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Life Story Work and

Life Story Book

the Life Story Book

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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

  • Organise past events into chronological order
  • Help the child’s development by resolving past confusions and self-blame
  • Increase the child’s self-esteem
  • Recall painful past events at the child’s pace
  • Enable the child to share their story with others in an appropriate way
  • Provide concrete evidence of the love that family and significant people have had for the child
  • Build a sense of trust
  • Enable the child to gain acceptance
  • Facilitate bonding and forming new relationships.

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?

  • A chronological report of your child’s life
  • Photographs
  • Drawings and paintings

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…

  • What was it like when you first met them? Did you give them anything in preparation of meeting you?
  • Information about introductions. What did you do?
  • What does the child like doing? What are their favourite things?
  • Information about significant family members and whether they have met them
  • Description of the child and their personality
  • What is their daily routine like?
  • Memories of first few weeks and months
  • Memories of milestones reached and celebrations since came to live with you
  • Details of celebration hearing. Who was present and what did you do?

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.

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Life story tips from PACT-UK

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.

  • Children have a right to the details about their life, it is their information.
  • It’s very important that children have a coherent story about themselves for their identity but also to tell others.
  • Our life story helps us to connect to others.
  • A child’s life story may be confusing as there can be contradictions and mismatches, e.g. there might be happy photos of the child and their birth mother hugging each other. The child might think ‘why did my tummy mummy not want me if she looks happy’ or ‘why was I removed if we look so happy?’
  • A child may think they are ‘bad’ or ‘unworthy’ because why else would they have been removed from their perspective? An explanation and a child’s life story can help to dispel those myths.
  • Telling the child’s life story to them in a developmental appropriate way is important e.g. if you think about a jigsaw puzzle -you would complete a 25 piece puzzle with a 5 year old, a 120 piece puzzle with a 10 year old and an 1000 piece puzzle with an adult. This kind of drip-feeding approach can be helpful and can ‘normalise’ the child’s story.
  • Tell the truth about the child’s story in a positive way, e.g. if they have had more than one placement, you could say’ Person A  couldn’t look after you anymore because they were looking after you and Child B and because you’re so special, adults decided to place you with us so we could give you all the special attention and care that you needed’.
  • Calibrate the choices that adults have made e.g. you could say ‘if you put a dirty top on, that would be this bad (show with your hands a gap of about 1 cm). If you threw a glass at a wall, that would be (show about 10cms). If you hit xxx, that would be (show about 50 cms). If an adult deliberately hurts a child or another adult, or doesn’t stop them from hurting a child, that’s so big we can’t even measure it (or you could say it’s as big as taking a long flight from here to xxx or a car ride to xxx).
  • It’s OK to acknowledge that the child had some good times with their birth family e.g. ‘your tummy mummy did give you cuddles sometimes’.
  • It’s OK for children to get angry or sad while you’re doing the work or afterwards. Try to sit with the feeling and try not to make them feel better straight away e.g. try to avoid ‘you’re with us now, everything will be OK’. Acknowledge it, say ‘it isn’t fair what happened to you’, or ‘it’s OK to be angry/sad/confused’. If they are becoming dysregulated, give them an outlet e.g. gardening, throwing a ball, playing sport, drawing, yelling in a safe space.
  • If they don’t/can’t have contact with a family member, acknowledge it and be curious. You could ask what they would ask that person if they could. You could write it down or draw a picture to help them express themselves.
  • If the child does not want to read their life story book, leave it somewhere accessible for them to look at if they want to.
  • The next day after speaking about their life story, ask them if they have any questions. Acknowledge that they have done the work as avoidance may increase their sense of shame.
  • Avoid jargon!! Children won’t and shouldn’t need to know what a Care Order is, what inappropriate behaviour is, what the word neglect means. Keep it simple e.g. ‘Mummy didn’t feed you’, ‘Mummy had no money’ etc.
  • Use arts, crafts, diagrams, puppets, toy animals and books to help explain things.
  • Together you could draw each house that the child has lived in. You can talk about who lived in these houses, what their memories are, draw faces to describe their time there etc. After you’ve drawn your house, you can cut the paper to signify that they are not moving again or use the opportunity to discuss that the child won’t be moving again.
  • Talk with your child about what they tell others about who they are and what their life story is. It is the child’s right to decide, however, they might need support as telling everyone everything isn’t appropriate. For example, what will they tell the children at school?
  • Use yourself, your memories and your story when you’re doing some of the activities with your child.
  • A child is never too young to look through their Life Story book. As a one year old, for example, you might flick through and just look at the pictures. As they get older, read the words, and then add more detail onto it as they are developmentally old enough and emotionally mature enough to handle and understand the information.
  • Make sure you talk about the good, the bad and the ugly and be honest. It’s very hard to retract what you’ve said in the past.
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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

Fahlberg (1981)

 

How to talk about difficult issues with your child

  • Be honest but take into account what stage your child is at, there’s no point in telling them something they don’t understand
  • Choose your time. Make sure everyone is calm with no other pressures
  • Be simple and clear. Use pictures, diagrams and photos to help you
  • Acknowledge how they may be feeling, perhaps say “I understand that you may feel angry about this…”
  • Leave the door open for them to talk about it at a later date. If they get angry or upset it may be hard to verbalise their feelings in that moment
  • Sympathise with how they might be feeling

If they get upset remind yourself that sharing makes things bearable and gives the child the ownership of their own life

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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.