6.2.15 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 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.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was reviewed in February 2019.

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:

  • 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 they need 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;
  • Facilitate and promote the attunement and attachment between the child and adoptive family;
  • Develop a sense of security and permanency;
  • Give a sense of a hopeful and positive future.

2. Who Should Write the Life Story Book?

The process should be initiated, driven and coordinated by the life story team in partnership with the child's social worker and carried out in coordination with the other people who know the child, including adoptive parents, foster carer(s) and birth parents.

Time and care should be given to:

  • Planning carefully how to 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, adoptive parents, foster carers, birth parents as necessary;
  • Sharing draft copies of the book with child and or adopters at regular intervals;
  • Proof reading the books before the final version is delivered.

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.

  • Follow the Joy Rees method (Referring to her book Life Story Books for Adopted Children);
  • Use a Scrapbooking album;
  • Devise a powerpoint presentation to reflect the child's personality;
  • Use headings in accordance to the Joy Rees book;
  • If the child is unable/reluctant to write themselves, let them dictate what they want to say;
  • Use good quality treasured photos, documents etc to scan and upload onto the powerpoint presentation;
  • Get a balance of words and pictures;
  • The Life Story Worker will keep the book until it is finished;
  • Keep a copy of it.

4. What Goes Into the Life Story Book?

  • Photos of maternity hospital (and, for younger children, a clock showing the time);
  • Weight, length, head circumference at birth;
  • Any items from the hospital (e.g. identity tag);
  • Dates of first smile, sounds, words, tooth, steps etc;
  • Photos of birth parents;
  • Photos of adoptive family/friends, relatives and family pets;
  • 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 significant workers and their roles, significant teachers, friends and family;
  • Story of the court process;
  • Photos of carers;
  • Story of family finding;
  • Details of ceremonies (e.g. baptism);
  • Anecdotes;
  • Favourite foods, likes and dislikes;
  • Information about schools and nurseries attended including parents;
  • Details of their name - who named them and why was the name chosen;
  • Details of Life Appreciation Day including notes from attendees;
  • Brick wall page;
  • Details and photographs of adoption celebration;
  • Hopes and Aspirations for the child's future;
  • Explanation of adoption – change of name etc.

5. Foster Carers

Foster families 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;
  • Special rituals the child liked;
  • Souvenirs of school - photos, certificates, reports, photos of and stories from teachers;
  • Contact visits;
  • Illnesses;
  • Contact photos;
  • Crafts/pictures completed in the foster home/school/playgroup;
  • Anecdotes.

Where appropriate, this memorabilia should be stored safely in a suitable box – a “memory box”. The memory box is the child's and should move with them.

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:

  • Under 5s are given a toy box book in addition to their Life Story Book as an early introduction to the concept of adoption;
  • 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 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.