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4.12.2 Life 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.


Contents

  1. What is a Life Book?
  2. Who Should Complete the Life Book?
  3. What Materials are Needed?
  4. What Goes into the Life Book?
  5. Foster Carers
  6. Using the Life Book
  7. Children who are Adopted


1. What is a Life Book?

All children with a plan for adoption must have a Life Book. Making a Life 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 which provides an opportunity for them to explore their understanding and emotions about their life.

A Life Book should:

  • Be as full a chronological record as possible of a child's life prior to adoption;
  • Be used to help a child Integrate the past into the future so that their childhood makes sense;
  • Provide a basis on which a child’s Life Story can be continued;
  • Be something that the child can return to when they need to explore their feelings to help them to clarify and/or accept their past;
  • Help to increase a child's sense of self and self-worth and promote a positive sense of their identity;
  • Provide a structure for talking to children about potentially painful issues related to their past.


2. Who Should Complete the Life Book?

The process should be initiated, driven and coordinated by the child's social worker and adoption social worker with the support of the adoption team and other professionals who have worked with the child. This should include foster carers, contact workers, nursery staff, school staff and health professionals. In addition to this the social worker should work closely with the child’s birth family to obtain stories and photographs so that all aspects of the child’s life can be included in the book.

When a child has a care plan of adoption the Life Book template will be sent to the child’s social worker by the adoption team for completion.

Once the template has been completed the child’s social worker sends this to the adoption team for checking who will then send a draft copy to the child’s adopters for checking.

The template is then forwarded onto the adoption marketing officer who will liaise with print and design to complete the book.

The adoption marketing officer sends a PDF of the final draft to the child’s social worker and the adoption team for checking. Once checked, this final draft is sent to print and design by the marketing officer.

Two copies of the Life Book are sent to the child’s adopters by the adoption team.

The final PDF is saved under the child’s adoption file and on Azeus.

Time and care should be given to:

  • Planning how to undertake the work;
  • Reading and understanding all the information about the child;
  • Collating the information in chronological order;
  • Noting any reasons for decisions;
  • Noting gaps in the records and how they can be filled;
  • Liaising with other professionals to gather information that they may hold about the child’s life;
  • Working sensitively with the parents, friends and relatives of the child to encourage their contributions to the book.


3. What Materials are Needed?

Presentation is very important in terms of validating the significance of the life book and motivating the child to read it and show it to others.

  • The life book template which is held by the adoption team should be completed by the social worker;
  • This can begin as soon as a child has a care plan of adoption to ensure that all aspects of a child’s life are captured;
  • A good balance of words and pictures will produce the most appealing book for the child;
  • Photographs of key people and places should be collected at the earliest opportunity for insertion into the finished Life Book;
  • Good quality photographs will reproduce much better for the finished book. A certified copy of the child’s birth certificate is required An electronic copy must be kept on a child’s record.


4. What Goes into the Life Book?

  • A Family tree which includes three generations of the child’s birth family;
  • Photographs s of the hospital where the child was born and names of those present at their delivery;
  • Details of the child’s weight, length and head circumference at birth;
  • A picture of the child as a newborn baby;
  • A Birth certificate;
  • Photographs of any items that came with the child from the hospital (e.g. identity tag, name card, gifts from parents and relatives);
  • Dates of the child’s first smile, sounds, words, tooth, steps etc;
  • Photographs of the child’s parents, siblings and extended family;
  • Details of the child’s parents and any stories about their lives and histories that will be interesting for the child to know;
  • Photographs and maps of places where the child lived;
  • Photographs of the child’s foster carers;
  • Stories about the child’s life in foster care;
  • Stories about nursery and school if appropriate;
  • A truthful account of a child’s life history which sensitively covers the reasons why a child came into the care of the local authority and was placed for adoption. This should be written in language that is appropriate for the child’s age and level of understanding and is of suitable content for a children’s book.- Any anecdotes about the child when they were growing up;
  • Photographs of professionals who have worked with the child and their roles;
  • The story of the court process;
  • The story of family finding and who was involved;
  • Details and pictures of the adoptive family;
  • A picture and details of the child meeting their adoptive family during introductions;
  • Any anecdotes about the child when they were growing up;
  • A picture of the adoption celebration hearing.


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 the child’s development (e.g. learning to ride a bike);
  • Their own special memories of the child;
  • Birthdays, Christmas and other family celebrations/outings/holidays etc. - photographs, favourite places etc;
  • Details and photographs 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 - photographs, certificates, reports, photos of and stories from teachers;
  • Contact visits;
  • Illnesses;
  • Photographs 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 Book

Children need truthful and honest explanations that they can understand using language that 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.


7. Children who are Adopted

Where there is an adoption plan for a Child in Care, life story work should be a part of the preparation of the child for the adoptive placement.

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 Book should be handed to the adoptive parents, together with a Later Life Letter, within 10 working days of the adoption celebration hearing.

End