Life Story Work Resources

The Life Story Work resources should be collated into the following elements.

Photographs

A collection of photographs of important and special people, animals, toys, places and events, both from the birth family and from foster carers, which have significance for the child. The Contact Team must upload all contact photographs to the child’s electronic file on the shared drive no later than two weeks following the final contact for children whose permanence plan is for adoption.

A Memory Box

This can be bought or custom made and decorated. It should contain tangible items that are significant and have memories attached to them, e.g. birth tags, school work, school programmes, letters etc.

Birth Family History Narrative

For the child who is permanently separated from their birth family, this is a carefully researched resource which provides the child with information and knowledge about their birth family. It provides explanations about why the child was adopted or placed into foster care long term. It promotes genetic identity, provides a realistic image of the birth family and provides information that helps in searching for ancestry and genealogy later in life as it could include family trees. However, birth and marriage certificates of birth parents should be given directly to the Adopters so that these can be shared with the child when they are of an age where they may wish to trace their birth family.

A Record of ‘Life in Care’/Placed in Adoptive Placement

This is collated by the foster carers/residential staff/adopters and should bring together written and pictorial memories of incidents and events involving the child and their carers whilst in care. Foster families and residential staff are encouraged to record the story of the child’s stay with them as fully as possible using the ‘My Life’ booklets, which will be given to Foster Carers in the blue folder. IRO’s should check that the Foster Carer has received them at the first LAC Review after placement.

Later Life Letter

This is written by the Social Worker in the Assessment and Social Work Team for the child to read later in life. It provides a more mature account of the child’s past and states the professional’s view of the significant events and decisions that were made. It also provides a resource to adopters in the ‘telling’ process, which demands more detail and insight as the child grows up.

‘My Memory Book’ Folder

For all children in care to undertake in contact with the birth family, this is a folder containing activities and sheets for children and parents to complete together for the child to keep. It provides information that can be added to the Life Story Book and is also a nice memory record of contact. Contact Officers will be responsible for ensuring that this folder is available for all contacts and for encouraging the birth parents and child to engage in the activities, as well as taking photographs of the sessions. This folder will be stored by the Contact Team until the final contact has taken place, at which point it will be handed to the child’s Social Worker. The Contact Team should upload all contact photographs no later than 10 working days after the final contact has taken place and will be stored electronically on the child’s file, where all letters, information, narratives should also be stored so that they can easily be passed from one worker to another.

Suggestions for the types of information to be included in the Life Story Work resources:

  • Photographs of the child’s birth parents and any information about them, including a family tree and details of siblings/half siblings and their care plan;
  • Information about the child’s birth, including the birth weight, length and head circumference, a photograph of the child, if possible, and the hospital/birth centre and birth certificate;
  • Information about the child’s life in foster care/residential care, including photographs of the foster family and foster home or the children’s home and staff;
  • Developmental milestones – dates of first smile, sounds, words, tooth, steps etc.
  • Information about injuries, illnesses, admission to hospital;
  • Favourite activities, foods, birthday and Christmas gifts, likes and dislikes of the child;
  • Special trips the child has experienced;
  • Photos of relatives/friends;
  • An age appropriate truthful life history;
  • School reports, names of teachers and schools, exam results and certificates;
  • School photographs;
  • Information about previous placements and significant people, with photographs if possible;
  • Small mementos connecting the child with their more distant past, such as the first tooth lost, a lock of baby hair or the tag from the hospital when they were born;
  • Photographs of contact and any art/direct work completed in these sessions;
  • Story of the Court process and family finding;
  • Details of ceremonies (e.g. baptism, adoption);
  • Anecdotes;
  • Story of life in permanent placement.

Using The Life Story Book

Children need to be sensitively given truthful and honest explanations using language they can understand – protection and evasion can lead to confusion and fear. Adults should never pretend that abusive/bad relationships didn’t exist. It is important to answer questions as honestly as possible and that children are helped to accept that not everything can be explained or understood; however it is just as important for adults to admit if they don’t know the answer and offer to try to find out rather than guessing or surmising. Children need to be helped to realise that it is healthy to express feelings rather than bottling them up, which can lead to negative behaviours like aggression or withdrawal. It is the Adopter’s role to decide when the child is ready for this difficult information and therefore it is suggested that Life Story Books are written with this in mind and having sections / pages that can be removed until the child is older.

Life Appreciation Days

Life Appreciation Days take place for adopted children who have been in care and had a number of professionals involved in their lives. Prior to the meeting a sheet will be sent out to all workers / people involved with the child asking for a little anecdote and photo and an explanation of their role before being invited to attend to meet the Adopters. These will be stored in the child’s memory box. Independent Reviewing Officers should also be invited to participate.


Appendix 1: Life Story Gathering Process

Click here to view Appendix 1: Life Story Gathering Process.

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