Life Story Books Guidance
This chapter was updated in June 2019.
1. What is a Life Story Book?
All children who don't live with their birth parents should have a Life Story Book and every child who is Looked After 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 an opportunity to explore emotions through play, conversation and counselling.
A Life Story Book should:
- Keep as full a chronological record as possible of a child's life;
- Integrate the past into the future so that childhood makes sense;
- Provide a basis on which a continuing Life Story can be added to;
- Be something the child can return to when he/she 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.
Also see the template of the minimum standard of a Rotherham Life Story Book.
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 child, the carer(s), parents, relatives, friends and anyone else within the child's naturally connected network.
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;
- Noting reasons for decisions;
- Noting gaps in the records and attempting to fill them;
- Counselling children, parents, friends, relatives and carers etc. as necessary;
- Seeking support and consultation from colleagues who have experience in creating Life Story Books.
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;
- A responsible adult should keep hold of the book until it is finished;
- Keep a copy of it.
4. What Goes Into the Life Story 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, if possible;
- 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 - including abuse, neglect etc. - that is age appropriate to the child. More detail can be added later as the child needs to know;
- Parents' stories;
- Details of siblings;
- The child's views and memories;
- Photos of workers and their roles;
- Story of the court process;
- Photos of carers;
- Story of family finding;
- Details of ceremonies (e.g. baptism);
- Favourite foods, likes and dislikes.
5. Foster Carers / Residential Staff
Foster families and residential staff 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;
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;
- 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 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 must be part of the preparation of the child for the adoptive placement. Further details are set out in the Placement for Adoption Procedure, Preparation of Child for Adoption.
The Life Story Book will usually 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.