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6.2.16 Life Story Books Guidance

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 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.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was reviewed in January 2019.


Contents

  1. What is a Life Story Book?
  2. Who Should Write the Life Story Book?
  3. What Materials are Needed?
  4. What Goes Into the Life Story Book?
  5. Foster Carers
  6. Using the Life Story Book
  7. 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 provides an opportunity for the child to explore and understand their early history and life before their adoption.

A Life Story Book should:

  • Record a child’s journey through their life;
  • Be a “work in progress”, i.e. their life story does not end on placement;
  • Be personal to the child;
  • Show sensitivity to the depth of information recorded within the book as this is the story a child may share with friends;
  • Promote the child’s ability to make sense of their history and decisions made by professionals, to reach their own conclusions.


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 and the child and family worker. The FAST team will usually take the main role in completing the book, which will then be checked and added to by the Social Worker.

The Quality Assurance of the Life Story Book will be undertaken initially by the FAST Team Manager, and finally by the Children’s Team Manager.

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; (Physiological assessments/chronology on ICS/Parenting Assessments are all good ways of gaining this information);
  • Noting reasons for decisions;
  • Noting gaps in the records and attempting to fill them by using case records;
  • 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;
  • 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;
  • Add page borders to personalise the book to the child, but do not to use specific borders that the children may grow out of, E.g Peppa Pig;
  • Create the document on Word and add different colours and fonts as needed;
  • The Social Worker or Child and Family Worker or their Manager will keep hold of the book until it is finished and keep it in a secure locked cabinet or drawer when the book is not in use;
  • Keep a copy of it after completion and handover to adopters, by sending a copy to the admin portal and they will upload the book onto the child’s ICS adoption record.


4. What Goes Into the Life Story Book?

  • The book should be written in the 3rd person and the child(ren) should be referred to by their name,not ‘you’;
  • 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; description of parents/place of birth. Note no dates of birth and no surnames;
  • Photos and maps of places where the child lived - with caution around identifying information according to the child’s age and the potential risk in this;
  • 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; first names ONLY. Any contact. What the sibling likes/dislikes/who they live with;
  • The child's views and memories;
  • Photos of workers and their roles;
  • Story of the court process; / briefly explain about visiting the judge/who went/ the judge’s decision;
  • Photos of carers; positive memories/days out/who they live with (pets, other family members)/school/clubs/friends;
  • Story of family finding;
  • Details of ceremonies (e.g. baptism);
  • Anecdotes;
  • Favourite foods, likes and dislikes.


5. Foster Carers

Foster families and staff in any residential home (e.g. parent and child residential assessment unit) 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 and milestones (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; who with/when/where (in the community/at centre)/was contact positive, negative and why/ and final contact;
  • Photos of birth family during contact;
  • Illnesses;
  • Photos of birth family with foster family;
  • Crafts/pictures completed in the foster home/school/playgroup;
  • Anecdotes.

Where appropriate, this memorabilia should be stored safely in a “memory box”.


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 in a child friendly way;
  • Adults admit when they don't know the answer and offer to try and find out (rather than making something up); often the information will be in the child’s record;
  • 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 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.

Completion of the life story book and “memory box” should be co-ordinated by the child’s social worker, and given to the child and prospective adopter. The Life Story book needs to be presented at the Adoption Panel considering the match with adopters. The latest the completed Life Story Book must be handed to the adoptive parents, together with Later Life Letters, is within 10 working days of the adoption ceremony, i.e. the ceremony to celebrate the making of the Adoption Order(often known as the Celebration hearing).However, it is useful for the adopters to have the book as soon as possible after placement, so they and the child can ensure it is read, looked at and familiar. The parts about the making of the Adoption Order can be added later by the Social Worker and adopter. The Adoption Planning meeting and reviews will always check on the provision of the Life Story Book.

End