Joanne Stoddart

What is included in Life Story Work?

Blue Cabin’s Local Authority Specialist, Joanne Stoddart, discusses what should be included in Creative Life Story Work when working with care-experienced children and young people.

The aim of life story work

The overarching aim of life story work is to help children and young people reflect on the journey they have taken so far and understand who they are today. It provides space for children and young people to make sense of their lives, so they have the chance to move forward with confidence in who they are and where they are going.

You may be interested in reading my previous blog where I discuss in more detail ‘Why is life story work important?’ This blog also includes the benefits of life story work for children and what makes ‘good’ life story work

How is Creative Life Story Work different from ‘traditional’ life story work?

In writing this blog I am mindful that as a practitioner/trusted adult you are likely to be familiar with the term ‘life story work,’ but you may not be familiar with the term ‘Creative Life Story Work’ or how this differs from ‘traditional’ life story work.

When we talk about life story work we think of life story books for children with a plan of adoption, and life story work for children with a long-term fostering plan or permanence plan. You may be interested in reading an earlier blog that I wrote on life story books and later life letters for children with a plan of adoption.

So, how is Creative Life Story Work different from ‘traditional’ life story work?

  • Group sessions vs. one-to-one: Creative Life Story Work takes place in group sessions which are facilitated by trained, experienced and supported artists alongside a pastoral support worker. Traditional life story work tends to be carried out by a social worker with a child or young person on a one to one basis, and is more often referred to as direct work.
  • Artist-led toolkits: Each artist develops their own toolkit in which to work with children in a particular medium, for example, through puppet-making.
  • Supported by trusted adults: Each child or young person involved in a session is supported by their own trusted adult, usually their foster carer, and they will have received a box of arts and crafts in advance of the sessions which the artist will work through over the course of six weeks in the Creative All About Me sessions.

Speak to us about how your workforce can embed Creative Life Story Work in what you do >> 

What’s included in Creative Life Story Work?

In a nutshell, Creative Life Story Work includes three tiers: All About Me, More About Me, and Therapeutic Life Story Work.

All About Me

All About Me is a six week process and can be facilitated by an adult working with a child or young person, such as a social worker or a foster carer. Ideally a child or young person should be supported through All About Me every six months. It is the initial entry point into creative life story work for children and young people. It provides them with the opportunity to explore who they are today, explore what is happening right now, and express their hopes and dreams for the future in a safe, creative space.

Children and young people can either take part in an All About Me creative experience in a group setting facilitated by an artist and pastoral support worker, or engage in All About Me direct work with a trusted adult, such as a foster carer or social worker.

All About Me Resources

Watch a short film which shares the process of All About Me when artists and pastoral support workers are facilitating creative sessions with children and their trusted adults.

Check out this blog written by Professor Richard Rose called All About Me Direct Work, where he explains how stories and play can lead to healthy relationships.

All About Me is built around six themes, each supporting the child or young person to explore different aspects of their life. See more on these six themes here.

More About Me

More About Me is a 12 week process and is facilitated by a trained Therapeutic Life Story Worker alongside a child or young person and their supporting adult (such as a foster carer).

More About Me seeks to support the child or young person to explore why they are where they are and offers them the opportunity to consider their journey from their birth family to where they are currently living. This will include the concerns, assessments, decisions, and the view of all those who have acted in their life. In doing so, they can ask, consider, and conclude the reasons for their current situation based on the events of their past.

More About Me is a smaller intervention than the Therapeutic Life Story Work programme, it takes around 8 to 12 sessions, and each session is facilitated by a trained Therapeutic Life Story Worker. The sessions can take place at the family home setting or in school.

The process for the work is similar to the Therapeutic Life Story Work, with an information bank, direct work with the child or young person and finally the development of a book. The book is typically around 30 – 40 pages in length and will include the story of the child/young person and be edited by them.

This blog, written by Professor Richard Rose, gives more insight into More About Me >>

Therapeutic Life Story Work

Therapeutic Life Story Work is a nine to 12 month process and is facilitated by a trained Therapeutic Life Story Worker alongside a child or young person and their supporting adult (such as a foster carer). The process aims to support a child who is ‘stuck’ in processing an often difficult and complex past, which has featured trauma for them.

We would expect a child or young person in need of this intervention to meet one or more of the following:

  • Multi placed, where the placement is adding to their trauma
  • Asking for information so that they can make sense of the actions of those around them, and the reasons for those actions, which have led to where they live today (and where, for these children, their behaviours are impacting upon their placements)
  • Display behaviors including self-harm, sexualised behaviour and/or aggression linked to their unresolved past experiences
  • Long term placed, coming towards the end of placement and having no understanding of why they were placed in care.

Therapeutic Life Story Work is a three-stage approach: Information Bank, Internalisation and Life Story Work Book. This model was created by Professor Richard Rose and includes a HIDE model (History, Internal Working Model, Development and Environment) approach to ensure information is relevant to the child or young person’s history.

This model requires the Therapeutic Life Story Worker to understand the history and the ‘internal working model’ of the child and their family. It goes on to determine the developmental level of the child, and how they may engage in the process to ensure that the right approach is used for optimum benefit. The final consideration is the environment and whether this is conducive to the work required.

Delve deeper into Therapeutic Life Story Work and see an example of its impact >>

Creative Life Story Work training and resources

The creative concepts which underpin Creative Life Story Work have been used to develop a training programme and a bank of resources which are available to anyone who wants to learn more about this way of working with care-experienced children and young people.

How can local authorities and charities get involved?

If you are a local authority or a charity who would benefit from support, training, and resources to do life story work with children and young people in your care, you can:

Get started with Creative Life Story Work

Ready to learn more about Creative Life Story Work? You can get an overview of how it works here >>

About Joanne Stoddart

Joanne Stoddart is a Local Authority Specialist working with both Blue Cabin, she also holds a role in a regional adoption agency. She is an experienced children’s social worker and manager, with almost 25 years’ experience working in local authorities. She has held various roles from children’s social worker to head of service, all within statutory children’s services, with significant direct experience of working with care-experienced children and young people. Joanne has been involved in Blue Cabin’s Creative Life Story Work project over the past three years, and has worked closely and collaboratively with Blue Cabin throughout.