Joanne Stoddart

What to consider when developing a life story work policy and procedure

Blue Cabin’s Local Authority Specialist, Joanne Stoddart, discusses what to consider when developing a life story work policy and procedure for your organisation.

Life story work provision across England

At the beginning of 2023 I produced an internal report for Blue Cabin called “Desk Research: Life Story Work Across England.” The purpose of this research was to explore and analyse the provision of life story work with children and young people involved in the social care system across all local authorities in England.

The information sourced was to support and guide Blue Cabin in shaping their Creative Life Story Work programme, which is available to local authorities, organisations and individual practitioners.

Two sources were used to collate the information required to inform the picture of life story work provision across England: Ofsted reports, and responses following Freedom of Information (FOI) requests submitted to all English local authorities.

What we learnt about life story work provision

One of the key findings from the research was the lack of focus nationally on life story work, and the lack of guidelines from the Department for Education specifically for children with a plan of long-term fostering. The findings showed that, given there is no clear over-arching practice remit available, local authorities were approaching life story work in diverse ways.

In addition, from the responses received via the FOI requests, we found that:

  • Only 62% of local authorities advised they had a policy/procedure for children with a plan of adoption
  • This reduced to 53% for children with a plan of long-term fostering
  • The figure was higher in respect of guidance available to practitioners at 79% for adoption and 69% for children with a plan of long-term fostering
  • Of those local authorities that provided their life story work policy, 17 provided the same one.It is noteworthy the figure for the number of practitioners given guidance was not 100%.

So how do practitioners in those local authorities without a policy or procedure approach life story work?

And more importantly, what impact could this have on the emotional wellbeing of children and young people?

The 17 local authorities that provided the same policy used the generic policy and procedure from TRI.X (online procedures for children’s social care) and it had not been personalised to the individual local authorities.

Ultimately, the desk research showed there is a clear need to support local authorities in their development of life story work policies and procedures for both children with a plan of adoption, but more specifically, for children with a plan of long-term fostering. The following focuses on the latter group of children and young people.

Six things to consider when developing a life story work policy

If you are in the position of either wanting to update and strengthen your current life story work policy and procedure for children and young people with a plan of long-term fostering, or have identified a gap and need to develop a policy and procedure from scratch, these are some points you will need to consider as a starting point:

1. Frequency

A basic agreement about the frequency of when life story work is recommended to be undertaken in a local authority can be a very challenging discussion in itself, but it is worthwhile to have such an agreement in place to support practitioners. For example, is it a “one-off” piece of work at a point in time? Is it when the child or young person starts to ask questions? Or is it every two years for example, or every six months to tie in with the child’s reviews? As there is no statutory guidance in place, this is a decision for your local authority to reach.

2. Product

How will a practitioner evidence they have engaged with a child or young person to undertake life story work? Will it be the production of a virtual or physical ‘book’? Or a series of case notes and photographs of any activities undertaken for the child’s case record? Or a mixture of the aforementioned? Or something else, and if so, what? How will the product be stored and who will have access to it?

3. Support

You will need to consider how to support a practitioner to engage a child or young person with life story work, especially those who are new to this area of practice. Also, what guidance and tools can be provided to support the practitioner to ensure the piece of work is effective. The practitioner needs to feel prepared and confident in undertaking this activity to ensure the child or young person is not negatively impacted.

4. Quality

How will your local authority agree to monitor the quality of work that is being carried out? What would be classed as good practice and how could this be shared with other practitioners to ensure continuous improvement?

5. Performance management

How will your local authority keep track of which children are, or have been, engaged in life story work for performance management purposes? As a manager, do you know at any one time how many children and young people have engaged in life story work, and what impact this had?

6. Consultation

There are many questions your local authority will need to consider in developing a policy and procedure, and it may be worth pulling together a group of individuals, or holding a series of conversations with various relevant groups to start to have these discussions. If you do decide to hold a group discussion or a series of conversations, remember you will benefit greatly from hearing from different perspectives: care-experienced children and young people, their parents, foster-carers, residential workers, Independent Reviewing Officers, social workers, personal advisors, therapeutic practitioners, the list goes on. Each will have very different perspectives, therefore it would be a valuable consultation to invest time and energy in to ensure an effective policy and procedure is developed, and one which ultimately the child or young person benefits from.

Using Creative Life Story Work to develop your life story work policy

If you are already using the Creative Life Story Work model, or are interested in exploring it further, your policy and procedure is effectively already written for you, and you have access to tried and tested resources and toolkits available on the website.

See our Creative Life Story Work resources here >>

Creative Life Story Work is based on the Rose Model of Therapeutic Life Story Work. This model is based on three tiers: All About Me; More About Me; and Therapeutic Life Story Work. You may find it helpful to read my earlier blog called ‘What is included in Creative Life Story Work?’ for more context and to help you understand the difference between Creative Life Story Work and ‘traditional’ life story work.

Three steps to get started with Creative Life Story Work

1. Book onto one of our online Live Classrooms. They’re led by experts and will equip you with tools you can use in your practice. See what’s coming up here.

2. Use our individual or organisation membership to access training and resources. Find out more here.

3. Get in touch to find out how you can use Creative Life Story Work in your organisation. Email Gloria on creativelifestorywork@wearebluecabin.com.

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.