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4.3.2 Life Story Books Guidance

AMENDMENT

In October 2019, this chapter was updated.


Contents

  1. What is a Life Story Book?
  2. Who Should Write the Life Story Book?
  3. When Should a Life Story Book be Undertaken?
  4. What Materials are Needed?
  5. Structure of the Book and what Goes Into the Life Story Book?
  6. Foster Carers / Residential Staff
  7. Using the Life Story Book
  8. Children Who Are Adopted


1. What is a Life Story Book?

All children with a plan for adoption must have a life story book. 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 an opportunity to explore emotions through play, conversation and counselling.

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 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.


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 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.


3. When Should a Life Story Book be Undertaken?

  • It is prepared FOR a baby or young child who is being permanently placed e.g. adoption. (However, even toddlers can be involved in the process by drawing pictures and looking at photos of significant family members.);
  • It is undertaken at key points of the child's life in care e.g. WITH a child who is being prepared for being permanently placed or during care proceedings.


4. 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. Remember that this book is something for the young person to keep well into adulthood.

  • In Islington we are developing a book that can be created on line and then printed to give a nice finish. All books and any work you do with children should be copied on to the file to evidence the work that has been done and for a book to be there if it is ever lost or damaged;
  • There will be available all templates on line for workers to use;
  • There will be a resource cupboard with paints crayons and other useful creative things to use when doing the direct work with children and the book. Worksheets will also be in the resource cupboard to use when doing the work with children and 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; these also will be able to be copied into the book on line;
  • Get a balance of words and pictures; use plain English;
  • A responsible adult should keep hold of the book until it is finished- negotiate with the child whether it is kept in a safe place where they live or kept safe by the social worker and brought to the sessions;
  • Keep a copy of it and place on the child's case file.


5. Structure of the Book and what Goes Into the Life Story Book?

There is a structure to the book that is encouraged to be used.

The start of the book is usually where the child is now and then to go onto the history and end with the child again in the adopted family.

Some workers like to do this in the first person so its written as if the child speaking or it can be in the third person.

What can be in the 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;
  • 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 of carers;
  • Story of family finding;
  • Details of ceremonies (e.g. baptism);
  • Anecdotes;
  • Favourite foods, likes and dislikes;
  • Anything which helps a child understand their journey into a new permanent family.


6. 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.


7. 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. Sometimes different family members have different versions of what happened;
  • Information is given sensitively and honestly, and at a child’s pace and understanding;
  • 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.


8. 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. Further details are set out in the Placement for Adoption Procedure, Preparation of Child for Adoption.

In Islington the Life Story Book should try to be completed by the time the child is placed, where this is not possible it should be given in stages to the adoptive parents, together with Later Life Letters, before the adoption order is granted within 10 working days of the adoption ceremony, i.e. the ceremony to celebrate the making of the adoption order.

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