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W3C Compliance

8.2.17 Child Appreciation Days

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

The Life Appreciation Day is primarily for the child’s adoptive parents/new carers with the purpose of bringing together the story of the child’s life. It helps those attending to fully appreciate the child’s life in a way that cannot be done just by reading reports and talking with individuals.

A Life Appreciation Day gives the opportunity to search for information and clues relating to the child’s life and to appreciate how a child has made sense of their experiences. It is important to keep the child in focus and consider events and experiences from their perspective.

RELEVANT CHAPTER

Life Story Work Procedure

This chapter was introduced into the manual in November 2016.


Contents

  1. History
  2. What is the Purpose of a Life Appreciation Day?
  3. Why Hold a Life Appreciation Day?
  4. When Should They be Held?
  5. Who Should be Invited?
  6. Preparing for the Day – Things to Think About
  7. The Chair’s Task
  8. Setting the Agenda
  9. Themes
  10. The Child’s Progress in their Birth Family 
  11. The Child’s Progress in Care
  12. The Child’s Preparation for Permanence/Adoption
  13. Recording


1. History

The concept of Life Appreciation Days has grown out of the practice wisdom and research from Disruption Meetings. This has identified potential risk factors in adoption placements, including the lack of real knowledge of the child, poor assessments of a child’s needs and attachment patterns and lack of preparation of both child and prospective adopters, i.e. preparing this child for these adopters and vice versa.

The understanding of the impact of trauma and abuse on children has grown in the last decade, the view that love and consistent parenting would be enough to ensure successful placements has been shown to be somewhat naïve.

We now recognise the importance of setting a child’s previous experiences of care in a developmental context. It is also important to take into consideration the impact of trauma and abuse on a child’s concept and understanding of themselves and relationships alongside their capacity to form healthy and more secure attachments.

During a Life Appreciation Day, the aim is to introduce the adopters/new carer to the people who, have significant personal knowledge of the child. These people often have important recollections to share with adopters/new carers. Clearly we cannot ask everyone to help as limitations of time and consideration of confidentiality have to be taken into account. The presence of present carers is crucial however.


2. What is the Purpose of a Life Appreciation Day?

The day is primarily for the child’s adoptive parents/new carers, and the prime purpose is to bring together the story of the child’s life up to this point. It helps those attending to fully appreciate the child’s life in a way that cannot be done just by reading reports and talking with individuals.

A Life Appreciation Day is a way of bringing a child alive by exploring the impact and reality of their experiences and to help adopters/new carers feel the reality of a child’s experiences, both damaging and positive. It can also help adopters understand the circumstances of the birth parents and why their children were placed for adoption/long term fostering. In essence, it is a guided journey through a child’s life.

A Life Appreciation Day gives the opportunity to search for information and clues relating to experiences and events in a child’s life about which little might be known. It is also an opportunity to try to understand how a child has made sense of their experiences. The day is not about apportioning blame, nor is it a Professionals Meeting – it is important to keep the child in focus and consider events and experiences from their perspective.

A Life Appreciation Day is not just about drawing together a factual summary of events and significant experiences, it is about trying to tune into the emotional resonance of a child’s life, i.e. how they have thought and felt about what has happened to them and their understanding of why they are where they are now.

Is it a Life Appreciation Day or a Child Appreciation Day? Opinions vary as to the language used to describe these meetings. Essentially the day is about setting the child in the context of their wider family and experiences in the care system and developing an understanding of them in these contexts.

It is important to consider the child’s heritage and culture in the widest sense as this gives a sense of continuity, belonging and meaning. Poverty, intergenerational abuse and class are often themes that emerge and are significant factors in determining a child’s entry into the care system.

The reality for a child who is in a permanent placement is that they are living between two families. Children are trying to make sense of who they are, why they are in a particular place, where they belong and to give meaning to their experiences.


3. Why Hold a Life Appreciation Day?

From experience of placing children and supporting adoptive placements, one of the main purposes of Life Appreciation Days is to help adopters/new carers to develop and maintain empathy for their child’s history and previous experiences, and the impact of trauma and abuse on the child’s functioning in all areas of their development. It helps adopters/new adopters to put the behaviours of a child in this context and identify appropriate strategies to manage these, and to support the child in developing a more secure attachment with them.

Although a great deal of information can be shared with prospective adopters/ new carers by other means, a Life Appreciation Day often identifies different information such as:

  • Personal recollection – this does not get recorded on a Social Care file and the person who remembers a certain time in a child’s life may not be around. Case records often focus on process or planning and the child as an individual may sometimes be lost;
  • People’s feeling about the child – again often this sort of information is not recorded. From experience of birth records counselling with adult adoptees how people in the past felt towards them is as important to them as the “facts” and circumstances of their adoption;
  • Triggers and patterns often emerge that have not been identified previously, e.g. seasonal triggers associated with a time of year, or situational triggers, e.g. bath time and patterns of behaviour;
  • Patterns of attachment – with birth family and previous carers. Developing a sense of the styles of parenting a child has previously experienced is key in assessing their current attachment style and the sort of parenting they are likely to need in the future.


4. When Should They be Held?

Timings of Life Appreciation Days vary, as do views as to when they are most beneficial. To date Life Appreciation Days in Merton have been held once the child has been in placement for at least six months. This allows the new carers/adopters to have gained some knowledge of the child, and be able to relate information of the child’s past experiences to the current child’s presentations. It also promotes further questioning by the new carers in terms of specific presentations.

It is important to remember that whenever a Life Appreciation Day is held it can only be completed once and it can inform Life Story work.


5. Who Should be Invited?

  • Adopters; /new carers;
  • Adopters Support Worker;
  • Current and previous foster carers;
  • Consider including views of birth children and other foster children in placement, it may be appropriate to invite them to the end of the meeting to contribute their memories of the child. They can bring a child’s perspective to the meeting;
  • Supervising Social Workers for foster carers;
  • Residential Workers;
  • Child’s Social Workers – past and present; including MASH team workers if possible;
  • Reviewing Officer;
  • Family Support Workers;
  • Social Worker/professional undertaking any direct work with the child;
  • Contact Workers;
  • Teachers – past and present;
  • Nursery Workers, Play Workers, After School Staff;
  • Family Centre Worker;
  • Health Visitor;
  • Speech Therapist;
  • CAHMS Worker;
  • Psychologist
  • Community Midwife
  • CAFCASS;
  • Any other significant adults;
  • Neighbours, church members.

In deciding who should attend it is important to bear in mind who the child may identify as significant from both the past and present.

The adopter(s),/new carers, current foster carer, child’s Social worker and the Support Worker for current foster carers and prospective adopters will be present for the whole day. Other participants will be invited to attend for a specific time.


6. Preparing for the Day – Things to Think About

Practicalities

  • Wherever possible, Life Appreciation Days are held at a venue where there is space away from the meeting to allow people to have some private time if so required;
  • Send out invitations as early as possible. Attendees should be asked to read up on any files, diaries and records about the child/children before the day, and to bring along any photographs and memorabilia especially personal ones – including photographs, paintings and drawings which could be passed on to the new carers;
  • Prepare a family tree and a flowchart of significant events and moves in the child's life. These should be sent to the chairperson of the day, along with the Child's Permanence Report and any other relevant documents, preferably one week before the Life Appreciation Day;
  • Lunch and refreshments are provided for the participants who are present for the whole of the Life Appreciation Day. Minutes of the meeting are taken to be distributed as soon as possible following the day;

Equipment and Resources

  • Flip Chart, pens;
  • PowerPoint projector;
  • DVD player;
  • Photographs and memorabilia relating to the child.


7. The Chair’s Task

Who Chairs?

Chairing a Life Appreciation Day requires skill and experience in managing meetings and an understanding of the complexities of the event. The Chair will need a working knowledge of the child, as well as the skill to keep the child, and how they may have experiences their early life, as the focus of the day. A Life Appreciation Day will generally be a full day’s meeting in order to give adequate time to the importance of a Life Appreciation Day.

Some documents should be made available to the Chair in advance including:

  • Child’s Permanence Report;
  • Chronology;
  • Review Reports;
  • Reports on the child’s Health and Education and any special needs;
  • Professional Reports.


8. Setting the Agenda

Usually a family tree and flowchart of the child’s life is visible throughout the whole day. It may be possible to project photographs of the child around the room.

Participants will be offered a specific time slot, although are welcome to be around for the whole day. It may be that they will be able to participate throughout in relation to information shared by others.

Time will be given for people to introduce themselves.

The minutes of the day should be written up by the Minute Taker and passed to the Chairperson of the meeting to read and amend. Once the amendments are made, the report should be sent to the child/children's social worker who should read and make any necessary changes. Following all changes the report should be sent to the prospective adopters, and a copy placed on the child/children's file.

Merton acknowledges that the day may raise emotions for all involved and for this reason regular breaks will be an important feature of the day to allow people time to reflect and think.


9. Themes

It is important to set the discussion within a developmental framework and an understanding of the impact of trauma, abuse and loss on the child’s capacity to develop healthy attachments. Life Appreciation Days need to consider life from the child’s perspective in all settings. We ask participants to think about the whole experience for the child in each setting; the sounds, the smells, the textures, the atmosphere, the messages that the child may have received.


10. The Child’s Progress in their Birth Family

  • History of each parent and how their needs were met;
  • Consider any issues arising from cultural difference, race, religion, lifestyle, etc.
  • Child’s pre-birth and post-birth experiences – what support was available to birth mother?
  • Names and identity – who named this child;
  • What happened to birth parents that they could not parent this child? (Brief extrapolation);
  • What has the child received or been denied in terms of having needs met? Emotional availability of all carers;
  • What did their birth parents give them?
  • What sort of physical conditions did this child live in?
  • Changes and moves pre-care;
  • What sorts of parenting styles has this child experienced?
  • What sort of attachment style has this child developed?
  • Child’s role and position in the family;
  • Messages the child received;
  • What have been the positives and points of resilience in pre-care experiences?


11. The Child’s Progress in Care

  • Why was this child removed from their birth family? Who was involved in the decision making process?
  • How did this child experience their transition into the care system? Who was involved? How did it happen? What was the child’s response? What was the impact on others involved, e.g. birth family, siblings, and workers?
  • What sort of parenting styles has this child experienced in foster care?
  • How did carers feel about them?
  • How did carers experience this child?
  • Identify the child’s coping mechanisms and behaviour;
  • How has the child internalised their understanding of why they are in care?
  • Relationships with siblings – nature and quality of the relationship;
  • Contact with siblings and birth family members – frequency and quality;
  • Progress at school – any moves? Relationships with teachers;
  • Peer relationships – who has been special to this child?
  • Placement moves – why? Who was involved? How did the child respond?


12. The Child’s Preparation for Permanence/Adoption

  • Child’s involvement in and understanding of adoption/permanence process;
  • Child’s response to and involvement in life story work;
  • Child’s wishes and feelings;
  • Any assessments, therapeutic interventions?


13. Recording

So much information about the child and their experiences is shared during the course of the day that it is important to have an accurate record of what is said. It is an emotional experience for the adopters/ new carers and the amount of information shared may mean that adopters could feel overwhelmed.

The minutes of Life Appreciation Days will be written up and made available to adopters within a relatively short timescale.

End