We often hear talk about life story work, and as foster carers we are expected to contribute to a life story book, sometimes without fully appreciating what it is or why it is so important.
A life story book contains a brief history of the child or young person, including any significant events. It is an ongoing piece of work while the child or young person is in care and should be started by the social worker as part of the care plan when the child first comes into care. But why do we need it?
Many children or young people in care do not enjoy the continuity of one family that other children do. Most children in care live with more than one foster family, have different social workers, and may often have to move to different parts of the country. With so many changes memories can become confused or even lost and the child loses their sense of identify and self-worth. A life story book can help give the child or young person a better sense of identity by preserving their memories, making sense of the past, and filling in the gaps in their own recollections. A child who has been brought up in their own family automatically has the family’s collective shared history, and with that comes their identity.
As well as preserving memories and helping the child or young person to form a sense of identity from their past, a life story book can also be used to prepare the young person for the future, for example, if they are going home, to another foster carer or to permanency, or leaving care.
A life story book can be compiled using a scrap book, large note book or photograph album. It should be attractively decorated and will include significant information and events about the child, their birth family, and age appropriate care history. A short video of the child can also be included as well as photographs and memorabilia, for example, an entry ticket to a theme park on a special day out. Large items of memorabilia can be kept in a ‘memory box’ which can supplement the life story book. Some of the information required for a life story book will not be available to the foster carer, which is why the social worker needs to be involved as they will have access to files and therefore information the foster carer does not. Sometimes life story work is completed as part of ongoing therapy by the therapist and the foster carer is asked to contribute to this.
Although the life story book is primarily for the child it can also 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. A good life story book is appropriate for the level of understanding of the child or young person, and will often be treasured by them in years to come. I know many young adults in their mid to late twenties who still look at their life story book and memory box with great fondness.
Cathy x (www.cathyglass.co.uk)