Life Story Books Guidance
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 December 2019.
1. What is a Life Story Work Book?
All children with a plan for adoption must have a Life Story Book. Making a Life Story Book is more than creating a photographic 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 a chronological record as possible of a child's life journey;
- Integrate the past into the future so that the record of the child's life 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 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 and supporting them through this journey.
2. Who Should Write the Life Story Work Book?
The process should be initiated, driven and coordinated by the allocated social worker and carried out in coordination with the other people who know the child, including carer(s), parents and other relatives, as they will have a relationship with the child to steer this.
Time and care should be given to:
- Planning carefully how the work will be undertaken;
- Reading the information about the child carefully and thoroughly and clarifying any gaps so that this can be clearer to a child;
- Collating the information in chronological order;
- Outlining clearly the reasons for decisions that were made;
- Providing opportunities to provide counselling to 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.
- Using a loose leaf folder so that items can be added;
- Always work on clean paper;
- Drawings and photos should be mounted, as far as possible;
- Use neat headings and type if at all possible;
- If the child is unable/reluctant to write themselves, let them dictate what they want to say and record this accurately as they stated;
- 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 and provide a copy to the allocated social worker to follow the child's file.
4. What Goes Into the Life Story Work 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;
- 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;
- Details of siblings;
- The child's views and memories;
- Photos of previous and current workers and their roles;
- Story of the court process;
- Photos of previous and current carers;
- Story of the family finding journey;
- Details of ceremonies (e.g. baptism);
- Favourite foods, likes and dislikes.
5. Foster Carers
Foster Carers 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;
- Photos of birth family with foster family;
- Crafts/pictures completed in the foster home/school/playgroup;
Where appropriate, this memorabilia should be stored safely in a suitable box – a “memory box”.
6. Using the Life Story Work 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 should 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 should 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.