What is Therapeutic Life Story Work?
Life story work is a social work intervention with children and adults designed to recognise their past, present, and future. It is prominently used with children who will be adopted, and older adults as part of reminiscence therapies. Children who are in long term foster care or are expected to be adopted must have Therapeutic Life story work done with them by social workers as well as Foster Carers, Residential Support Workers or Adoptive Parents can offer the best informal life story work. They have the information about the day-to-day events in the child’s life, their milestones and achievements.
Birth Parents are a critical part of the life story work with adopted children as they can offer information to construct a family tree and provide pictures or descriptions of family members.
The process takes around 12 months to complete although it may need to be updated as the child’s understanding develops. Life story work is distinct from life story books, the process of life story work is to assist the person to understand and internalise the feelings associated with their past. However, a life story book does not need to involve the person and can be done by others, this is especially the case when done by social workers before placing a child for adoption.
A life story book is a system of recording information to answer the questions that children may have in the future. It is an overview of the child’s life that will enable them recall memories and understand their past. A child who does not fully understand their history is at risk of developing an imagined story of fictional family members leading to a misplaced sense of identity. Often, life story books are written from the perspective of the Past-Present though it has been suggested that writing it in this way causes the child anxiety as past issues may be too painful to come to terms with. Therefore, it has been suggested that a new approach: ‘Present, Past, Present and Future’ this allows the child to feel that their life with their current family is secure and symbolically encourages the child to feel contained by their family.