SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter details the similarities between direct work and life story work. It covers when life story work should begin, who should undertake it, what should be covered and when the life story book should be transferred to the adopters.
RELEVANT LEGISLATION AND GUIDANCE
- Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005, Regulation 13 and 35;
- Adoption and Children Act 2002 Guidance (2011), Chapter 2 and Chapter 5, paragraphs 48 to 50;
- Adoption National Minimum Standards 2011, Standard 2.
- Principles of Direct Work with Children
- Why is Life Story Work so Important?
- When should Life Story Work Begin?
- Who Should Undertake Life Story Work?
- Collecting Memorabilia
- Involvement of other Agencies
- Life Story Books
- Identity and Diversity Issues
- Preparing Children for Adoption
- Adoption Panel’s Expectations
- Preparing the Child Once Prospective Adopters have been Identified and Matched
- Transferring the Life Story Book to the Adoptive Family
- Sources of Future Information
Appendix A: Preparing a Life Story Book
Appendix B: Understanding and Telling
Life story work and preparation for adoption lie on a continuum of direct work with the child, which at its best will equip the child to make a smooth transition from its birth family, through foster care and into a new adoptive family with the capacity - according to their age and development - for a sound understanding of the reasons why such a fundamental and permanent change has been necessary.
Good preparation for adoption is one of the contributing factors towards a successful adoptive placement.
||In practice, it is impossible to separate good preparation for adoption from good life story work, which should precede it and go with the child into the adoptive placement in the tangible form of the life story book. There the book will form the basic tool for early conversations about the child’s past experience, and will be the only tool designed for the child’s particular use. The information contained in the Child’s Permanence Report is intended for the prospective adopters at this stage of the process, and will be shared with the child when he or she is older. The life story book, however, should be the most accessible and child-friendly explanation of how the child comes to be where he or she is today. Its importance therefore cannot be over-emphasised.
When discussing this area of work a number of terms tend to be used interchangeably, although they describe quite different activities. The following definitions attempt to differentiate between these terms for greater clarity:
“Direct work” - this describes working face-to-face with a child using a variety of methods, according to the age, level of understanding and preference of the child. The focus can be on any subject. Methods include play, story books, workbooks, family trees, eco maps, timelines, CD-Roms etc.
“Life story work” means telling the story of a child’s life history to enable the child to understand their past. In the majority of cases this will involve direct work with the child, since even very young children can be involved in an age-appropriate way.
The “life story book” is the means of recording information about the child’s past in an accessible way for the child. It will include both photos and narrative. For the majority of children this will be the tangible outcome of life story work. For those children who cannot be engaged in direct work (mainly the under 2s) the book will be prepared on their behalf for the future.
Principles of Direct Work with Children
- Plan your work and be prepared to review it as you go along (including timescales, frequency of visiting, venue);
- Be clear about your purpose, method and intended outcome;
- Consider the child’s developmental level and remember some children may operate at a level below their chronological age due to learning disability or being “stuck” emotionally. (See Resource Pack - Summaries of Child Development and also Vera Fahlberg, Child Development Workbook 1998 - BAAF);
- Be aware of cultural factors and research these e.g. race, religion, identity issues, different family and community norms;
- Check your records, and your knowledge of background information;
- Gather material on important events, the child’s life, their family names, pets etc.;
- Consult and share at all stages of the work with the child’s carer and the supervising social worker. The foster carer should be informed of how and when the work will be done, and asked to be present at all sessions. Foster carers will be able to provide emotional support for the child during and between sessions, so their close involvement is crucial (See also 6.9);
- The work may be painful for the child, so prepare for this e.g. the carer available after the session etc.;
- Recognise your own feelings about personal experiences of loss and separation, grief and rejection as these may be triggered for you in your work with the child. Acknowledge these feelings and be aware of them to avoid them blocking you helping the child;
- Discuss the progress of your work in regular supervision with your line manager where appropriate advice and guidance should be given. Supervision is also an appropriate place to explore any personal feelings about the information you need to share with the child about their past.
- Get to know the child as well as possible and develop a friendly, trusting relationship;
- Be clear with the child about who you are and why you are visiting and stick to your planned visits. Be reliable for the child and don’t let them down;
- Be clear with the foster carer that the focus of the visit is to undertake life story work, to avoid being side-tracked into discussing day-to-day placement issues;
- Do the work in a safe, comfortable environment;
- Respect the child’s ability to solve problems and make choices (this may include not wishing to do a particular part of the work at any one time because they are not ready);
- Work physically at the child’s level (on the floor usually!);
- Find out what the child can do well or what she/he enjoys. This will give them confidence, but give them the opportunity to try something new;
- Go at the child’s pace, be flexible and prepared to change your agenda. Avoid the temptation to rush;
- Check out your perceptions. They may not be the same as the child’s;
- Respect confidences and be aware of what disclosures may need to be passed on. Explain why to the child;
- Give undivided attention. This is the child’s time, so allow the child time to talk;
- Be alert to non-verbal responses, e.g. body language, talking in ‘third party’, eye contact etc.;
- Be prepared to go over things several times and in different ways, to convey the same message. Children don’t always ‘hear’ things first time, particularly if it is painful;
- Know yourself, be yourself and be comfortable in what you do.
- Forget that toys and materials are tools/props to assist communication and story telling (see Resource Pack - Playthings to use in working with children);
- Forget the child’s level of understanding and functioning;
- Try to interpret everything, or you may never feel skilled enough to do the work;
- Forget the child’s carers have to deal with the aftermath of the session when you have gone home!
- Use social work jargon. When we work with children they don’t have “siblings”, they have brothers and sisters!
- Children can express in play what they can’t express in words;
- Observe and give feedback to the child;
- Acknowledge the child’s feelings. They are real to that child;
- Acknowledge your own feelings and deal with them appropriately.
4. Why is Life Story Work so Important?
||Children who live with their birth families have many opportunities to know their past and to clarify past and present events. However, children separated from their birth families are often denied these opportunities; they may have changed families, social workers, schools, homes, and moved away from familiar neighbourhoods and communities. Children who lose track of their past and who are confused about the present are likely to find it difficult to develop emotionally and socially. They will struggle to develop a secure understanding of who they are, have difficulty in developing secure attachments to other adults, and may get ‘stuck’ in damaging fantasies they form to make sense of their confusion.
“An attachment theory-informed approach to life story work would take as a starting point the child’s need to have information that enables them to put together a coherent story, one that has meaning for the child, has a beginning, a middle, a here and now - and a sense of what the future might hold... Attachment theory would emphasise that what children need above all if they are able to reflect on themselves and present themselves to and communicate openly with others, is a coherent narrative that makes sense and which leaves them with a view of themselves and their history that can be reflected on without being overwhelmed or having to defend against thinking about the past. If children have to work so hard to exclude the past from conscious thought, it can limit their capacity to engage with and experience the world differently in the present”.
(Schofield, G. and Beek, M. 2006)
5. When Should Life Story Work Begin?
||There is a significant precursor to life story work which forms the foundation on which it is built; that foundation is the child’s awareness of the reasons why they are not living at home and what changes would need to take place to enable this to happen.
||Even children as young as 2 or 3 can be given simple explanations which are truthful and which will help to prepare the child should reunification not be possible. There may be a tendency, arising from the best of intentions, to be over-protective and to feel that very young children in particular should not be exposed to the harsh reality of their birth family’s situation, in spite of the fact that they have experienced this first hand and in a far more intrusive way than we might be able to imagine.
||If children are helped to have a basic understanding of their situation at this stage, the transition into life story work forms a logical progression at the point where it becomes clear that the child is unlikely to return home. This marks the beginning of the first phase of life story work, which helps the child to understand the reasons why they are unable to return home and to express their feelings about this.
||As soon as a review agrees that the child’s permanence plan should be adoption, the Team Manager should clarify with the social worker the stage of life story work that has been reached, and ensure that the worker is in a position to take this forward in preparing the child for adoption. The social worker should be able to identify clearly the key themes which need to be addressed in life story work. A tool to assist with this is to be found at Appendix A: Preparing a Life Story Book.
The pace, progress and timing of life story work must be consistent with other processes that are underway, particularly the Court and Adoption Panel processes. However, even if direct work with the child is not possible at certain times, it will still be possible to plan the next phase of work and gather the information etc that will be needed.
Indeed information about court and panel processes can be built into the work being undertaken with the child to help them understand what is happening. In particular children will need to have an explanation of why certain decisions were made.
||Appendix B: Understanding and Telling provides useful guidance on telling the child about their past and the child’s understanding, both related to the child’s age and stage of development.
6. Who Should Undertake Life Story Work?
Life story work is based on a relationship, and should not be seen as simply completing a task.
“Children in foster care and adoption are on a journey and many parts of it are difficult. They need to feel that someone is with them on that journey and they need a framework to help them think about it and feel safe”.
(Schofield, G. and Beek, M. 2006)
||The child’s social worker is responsible for ensuring the work is done, and in most cases will be the person who has the quality of relationship with the child which makes them the appropriate person to do that work. However, there may be circumstances in which the work can be usefully delegated to or shared with a colleague or other worker who is trusted by the child. The child’s social worker remains responsible for life story work.
||This should be discussed in each formal supervision session, where it should be accorded some priority given its importance in helping the child to move on.
||Detailed discussion should also form part of the Looked After Review.
Those undertaking life story work should have enthusiasm, experience and skills in working directly with children, combined with the sensitivity to work intensively with a child in areas that may be painful and confusing. Their role is to create a secure base for the child to explore their past, present and future. If the child’s worker is taking the lead, this will be part of the continuum of ongoing work with the child. If another worker is to be involved, this will be a discrete piece of work which will need to be managed and supervised throughout.
One aspect of the life story work will be to prepare and compile the life story book.
||Student social workers may be able to compile information and produce a life story book for children under 2, where the task is mainly gathering and recording information and does not involve direct work. Otherwise the brevity of students’ placements, combined with the need to form a relationship with an older child before beginning life story work means that it is not generally appropriate for students to undertake this work.
||Trainee social workers are permanent members of Children’s Services Teams, and it may well be appropriate for a trainee to take the lead in this work, subject to proper supervision by someone experienced in life story work. Regular monitoring will also be important.
||Family Centre workers may have known the child since before being looked after. They may have a sound knowledge of the child and family, and a good relationship with the child, which would enable them to take the lead or assist with life story work and preparation of the life story book.
Foster carers should not generally take the lead in life story work, but should work alongside that person so that they are fully aware of the work being undertaken. This will enable them to support the child between visits.
Many foster carers prepare a photo album of the time that the child has been with them, which makes a valuable personal contribution to the child’s history. This does not by itself constitute a life story book, even if the child has been placed with the carers from birth.
7. Collecting Memorabilia
||The gathering of factual information for the child is of great importance, and should start as soon as the child becomes looked after. If this information and memorabilia is lost, it may never be regained for the child. Birth families, workers from Reception and Assessment and Children’s Services Teams, foster carers, residential staff, and Family Centre staff all have a role in collecting memorabilia of all significant events/achievements for the child. This information should be recorded for the child, and any memorabilia given to the child (or held in safekeeping by the carers according to the child’s age and understanding).
Foster carers are often in the best position to gather information about the child’s daily life and significant events. For example:
- Hospital birth tags etc (newborn babies);
- Developmental milestones;
- Health records, illness, injuries, accidents;
- Favourite activities and achievements;
- Birthdays and religious celebrations;
- Special friends;
- Photos of significant people e.g. birth family, friends from their community, foster carers and their homes;
- ‘Funny’ moments caught on photograph;
- Photos, anecdotes, stories about birth family contact;
- School reports;
- Special activities at school e.g. sports day;
- Educational achievements e.g. Certificates;
- Special interests e.g. Scouts, sports or leisure activities (certificates, photos etc);
- Church, religious activities and significant events.
8. Involvement of other Agencies
||Before beginning life story work, particularly where this is focused on producing a life story book, it is essential to be aware of any other agency that is currently working with the child. The most likely agency will be CAMHS, but there may be other organisations, such as those accessed by Education, which the social worker may not be so familiar with.
||It is vital to understand the focus of the work being undertaken by the other agency/organisation, the basis and timescale for their involvement, and how appropriately this sits alongside the proposed life story work.
||Looked after children may have many adults and professionals involved in their lives. As one child ruefully expressed it, “Isn’t there any part of me that works?” Careful and sensitive consideration must be given to the impact on the child (and the child’s carers) of beginning life story work in any circumstances, but even more so where other agencies are actively involved.
9. Life Story Books
…are not scrapbooks.
Given the importance of the child’s life story, it is not appropriate to use a scrapbook format. This not only gives the wrong message about how we value a child’s past experience, but it is also less durable. Life Story Books should be hard-backed A4 ring-binders so that pages can be added or removed as appropriate.
…are not fairy tales.
It is important to achieve the right balance in the way information is recorded and explanations are given. The narrative should present an honest view of the child’s life; the negatives should not be under-played, and the positives should not be over-played. This can be a difficult balance to achieve. Whilst it is possible to offer a sympathetic explanation of parental behaviour, for example, the fact that they could not meet the child’s needs or that what they did to the child was wrong should not be compromised. Life story books which strive to accentuate the positives at the expense of the real life experience of the child leave a child confused and offer no helpful explanations as to why the child was unable to remain within their birth family. The child needs to understand why he or she was adopted.
…are not dictionaries of euphemisms.
The child’s early life always contains events or circumstances which are difficult to put into words that are age-appropriate and understandable. There are no easy phrases for explaining sexual abuse, parental drug abuse, being scapegoated or rejected, and so on. Social workers on the one hand may find themselves unwittingly seeking refuge in jargon, and on the other using euphemisms which may be unhelpful, inaccurate or so obscure as to make them meaningless. For example, having to be removed from a birth mother who was “poorly” (= abusing drugs) is likely to set up anxieties about any other carer who has a medical problem or ill-health. And how does a child understand having “rude things” done to him as an explanation of sexual abuse, when he is told off by his carer for interrupting a conversation and “being rude”?
There are no definitive formulas for expressing such experiences, but a few general principles might be helpful when tackling this difficult area:
- Remember the book should be child-centred. Try to put yourself in the child’s shoes and ask what would I understand from this explanation? How might I misunderstand it?
- Try to “unpack” what you want to say - E.g. some drugs are “good drugs” - your doctor gives you these as medicine to make you better when you’re ill. Some drugs are “bad drugs” - people take these to make themselves feel happy but they don’t last. So people have to take more and more which can damage their bodies.
…are not tablets of stone.
Inevitably life story books are completed at a particular point in the child’s life. The terminology and explanations used tend to reflect the age of the child at the point when the work is done. As children grow older and their understanding develops, they will demand more detailed explanations. Obviously the life story book will have its limitations in this respect, but this should be augmented by the detail that has been included in the Child’s Permanence Report (see 15.1).
Adoptive parents should be able to use this information to re-interpret the explanations given in the life story book.
…are not reference books.
It is true that the life story book records information, and should be a useful source for the child to refer back to. However, that should be where the similarity ends. For babies and very young children, social workers will need to compile the life story books, but children from 2/3 years upwards can be involved in some way in putting together their book, with the worker recording information.
...form only the first volume of the child’s biography.
At the point where a child is placed for adoption the life story book constitutes a record of the whole of the child’s life thus far. As time goes by it becomes a smaller and smaller proportion of the child’s life. Many adoptive parents build on the life story book, continuing to record through photos, and perhaps a narrative, key events in their adopted child’s life. Nevertheless, the significance of the child’s early life experience and the influence this has had on the child’s development should never be minimised.
Life story books can also…
…have a therapeutic effect.
For older children every effort should be made to engage them in working alongside the social worker to produce their own life story book. Wherever possible this should be approached as a therapeutic opportunity, exploring feelings and reinforcing positive messages about the child. Happy memories and experiences are important to record, but can also be ways into exploring the deficits in the child’s experience – times when parents were unable to sustain good parenting, for example.
One aspect of this work may be to check out a child’s understanding of words, especially those which describe feelings, and their emotional impact. This is important as the meaning we invest in a word such as “love” for example, may be quite different to a child’s.
…provide an opportunity to further assess the child
The process of talking about birth family members, experiences and feelings can add to the social worker’s understanding of the child, and consequently lead to a clearer assessment of the child’s needs. One example might be gaining a greater understanding of sibling relationships.
- Although the life story book should be an honest account of the child’s life, caution should be exercised about certain factual information which is included or which could be disclosed inadvertently by the inclusion of certain documents. The address of a birth parent, for example, which might encourage the child to try to trace that person could compromise the safety of the child, and the security and confidentiality of the placement. A useful question to ask when preparing to do life story work and deciding what should be recorded in the life story book is “What does the child already know about their past?”;
- Life story books should be comprehensive, but workers should always ask themselves whether the child needs everything all at once. For example, does the child need information and photos about less significant members of the birth family from the outset, or would this be more appropriate if it was introduced later. Children should not be overloaded with information which may not be of immediate importance. The advantage of a ring-binder format for the book is that pages can be removed or introduced as and when appropriate;
- Life story books must always be read by the Team Manager, but should also be checked and commented on by a colleague with experience of compiling life story books. Not only is this to check the content and logic of the “storyline”, but also the impact of phrases and terms used, and to weed out jargon. It becomes increasingly difficult for the author who has worked on the life story book for some time to view it objectively, whereas a fresh pair of eyes can work wonders.
10. Identity and Diversity Issues
||Life story work is fundamental to the formation of a positive sense of identity. Fostered and adopted children may have a number of difficulties in accepting and valuing themselves, and this can be compounded by the sense of difference some children will feel as a result of their ethnicity, religion, disability etc. It is therefore essential that the work that is done acknowledges difference and values this as fundamental to who the child is. The social worker should consider the most appropriate way to achieve this.
“It is important to a child that the worker doing life story work has a good grasp of the child’s world, both the inner world and external realities”.
(Ryan, T. and Walker, R. BAAF, 2006)
Whilst the above quote is taken from a chapter entitled “Working with Black Children” it is clear that this is a universal truth. However, any worker’s ability to fully appreciate these aspects of the child’s story may be limited, especially where it involves difference and diversity. Factors such as the worker’s own ethnicity, culture, disability, past experience and so on will have an influence on the way in which the worker can engage with the child. For this reason, workers should always consider with their manager whether it would be beneficial to identify a “consultant” who could offer support to the child and/or the worker, particularly where there are specific areas of diversity.
||The starting point for exploring the child’s identity should be what the child knows and understands about their origins, and how they perceive themselves.
||After this, comes the way in which the child is perceived by others, particularly by their carer and any siblings. This will be more significant when the carer and the child’s siblings do not share the same characteristics; for example, where they are of a different ethnicity or do not have a disability.
||The way in which the child is perceived and treated by other adults and children in different settings, especially school, should also be explored.
||It is important to acknowledge that many children still experience stigmatisation as a result of being looked after, which can be compounded by responses to their “difference”, whether covert or overt. Workers should make every effort to avoid assumptions and generalisations which deny the individuality and specific experience of children, and fail to appreciate the ways in which children have responded to or dealt with these experiences.
||Where there is uncertainty about the racial heritage of a child which cannot be resolved, it is important to acknowledge this in the work that is done. Workers should provide information to the child about the various possibilities, rather than ignore it because no absolutes can be given.
||A child’s racial heritage may be quite complex. A key message that has emerged in practice is that workers should never presume a child is of white British origin. A child may have a black father, but present as white, for example. It is also noted that greater numbers of children from Eastern European backgrounds are present in the general population and may come to be represented in the looked after population.
||Where the child has some form of learning disability, careful thought will need to be given to the implications this will have on undertaking life story work, considering in particular the most effective methods of communication. This will be based on a clear and informed assessment of the child’s level of understanding and ability. It is almost inevitable that this will involve others who know the child well and can support the work.
11. Preparing Children for Adoption
||Once the agency has agreed adoption as the preferred permanence option, and the court has made a Care Order, the main focus of direct work with the child will shift to preparation for adoption. Although the agency will be unable to place the child with prospective adopters until authority to place has been obtained through a Placement Order or formal parental consent, direct work should begin to focus on the meaning of adoption.
||The work already undertaken and the existence of a life story book, although incomplete, are essential prerequisites to allow preparation for adoption to begin. If this work has not been completed, the result will either be rushed preparation which may not be adequate and gives little time for the child to adjust their thinking about their future, or a delay in family finding whilst more adequate work is done, which delays the child’s placement for adoption.
Regulation 13 of the Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005 requires the agency to:
- Provide a counselling service for the child;
- Explain to the child in an appropriate manner the procedures for and the legal implications of adoption;
- Provide the child with appropriate written information about the above matters as relevant; and
- Ascertain the child’s wishes and feelings regarding;
- The possibility of placement for adoption with a new family;
- His religious and cultural upbringing; and
- Contact with his parent or guardian or other relative, or with any other person the agency considers relevant.
Statutory Adoption Guidance (Chapter 2 paras17 - 21) develops these ideas as follows:
The child should be helped to understand:
- What adoption would mean for him or her now and in the longer term;
- Why the agency considers they should not stay with their own family or short term current carer, and why adoption is the preferred option for their permanence;
- The implications of adoption on their contact with parents, other family members and others.
Verbal information should be shared in a way which takes account of a range of possible factors, including:
- The child’s first language;
- Communication or learning impairments;
- Religious beliefs or other values.
Written information should also be provided about the process and meaning of adoption. The children’s guide, “Understanding Adoption” should be used in work with children who have a permanence plan of adoption.
Diversity of Family Structures
When preparing the child for adoption, it is important to recognise that there are all sorts of families and therefore talking to a child about having a “new Mummy and Daddy” should be avoided. It is more appropriate to talk in terms of having a “new family” with some explanation being given to the different sorts of families that exist
Establishing the Child’s Views
Whilst it is important that the child’s wishes and feelings are sought, recorded and taken into consideration at every stage, this must be done in a way which places responsibility for decisions about adoption squarely with the social workers involved. Children should not be allowed to bear the weight of such a huge and life-changing decision.
12. Adoption Panel’s Expectations
||At the “plan” stage, it is important that the Child’s Permanence Report provides a clear and detailed explanation of what life story work has already been completed, what remains to be done, who will be responsible for this, and within what timescale. The Adoption Panel may well ask for clarification, in terms of how long it will be before active family finding can begin.
||At the “matching” stage the Adoption Panel will expect an update of the progress of life story work and to see what has been produced so far in terms of a life story book. If the book will not be completed by the time of placement, the worker must provide a clear explanation about what remains to be done, who will be responsible for this, and within what timescale.
13. Preparing the Child Once Prospective Adopters have been Identified and Matched
Once the agency has approved the placement of the child with specific adopters, preparation needs to focus on a new phase of direct work with the child. This will include the following:
- Identifying any further work that might need to be done in relation to the child saying “goodbye” to birth parents or other birth family members;
- Identifying any work that needs to be completed in relation to the current plans for contact with birth parents or other birth family members or any other people;
- Helping the child to express what s/he feels about leaving the current carer;
- Recognising that the child may be concerned about what the birth parent/s or other members of the birth family may feel about them moving to an adoptive family;
- Helping the child to express what they feel excited or worried about;
- Helping the child to think about what it is important to take with them from the current placement;
- Giving the child details/information about the adopters in a way that they can understand, e.g. a “family book” with photographs and other material prepared by the adopter/s;
- Helping the child to ask any questions they may have about the proposed adopter/s and to think about their feelings;
- Informing the child about the visits of introduction that are planned;
- Informing the child about the proposed timescales for introductions, overnight stays and finally moving in.
It is the agency’s expectation that the book will be available to the child and prospective adopters at the point of placement. Children will often ask questions or make comments about their history in the early stages of placement, and prospective adopters need to have the life story book to help them try to explain.
If this is not available at the point of placement, the Adoption Placement Plan must record the date by which the life story book should be completed, and this should be monitored at subsequent reviews. Prospective adopters will have grounds for complaint if the life story book is unreasonably delayed.
14. Transferring the Life Story Book to the Adoptive Family
||The agency’s policy is that the life story book should be available when the child is placed for adoption. The ideal time to transfer the book to the prospective adopters is during the period of introductions or within 10 working days of the adoption ceremony, i.e. the ceremony to celebrate the making of the adoption order.
||When the life story book has been completed in draft, the child’s social worker should share this with the prospective adopters’ worker. A joint visit should then be arranged to go through the book with the prospective adopters. This is important to ensure that they are aware of the information it contains and the style of presentation. They should be invited to comment on this so that when the final book is produced they are fully committed to using it with their adopted child and allowing the child free access to it.
||On the basis of this discussion, the life story book should be amended as agreed and the final version produced.
||Once this is available, the child’s worker should personally deliver the book to the adoptive family and go through it with the child and prospective adopters together, where the child is of an appropriate age to do so. This ensures that the child knows that the book is available, where it will be kept and how it can be accessed. It also means that the child is aware that the prospective adopters know about the child’s past and there are no secrets.
17. Sources of Future Information
Preparation for adoption is a time-specific aspect of direct work with children, but life story work is an ongoing process which precedes this phase and also continues after placement for adoption. The life story book has the effect of freezing time, and adoptive parents will find it necessary to re-interpret the child’s past as the child grows older, more questioning and more able to understand the circumstances of their adoption. The tools available to adopters to assist in this process are:
- Child’s Permanence Report - prepared at the stage of identifying adoption as the preferred option for permanence. Given to the prospective adopters when considering the placement;
- Later Life Letter - prepared at the stage of placement. Given to the prospective adopters at the point of the adoption order.
||It will be clear from the above that social workers writing these various reports at a particular point in time need to bear in mind their future use. This has always been the case with the Later Life Letter, but it is now overtly recognised that one function of the Child’s Permanence Report is to be “a source of important information for the adopted adult about their life history and heritage”.
||The quality of reports in terms of content, readability and general usefulness will be essential if they are to meet the child-centred purposes for which they are designed.
||Further detailed guidance can be found in Later Life Letters Procedure.
Attachment handbook for foster care and adoption.
(Schofield, G. and Beek, M. BAAF, 2006)
Life Story Work: a practical guide to helping children understand their past.
(Ryan, T. and Walker, R. BAAF, 2003)
Preparing children for permanence: A guide to undertaking direct work for social workers, foster carers and adoptive parents.
(Mary Romaine, with Tricia Turley and Non Tuckey, BAAF 2007)
10 Top Tips for Placing Children.
(Argent, H. BAAF, 2006)
Appendix A: Preparing a Life Story Book
- This tool is designed to help social workers consider and prepare for the task of producing a life story book. It should be used in supervision when discussing and monitoring the progress of life story work;
- Please note that even children as young as 2 or 3 years can be involved in some form of age-appropriate life story work;
- The following resource packs are available in each Locality;
- Direct Work with Children;
- Working with Black Children.
These contain a selection of books, worksheets etc. to be used with children.
Please consider the following questions...
- At what stage is the child? (e.g. age, stage of development, level of understanding, knowledge of their past etc.);
- What is going on in the child’s life at the moment? (e.g. contact arrangements, change of school, change of placement, therapy etc.);
- What key background issues need to be communicated in the life story book? (e.g. drug or alcohol abuse, domestic violence, neglect or abuse etc.);
- What methods will be used to do the work? What resources are available? Are additional resources needed? (e.g. books, CD-roms, materials etc.);
- What form will the life story book take?
- Who will undertake the work? Who else will make a contribution and how?
- Who will supervise the work? The line manager or a colleague with experience of life story work?
- How will the progress of the work be monitored?
- What time will be set aside to focus on the work? (e.g. duration, frequency of visits, time of day, length of sessions etc.);
- What other agencies are involved with the child and need to be consulted?
- Who else needs to know that life story work is about to begin? (e.g. foster carer’s supervising social worker, school, social workers for siblings placed elsewhere etc.);
- Who needs to be seen to gather information?
- What other sources of information might be available?
- What steps will be taken to ensure difference and diversity is respected and addressed?
- Does a “consultant” need to be identified to support the life story work?
Having considered these, and any other relevant issues, your next step should be to begin gathering all available information to enable you to prepare an overview of the child’s story. This will form the basic “roadmap” for the life story book.
Appendix B: Understanding and Telling
Understanding and Telling
Children at this stage:
- Begin to understand language before speech develops;
- Begin to process information;
- Need to hear and become familiar with the word “adoption”, leading to emotional acceptance of adoption and greater receptiveness to more complex information later on.
2 - 6 Years
Most pre-school age children do not understand much about adoption even though told they are adopted. They may use the word in referring to themselves, but they often confuse being born with being adopted.
Children at this stage:
- Are egocentric and can’t see another’s point of view;
- Can’t handle too many bits of information all at once;
- Think they are responsible for everything that happens (magical thinking);
- Have a different concept of time to adults;
- Don’t understand relationships;
- Find greater significance in where they live and who cares for them;
- Don’t distinguish between the parental (caring) role and the parental (birth) relationship.
Children may respond to a simple story from their point of view, which concentrates on the here and now.
6 - 8 Years
Children at this stage:
- Understand the difference between adoption and birth as alternative ways of entering a family;
- Accept adoption as permanent, but don’t understand why;
- This acceptance relies on “blind faith” (e.g. because Mummy says so”).
Children are likely to accept their story without question and accept the basic explanations provided.
8 - 10 Years
Children at this stage:
- Develop a more sophisticated understanding of adoption;
- Can see things from other people’s point of view;
- Can see other sides to a story and consider alternatives;
- Can distinguish between perception and reality;
- May begin to recognise the loss of their birth family and grieve;
- May begin to question the permanence of adoption, thinking birth parents may re-claim or adoptive parents give them up;
- May regress to an earlier stage of development as they struggle to deal with more complex thoughts and the fear that this may not be permanent;
- Children’s understanding of adoption increases, resulting in more questions, which need more detailed answers and may become more challenging. Children need reassurance from their adoptive parents that they are here to stay.
10 - 13 Years
Children at this stage:
- Begin to grasp the concept that there was a legal process involved with their adoption;
- Are still unsure about why this has made their adoption permanent.
13 Years +
Children appreciate that adoption involves the legal transfer of parental responsibility, with all the rights and responsibilities this entails, from their birth parents to their adoptive parents.