What is Life Story work?
Life Story work is the process and journey that a child takes to construct a narrative about his or her life. It is an ongoing process which starts when a child is removed from their birth family and enters foster care and continues until they are adopted and beyond. The objective of Life Story work is to give back some of a child’s past to them and create a secure base to explore their past, present and future. The type of Life Story work will vary depending on the age of the child and can include direct work and a Life Story Book.
What is a Life Story Book?
A Life Story Book is a chronology of the child’s life put into words and pictures to help them understand and remember what has happened in their past. As well as preserving memories and helping the child or young person to form a sense of identity from their past, it can also be used to help the child’s new carer or adoptive parents better understand the child’s past and how it may impact on the child’s behaviour.
We encourage adopters to keep a child’s Life Story Book accessible so the child can dip into it when they want to reflect on who they are. It is a tool for adopters to use to address any trauma the child has experienced and to use as a form of scaffolding to start therapeutic conversations. Adopters can use them to elaborate on difficult questions the child may have about their past, so that the child will assimilate their birth family identity with their adoptive family identity.
The book begins with the history of the birth family and the story of the child’s birth it also includes details of where the child has lived and why the decision was made for them to be adopted. The book ends with the adoptive family and the time spent living with the adopters up until the celebration hearing.
Why is Life Story work/the Life Story Book important?
Research tells us that if adults cannot or do not discuss their child’s past, it is reasonable for them to assume that it may be bad. Children benefit from being raised in a family where adoption is spoken about in an open and understandable way. If they do not know their story they can make up stories or believe that it was their fault. Good quality Life Story work links the past with the present for a child, so they can navigate their future without self-blame and have a good understanding about their past.
Children will have a words and pictures explanation from their Social Worker detailing why they are not living at home and Life Story work will build on this and offer a deeper knowledge and exploration of life experiences and decisions taken for them.
Benefits of Life Story work for your adopted child
Who writes it?
In most cases the Child’s Social Worker is responsible for their Life Story Book. The exception is in Family Adoption Links Leicestershire who have a dedicated Life Story Support Worker.
What is included in it?
What role do I play?
An important one right from the start since you provide a lot of the information to start the book off and eventually carry the book on. You will also find it useful when discussing important topics and feelings with your child.
This is what might be covered…
Please note that photos form an important part of the book and you will be asked to provide a range of photos including of yourselves, extended family with the child, introductions, celebrations, and of the family home.
When do I get it?
The book will be prepared and given to you shortly after the celebration hearing.
How should I use it?
When children lose track of their past, they may well find it difficult to develop emotionally and socially. The general belief is that adopted children benefit from being raised in a family where adoption is spoken about from an early age, in an open and understandable way.
It is important that as an adoptive parent you are open with your child about adoption and their life story but also follow the child’s lead. Keeping secrets about their past may damage a child’s identity formation as well as damage their trust in you – their parent(s).
Adoptive parents will need to parent therapeutically – with empathy, an understanding of the child’s ‘inner world’, and an awareness of the impact that early experiences continue to have on the child’s behaviour.
Children who know they are adopted but don’t know their stories may make up stories about their birth family or why they came to live with you. This may cause your child/ren a lot of distress and worry – usually in a way that affects their self-esteem.
Although children under four years of age cannot really understand the concept of adoption we still encourage using the words and showing the Life Story Book as it lays the foundations to develop this understanding as your child grows older. Starting these conversations lets your child know for sure that they can ask questions; they won’t have the worry of not wanting to ask you to protect you from being upset. Another worry may be if they ask about their past they may be rejected again – this time by you.
Your role is to provide information that is in line with your child’s cognitive and emotional development. When talking to a child about their past and life story remember that your tone of voice, facial expressions and body language will all have an impact on the child.
What if I lose it?
Your child’s Social Worker has a copy of their Life Story Book, please get in touch with them if you have lost/damaged yours.
Memories often sit in our sensory systems. A child might not consciously remember some of the traumatic situations that they have experienced but their bodies often do. This might mean that a sound, a texture, a colour, a taste might trigger them into survival mode and they nor you will know why. Below are some tips to consider when talking to your child about their life story.
The very fact that adults hesitate to share information about the past with a child implies to him that his past is so bad that he won’t be able to cope with it
If they get upset remind yourself that sharing makes things bearable and gives the child the ownership of their own life
The books have captured the decisions that were made and why, in a child friendly format for the boys to understand. The language is child-focussed and does not depict any shame or blame. It has a wonderful balance of tackling difficult conversations and celebrating the achievements and successes of the individual children.