Everyone has a story to tell but for many care-experienced young people, their life stories can become disorganised and fragmented.
Having been separated from their birth family means that those who would traditionally have passed on the child’s personal information and family history are not readily available.
Our regular learning and development programme for our staff and carers addresses topics which provide personal and professional development opportunities.We offer Life Story Work training to our staff and carers and our trainer for this session, Sherilyn, our Family Based Care Team Leader at CHT, has shared the key points.
Why do Life Story Work?
Life Story Work can give children an opportunity to explore aspects of their past and present life, with a trusted adult, and help them to move forward in life with confidence. Children who have become separated from their birth family, need to know about their past, and why they are where they are.
Many children and young people will blame themselves and believe that what they have experienced was their fault. Their fears may be worse than the reality, and it is important that they have access to accurate information and facts, that is sensitive and shared in a way that is appropriate for their understanding and stage of development.
In addition to this, there is a legal context to life story work. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states under Article 8:
“Respect the right of the child to preserve their identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law…..”
And under Articles 12 and 13:
“Children, who are capable of forming views, have a right to receive and make known information, to express an opinion, and to have that opinion taken into account in any matters affecting them. The views of the child should be given due weight according to the age, maturity and capability of the child.”
How do we do Life Story Work with our young people?
Life Story Work is not just putting together a photo album, it is as much about creating a cohesive narrative for the child, which allows us to think about their future as it is about forming an understanding of their past. It is an opportunity to build resilience in children and help them to develop a positive sense of self. It can sometimes help to answer unspoken questions and replace ‘magical thinking’ with factual, accurate information.
Life Story Work is complex and requires a great deal of preparation and planning before reaching the starting point. The whole Team around the Child should be involved, and it will be important to agree on who is best to undertake the work with the child and when. Information should be gathered from all sources to ensure there is a clear chronology of the child, with positive experiences as well as negative ones. The child should have a trusting relationship with the adult working with them and communication needs to be considered at every stage.
How can our carers offer support to their young person?
How adults respond to certain information shared can say so much to the child – it is important to be empathetic, be able to reflect their feelings and be sensitive to the child’s messages – both verbal and non-verbal. Adults can try to avoid difficult discussions for fear of upsetting the child or reopening old wounds, but this can lead to the story becoming ‘the elephant in the room’. It is important to explore these feelings in supervision with a Supervising Social Worker and be as equipped as you can be!
There are lots of books, tools and online resources to aid Life Story Work with children and young people. Below, I have referenced the sources discussed during our recent training session, but I would also recommend reading this blog from the CELCIS website, ‘How Life Story Work can help care experienced children.’