Life Story Books Guidance

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

Good preparation for adoption and good life story work contribute towards successful adoptive placements. The Life Story Book provides an accessible and child-friendly explanation for the child of how they have come 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.

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.

The child's birth parents, family, foster carers and other people who know the child should be encouraged to be involved in putting together contents. They may also be able to provide memorabilia significant to the child such as the child's hospital birth wristband; soft toys, letters and celebration cards; first drawings and paintings and photographs of birth parents, siblings, family members and other people who are important to the child. Where appropriate, this memorabilia should be stored safely in a suitable box - a 'memory box'.

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 presented within 10 working days of the adoption ceremony i.e. the ceremony to celebrate the making of the Adoption Order.

The child's Life Story Book helps them to explore and understand their early history and life before their adoption. It is important therefore for it to be written in a simple and age appropriate style and that the language and terms used are agreed with the prospective adopter before the book is handed over. For example, some prospective adopters use the term 'tummy mummy' as a way of explaining to the child who their birth mother is, whereas other prospective adopters use different terms. The explanation of why the child was adopted should not include explicit or distressing details. This information needs to be given to the chills at a time when they are emotionally able to cope and understand the information. Consideration should be given on whether the surname of the birth parents, family and others should be included in the Life Story Book.

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;
  • Be creatively produced so that it looks good and is given value.

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 other people who know the child, including carer(s), parents and other relatives.

Time and care should be given to:

  • Planning carefully how undertake the work;
  • Thinking very specifically how to share difficult information in line with the child's age and stage of development;
  • 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.

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 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 workers and their roles;
  • Story of the court process;
  • Photos of carers;
  • Story of family finding;
  • Details of ceremonies (e.g. baptism);
  • Anecdotes;
  • Favourite foods, likes and dislikes.

5. Foster Carers

Foster carers 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;
  • Illnesses;
  • Photos of birth family with foster family;
  • 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”

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.

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