SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
Good preparation for adoption and good life story work contribute towards a successful adoptive placements. The Life Story Book provides an accessible and child-friendly explanation for the child of how they have comes to be where they are today.
This chapter explains the importance of the Life Story Book for adoptive children, and provides guidance on 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.
This chapter was reviewed in March 2019.
- What is a Life Story Book?
- Who Should Write the Life Story Book?
- What Materials are Needed?
- What Goes Into the Life Story Book?
- Foster Carers
- Using the Life Story Book
- Children who are Adopted
- Service Standards
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 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 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. 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;
- Always work on clean paper;
- Drawings and photos should be mounted;
- Use neat headings and legible clear font;
- 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;
- A responsible adult should keep hold of the book until it is finished;
- Keep a copy of it on disc and on the child's electronic record.
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;
- 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 - which is age appropriate. More detailed and potentially distressing information about the reasons why a child was adopted should be included in the Later Life Letter which is given to them when they are older and better able to cope and understand such information;
- Parents' stories;
- Pictures of nursery/school capturing memories;
- 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);
- Favourite foods, likes and dislikes.
Where appropriate, this memorabilia should be stored safely in a suitable box – a “memory box”
5. Foster Carers
Foster families 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 did not;
- 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;
- Photos of birth family with foster family;
- Crafts/pictures completed in the foster home/school/playgroup;
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 do not 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 did not 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.
8. Service Standards
Life story work is direct work with the child about their history which may culminate with the production of a life story book and or later life letters.
The feedback from the Voices of Care Council highlighted concerns that children in Coventry's care are not receiving this intervention and as such the child not understand the history of their birth family, the context and reasons for their entry into care and the subsequent decisions made about their care plan.
This sets out clear expectations of each member of the Team Around the Child in respect to tasks required around life story work.
- Life story work begins when a child is referred to Childrens Social Care. It is captured by the detailed recording of the child's social history and the decision making;
- Life story work will be augmented by the undertaking of a Family Group Conference in which the child's extended family and friendship network is detailed and a record is kept of what the family proposed as a plan;
- Permanence Planning commences at the point a decision is made for a child to become looked after. Plans for permanence for the child are required for the first looked after review following the child's entry into care with identifiable milestones to execute a plan by the point of the second looked after review.
As such the second Looked After Review will be the point at which discussions on the undertaking of life story work will be held and a plan endorsed;
- Four questions re life story work will be asked by the IRO for every child at their review.
- Does the child have or access to a family tree with relevant details?
- Does the child have or access to a child friendly record of pre-care history including significant events along with decision making by Childrens Social Care with particular reference to the reasons for becoming looked after?
- Does the child have or access to a child friendly placement / care history including decisions in respect to Permanence Plan?
- Does the child have or access to a collection of photos, memorabilia, keeps sakes and certificates that would provide information in respect to the above?
At each review the IRO will consider these questions and allocate tasks to ensure this is available to each child.
8.1 Children with Plan of Adoption
It is requirement that each child who is adopted is provided with a life story book produced with the assistance of their adopters and a later life letter by the Child's allocated social worker.
This is to be delivered to the adoptive parent(s) within 10 working days of the Adoption Order.
8.2 Children with a Plan of Special Guardianship
It is a requirement that children with placed with a Special Guardian(s) are provided with keep sakes and photos of their time in care and their Guardians are provided with an overview of the child's placement history and report from the most recent foster carers by the Child's allocated social worker.
This should be provided within 10 days of the order being made.
The children's allocated social worker should confirm with the Special Guardian that they understand the reasons for the children being looked after and have access the birth family details and history.
8.3 Children with a plan of Permanence Fostering.
It is a requirement that children with this plan will have:
- A family tree with relevant details;
- A placement history with details of all placements;
- A with collection of photos with details and keepsakes;
- An invitation made every review to and support create a life story book with a nominated member of the Team Around the Child.
8.4 Young people with plan for Independence
It is requirement that young people will received detailed summary of their health history within 10 days of the young person turning 18.
It is a requirement that there will be a similar letter outlining their placement history and their education history within one month of young person turning 18 or a timescales is agreed with the young person.
Team Around the Child Expectations
The allocated social worker / permanence social worker will ensure the following:
- Details from birth family members for the completion of a family tree;
- Details from birth family of child's pre care history with focus on securing birth and early history for children who are not likely to have ongoing direct face to face contact with birth parents;
- Undertaking of work with prospective adopters and or children around production of life story book and later life letter.
Allocated Personal Advisor
- The co-ordination of health and education history letters to young people;
- The production of a placement history letter to the young person.
Key Worker / Foster Carer
- The taking and printing of photos at key significant events and occasions;
- The recording of the dates of key developmental milestones;
- The collection with explanatory documentation and safe keeping of all memorabilia, mementos and other keeps sakes for the period of the placement.
Supervising Social Worker
- Oversight of the tasks undertaken by the foster carers;
- The drafting of a placement report which includes detailed summary over the course of the placement of the children's likes and dislikes, favourite toys and past times and interests and key relationships.
- The drafting of a comprehensive placement history;
- The co-ordination of education and health histories letters to the child's plan.
- The taking of regular photos of contact with birth family and provision of copies to birth families and allocated social worker;
- The production of the observation report for each contact.
Given the importance of historical information it is critical that the task of gathering and recording information and starts as soon as child becomes looked after.
The compilation of a finished Life Story Book for children who will be adopted will be however undertaken by the Permanence Social Worker with the prospective adopted.
The compiling and maintenance of life story books for children who are placed with Permanence Foster Carers will be undertaken with the child and the person nominated by the child. This could be foster carer, key worker, supervising social worker etc.