Life story work

Research conducted jointly between the UK children’s charity Coram and the University of Bristol  shows that the quality of children’s life story books varies considerably.

The research has helped to address an absence in the academic literature of adopters’ perspectives on their children’s life storybooks. Forty adopters from England and Wales participated in either focus group or telephone interviews for the research.

Often life storybooks have to address uncomfortable issues accurately and with a good deal of sensitivity. Providing thoughtful life story work is a time consuming and skilled task. Children’s life story books need to be put together in a way that is balanced, age-appropriate and child-centred.

Summary of main findings

Whilst some of the accounts were of positive experiences, there was a broad consensus that: many books were of poor quality, children had been poorly prepared to explore their histories, adoption professionals and agencies did not seem to prioritise life storybooks, and that adopters felt poorly prepared in how to use and update life storybooks with their children.

Clear messages for adoption agencies can be elicited regarding the preparation and use of life storybooks, such as improved training for professionals and monitoring of the quality of books produced and better access to support and guidance for adopters to engage in this crucial work with their children over time.

Implications for Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs)

The Adoption and Children Act 2002 states that a child must be given comprehensive information about themselves on placement with adoptive parents and that some form of life story work should be carried out prior to adoption.

As part of permanence planning the IRO should be satisfied that: review decisions include timescales for the completion of: life story work; later life letter; and the post adoption/special guardianship plan (IRO Handbook, 3.53).

The IRO should plan, monitor and review the life story work throughout the child or young persons care journey. The plan and progress should be discussed and recorded at every review.

When the IRO has concerns about the progress and/or quality of life story work, these concerns must be shared with the practitioner and their supervising manager and attempts made to resolve matters informally or to escalate to a formal dispute (IRO Tool Box ‘Standards for IRO Challenge and Dispute Resolution‘ and (IRO Handbook, Dispute Resolution and Complaints, Chapter 6).

IROs should ensure that life storybook planning is incorporated throughout the child’s care journey; helping to make sure that professionals, family and carers have sufficient time and support and that arrangements for the routine monitoring of the quality of books produced inform the approach to training, learning and development.

Read the full research report here: Adopters’ views on their children’s life story books 

Discover more about life story work here:

How adoption social workers can deliver first-class life story work.

IRO Handbook

Life story work: what it is and what it means (BAAF)

SCIE My Life Story

SCIE/NICE recommendations on looked after children: Recommendation 25 Explore personal identity and support ongoing life-story activities

We need to help children in care treasure the objects that tell their life story

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