Jenny Young, Director, Blue Cabin

Children and young people’s feedback on Creative Life Story Work

Jenny Young, Director of Blue Cabin, reflects on the evaluation of Creative Life Story Work, which includes feedback from care-experienced children, young people and their carers.

“[the programme has] made me realise my worth.” (young person)

Creative Life Story Work is based upon the Rose model of Life Story Work and uses artist-led creative activities, combined with therapeutic life story work, to help care-experienced children and young people better understand their own life stories, and strengthen relationships with the people in their lives.

This approach was developed over a two-year period by the team at Blue Cabin, Professor Richard Rose (Therapeutic Life Story Work International) who is an internationally respected authority on life story work, South Tyneside Council and Blue Cabin’s team of Associate Artists. And, in 2020 we had a unique opportunity through What Works for Children’s Social Care funding, to roll the intervention out to South Tyneside, Gateshead and Darlington Councils.

So, who are Blue Cabin? We are a North East-based charity which transforms outcomes for care-experienced children and young people. Our cross-art form Associate Artists are experts in working with care-experienced people (CEP) and the adults in their lives. They facilitate activities and interventions which support CEP to express themselves, develop confidence and agency, build trust in others, and increase their skills and knowledge.

Our online and face to face opportunities include stand-alone creative days, 1:1 mentoring, accreditation opportunities and long-term interventions. In a recent report The APPG for Looked After Children and Care Leavers cited Blue Cabin as having ‘provided spaces through artistic and creative methods which shifted the narrative and placed the agency with the care-experienced individual’. We have worked with over 900 CEP through our innovative creative activities and programmes, alongside 900 of their trusted adults. Working closely with local authorities we have trained 1000 local authority staff and foster carers in areas such as creative approaches to participation, trauma, recovery and attachment.

We have undergone significant learning and growth as an organisation since funding from What Works for Children’s Social Care was granted in 2019. Not least transitioning from a Community Interest Company to a Charity, securing over £600k worth of grants to support creative activities for CEP, and moving the Creative Life Story Work programme entirely online during a global pandemic.

It is with great pride that I read the findings of the Creative Life Story Work evaluation report, knowing that nearly 100 children and young people and their trusted adults took part in high quality, meaningful, safe, and transformative life story conversations during that once in a generation period.

What stands out to me most in this evaluation report is what children and young people said about being involved. They talked about ‘significant changes in their lives’ linked to taking part including improved mental health, a better understanding of their identity and improved relationships with people in the lives. This clearly demonstrates to us that for some children and young people group sessions, safely co-facilitated by our Associate Artists and Local Authority Pastoral Support Workers, can be facilitated successfully, with care.

“it’s unique and a real opportunity to work with children in this way. It’s unusual to work with professional artists with children and young people – I really like that it’s bringing a whole new aspect of working with children and young people.” Social worker

Children and young people and their trusted adults told evaluators that they would recommend the programme to others and 85% of staff who took part from local authorities reported that it was more effective than more traditional models. The evidence in the report also tells us that some children and young people made ‘big life decisions’ such as ‘changing contact arrangements and rethinking career plans.’ This was possible with the incredible support from the trusted adults in their lives who participated in these sessions alongside them – a core feature of the Rose model.

“I’d recommend them [other looked after children] to take part…it helps you express your feeling …. and then they can get all the stuff that happened in the past, can come out your head and the past can stay in the past.” Young person

We are taking this feedback as a recommendation from them to continue our work and make Creative Life Story Work available to more local authorities through our brand-new Creative Life Story Work website.

We also take seriously the feedback from participants when they reflected that the six-week intervention can feel too short, and that more follow-up work would be beneficial. We are working with our partners and team to find solutions and we will continue to ask children and young people how we can improve what we do.

With guidance throughout from Professor Richard Rose, and dedication and commitment from our Associate Artists, local authority partners and colleagues, we have shown that it is possible to think about life story work differently – as a creative, relational process, not a one-off event or output.

I want to thank the skilled and dedicated group of young researchers who were brought together by Ipsos Mori and Blue Cabin through funding from the three Local Authorities to provide critique and challenge to the evaluation team throughout this process. These young people were given training in research and briefed about the Creative Life Story Work programme and went on to review key documents and tools and provided expert feedback to the evaluators. Most of their feedback was acted on (and where it wasn’t, the researchers explained why and had a further discussion). These young researchers played a valuable role in this evaluation.

Moving forward, we are delighted that Darlington, Gateshead and South Tyneside Councils are investing in this approach so that more children and young people can take part in creative life story conversations. A Care Leavers development group is working on how Creative Life Story Work could be tailored for those aged 17+, and we are also working hard to develop a trauma-informed approach to measuring the impact of this intervention. We want to support more local authorities and organisations to facilitate meaningful, creative life story conversations with all children and young people in their care.

Our hope is that the Creative Life Story Work programme and the website and all its resources and tools can support them on that journey.

Creative Life Story Work was evaluated by Coram and Ipsos Mori. You can read the summary report and the full evaluation report here.