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Podcast Episode 10: The Professional Perspective

In this episode of the Creative Life Story Work podcast, Dawn Williams talks to social worker: Pauline Hilling, and Therapeutic Social Worker: Rachel Booth about what happens before and after an All About Me session has taken place.


Please note that this transcript is auto-generated and therefore will contain some errors and natural pauses in conversation.

DAWN: [00:00:00] Welcome to the creative life story work podcast, where we explore how a creative approach to life story work can help children and young people who’ve been in care, make sense of their past and build a brighter future. A new model for life story work is being rolled out in the northeast of England and this podcast shares the latest learning and investigates how it could help improve the lives of care experienced children and young people across the country.

My name is Dawn Williams and I am an associate at Blue Cabin, one of the partners on this exciting work in the region. So far in our podcast series, we’ve thought about, uh, what is a story? Who gets to tell it? What are the ethics of storytelling? What’s told? Today, [00:01:00] we’re going to think about what happens before and after an All About Me session has taken place.

Who are the other professionals involved? How do they work together? What connections do they make? What are they noticing? And in the room today, I am absolutely delighted to welcome Rebecca Booth, therapeutic social worker who has worked on creative life story work and Pauline Hilling, social worker from Darlington Metropolitan Borough Council, also an expert in delivering life story work.

Welcome to both of you. I’m really looking forward to our conversation this morning. Lovely to have you here. in the Riverside studio. Um,

REBECCA: to get started,

DAWN: um, Pauline, I wondered, um, what you could say about the first time that you heard about creative life story work, all about me sessions. What did you [00:02:00] think?

What were your first thoughts when you were given the proposal about Darlington becoming involved in creative life story work? I was really quite excited and hopeful for our young people. Um, it is, um, something that unfortunately has, um, we tend to

look at, um, previous people’s work, um, to. put together a book, um, with a particular, um, theme, but the life story work that we were introduced to by Richard Rose and Blue Cabin, um, really had the children at the centre of everything, that we weren’t doing this, um, for them or To them or for future them. We were doing this with the Children for them to learn to tell their own story.

Um, so it seemed innovative and actually gave all of [00:03:00] the social workers, including myself, lots of hope about. And Rebecca, I know that you were new to the local authority. What did you first think about when you read about creative life

REBECCA: story work? It’s a good question, John. I think, um, I have been a looked after social worker in the past.

And, um, I think the life story that I’d worked, um, the life story that I’d done, sorry, previously, um, Was very much kind of creating a book for children and you know Sometimes I would kind of go through the book with them, but it was just a completely different model Um, I think for me like one of the things that really kind of drew me to this work was the amount of creativity and That was really kind of involved in the work Um, I think you know, I strongly believe that Social work is a [00:04:00] very creative profession, you know, in order to create any change in someone’s life.

We need to support them, um, to think creatively. We need to be creative in our approach to our practice, and we need the kind of space to develop and learn and, um, build new kind of stories, I suppose. Um, but unfortunately, that’s something that we know is lacking quite significantly in um Frontline social work at the moment due to levels of bureaucracy, et cetera.

So for me, you know, the opportunity to kind of work creatively with artists that really bring that sort of and the skills with them was a real kind of

Yeah, it was a real

DAWN: selling point for me. It’s the other thing that comes along with that as well about not doing any harm. I think when, when you haven’t had a background of being trained in life story work, you have this expectation [00:05:00] that all children must have life story work delivered. And you know that they’ve got such traumatic pasts.

And how much is it really that important to Tell them in great fine detail exactly what their mum and dad did in their, their past and the reason why they’ve come into care and When is the right point to tell them just all of that horrific detail that some of them have had to bear? Actually being able to do it with the artists and actually to take things at a steady pace to know that there’s lots of support in the background as well to not only hold the children, um, as we all work together, but, um, actually having a planned way to work and move forward made all of us feel much safer.

I think not only the social workers, but the children as well. The last thing that you want to do is to be yet another person that’s done harm.

REBECCA: I think that’s a big fear, isn’t it, Pauline, that kind of runs, you know, throughout social workers because [00:06:00] no one actually trains social workers in how to, um, do life story work when you’re at university, for example, you don’t generally get training on that.

So there’s an expectation, you know, you might go to a looked after Um, review and be told, okay, you need to do this piece of life story work, but you don’t really get any sort of particular training or instructions on how to do that particular piece of work. So I think there’s a big fear that actually by doing this work, we’re going to re trigger some trauma that we then can’t contain, or we can’t kind of nurture and support our young people through.

Um, but I think the. One of the things about doing the life story work alongside the young person and supporting them through telling their own story is, you know, we might at some point. within that journey, give them some information about what has happened to them in their early childhood. Um, but actually the power dynamic is completely different.

You know, it’s a completely different [00:07:00] dynamic when you’re working with them through their story and supporting them to kind of, like you said, Pauline, tell their own story rather than just giving them information about it.

DAWN: And it will be really lovely to hear as both of you have, um, had the opportunity to be involved.

In the sessions with children, young people, the adults in their lives and the artists. Um, it would be really lovely to get a flavor of what you’ve experienced in those sessions from your professional viewpoints. What’s it been like being in those sessions, um, supporting not only the young people, but the adults there as well.

Well, I was, um, very privileged because I came after Rebecca, um, Rebecca had actually supported one of my young people to go through life story. So I could see the case notes that she was putting on file as he was completing each [00:08:00] stage of, um, his life story. So I got to see how, um, My young person who is on the autistic spectrum, um, and his foster carer said, Oh, I don’t think he’s going to be able to get involved with this.

Um, to have this, um, lovely young boy just blossom. Um, Eleanor was the, um, artist from blue. Blue Cabin, who delivered the work from, for him, and although he didn’t completely get involved because he doesn’t have the ability to do that, he absolutely took part in every single session and really got a lot from it, and at the end of him doing the life story work, I actually have a PowerPoint from him that he’d put together to do a presentation about all the things he liked because he discovered within his life story work about all this music that he liked, And, and all the different, um, uh, computer games that he really loved.

And I had a presentation where it was presented, um, where [00:09:00] he, he gave me a big bow and he’d made banners for me. He’d done this PowerPoint presentation on his computer and I was invited to come and sit down and to go through this presentation with him. Where he told me about all these amazing things that he really liked and loved and, and that he discovered.

So it was brilliant. So the knock on effect from him just taking part in the six weekly sessions was, was profound for him. He really, really enjoyed it. I think

REBECCA: what’s actually really interesting about that young person, you’re talking about Pauline as well, is that you, I don’t think you would ever frame the work that we you did, that we kind of did with him traditionally as life story work because he, um, He really struggles, doesn’t he, to sort of, um, comprehend his, uh, his past kind of life in his birth family, doesn’t he?

Um, and we knew that sort of going into the work with him that actually he was really going to struggle with that and he wasn’t ready [00:10:00] to have any additional information about his, um, his birth family. And actually it wasn’t, you know, it wasn’t the right time to do that, but actually I think the work that we did with him, because it was so led by him, we didn’t need to do that.

So actually the, what he got out of that was really, like you’ve said, helping him to sort of form his own identity in a way that he hadn’t really thought about previously. Um, and doing that alongside his foster carers and having a lot of fun and playing and, um, just kind of developing those relationships with his foster carers as well, I think was, um, a real strong point for for that young person and also just being a member of a group.

So having a consistent, um, weekly kind of membership of this is my group and this is my kind of safe [00:11:00] space um and connecting with other children in care, I think was Yeah, really important for

DAWN: There is something about the intimacy of the, um, teams coming in into your home, um, and into your safe space where, where they can control, uh, because they’re, they’re taught how to control the, the speaker, the camera, how to turn it on, how to turn it off, how to go into different meeting rooms.

Um, he absolutely loves computers so that, that really fed into, um, something that we’ve really enjoyed. But actually when I went on to, um. Support my, my sessions with a new group of young people who I hadn’t worked with before. Um, I could really see relationships with their foster care is developing on the screen and the kids really do.[00:12:00]

Get immersed in what’s going on and trusting, um, everybody that’s in the group. And as we open the boxes and discover all the different activities that they’re, they’re going to do, they, they get so excited and so, um, invested in these people that are on the screen. Um. And it, it takes away, um, all the, all the intimidation that they can sometimes feel physically in the presence of other people.

They don’t have to come through the room, they’re in their safe space at home. So actually having the opportunity to do it that way was really, um, quite Quite insightful. Um, yeah, I think even Eleanor the artist was really quite surprised because normally she’s in the physical presence of the young people she works with.

Um, and even she said that, um, actually working on the computer in, in that way has brought a new dimension to her work and her ability to deliver her services to, to young

REBECCA: people. I think that was one of the [00:13:00] challenges we found consistently, was that, um, rightly so, foster carers were thinking about, you know, what is right, what is the right thing for my young person?

And lots of young people don’t want to engage with work online. Um, but I would generally say to that, it isn’t. They’re not, the, the, the life story work is between the two of you in the home. So you’ve got, you know, these beautiful materials that you’re creating these beautiful things with together. And the artist is, and the pastoral support worker is on a screen, but it’s not like they have to stare at a screen and, uh, you know, do kind of homework.

I think it’s a bit of a, uh, A worry is that like there’s, there’s work to be done. It’s very active and playful and creative within their own home. Pauline, I

DAWN: wondered if you had something to say about, um, what are the ripple effects [00:14:00] of that as a professional you notice? So maybe when that young person’s at school or in other friendship groups that they have, are you noticing any other ripple effects from the all about me sessions?

During my group, there was a little boy that was in the session, and I was in the unique privilege of actually watching his relationship develop with his foster carers, but actually because he was being held in such a safe space, he was sharing more and more about what was happening in his daily life, and he had mentioned a little girl’s name about it.

who had been a really good friend to him. Um, and the, the little girl’s name is really quite unusual. And I realized that actually she was on my caseload. She’s one of my foster children. Um, and he was talking about how she’d been a really good friend. Um, she’d actually been doing some sessions, um, that Darlington [00:15:00] Borough Council hold around.

what a good friend looks like. Um, so because that was mentioned within the life story work without letting on to either one of them that I was aware of what was happening, I was able to give her positive praise about what a good friend that she’d been. But actually he’d shared that, um, the friendship bracelet that was created as part of the session, he was going to give her as a present to say thank you for being such a good friend.

So because she’d received positive praise, um, within a day or so of the positive praise being given to her, he actually went in, reinforced the positive praise that she’d already had by giving her this friendship bracelet and her self esteem had really lifted. And of course he got lots of, um, positive feelings from that as well because he’d gone along and given this bracelet to her, um, and received such warm.

Um, thanks, because she’d already received positive praise from other [00:16:00] people. So she was really poised waiting, um, almost for a continuation of this person, um, uh, showing themselves to her. Because she didn’t know who, who the person was, she just knew that somebody had said that she’d been a really good friend to her.

Um, to him, sorry. Um, yeah, so it, it was really lovely to see. And Rebecca, do you, have you got any noticings about, um, working all about me sessions, rippling out into other bits of professional life that you’re

REBECCA: noticing? Part of my role was to provide additional therapeutic support for Children outside of the group.

So where we noticed that a young person might need some further support with whether that be with their foster carer, um, or with them [00:17:00] directly or both of them together. Um, my role was to really sort of pick that up and provide some additional support outside of the group. So I think Actually, what was quite interesting is we didn’t really know how that was going to go.

So we didn’t know if we’d have loads and loads of referrals and like lots and lots of young people would need additional support in their life story or if we wouldn’t have any. And actually it was, I think, a lot less than we expected. So, um, what we found was that lots of the children and young people really enjoyed attending the six sessions.

Um, but for the majority that was and that they’d got lots out of that. And actually they didn’t particularly need any additional life story work or any additional therapeutic support outside of, um, outside of that. So, um, I mean, I think there was some young people that I kind of did. Much [00:18:00] longer term life story work with.

So one particular young person, I probably worked with her and her and her carer for about six months after the group finished. So we did her whole kind of life story really. Um, and I think from that she managed to get a really good understanding of why she was not able to be in her mom’s care, um, and be able to kind of.

Understand really what the professional network were worried about. So I think previously she had lots of anger in relation to social workers because when she lived at home with her mom, foster care, um, sorry, social workers weren’t allowed in the house. And, um, there was lots of anger and upset projected towards social workers about, um, the family situation.

I think that [00:19:00] what the work enabled us to do was kind of, um, help her to understand that actually there was lots of adults who have different jobs that were worried about her and these were the things that they were worried about. So I think, um, from that work she got quite a different understanding of why she was brought into, into care.

And, um, The other thing that we did was there was lots of, um, big feelings that she was trying to manage at the time. So we did lots of work around, um, supporting her with her own emotional responses and supporting, um, her carer to manage that. So we did lots of joint work together to, to support them to think about when this happens and, and why that might be the case.

Um, and what’s the best thing we can do to help in those [00:20:00] really difficult moments. There was a young person who I think was allocated, um, to you Pauline, who was in one of my groups, who, um, was an adolescent young person, and she, um, really engaged in the work, really loved attending every week and, um, completed all of the work, um, extremely well.

I think we had a conversation after, um, after she’s completed the group, didn’t we? And, um, she had actually made quite. A humongous step forward in her journey and written a letter, I think, to her foster carers where she had disclosed to them some quite significant historical [00:21:00] abuse that she had experienced in her, in her early childhood.

I don’t know if you want to say anything about that, Pauline, because that sort of came after our group, didn’t it? It didn’t happen within the group, but it came immediately

DAWN: afterwards. We were in a very unique position where she’d already, um, started undertaking counseling. Um, so as she started on the life story work, the counseling was running along in the background, which is, is I guess, the power of what we were doing.

So as she was guided through the sessions, uh, and through her counseling, which is why we discovered. Um, that she was engaging so well with, with, um, the life story work itself, um, that actually led her onto some very reflective thinking. And she did, she, she wrote a letter to her foster carers, um, to explain about, um, memories that she’d had, that she’d been suppressing, [00:22:00] um, and that, um, she wanted to share with them.

So the, Um, it, it just really went to underline just how, um, therapy and safe handling within life story work is, especially when we’re ready to catch them, um, can make a profound

REBECCA: difference. I think one of the things that really resonated with me when we had that conversation was in the last session, what we focus on in that particular group is writing a letter to your future self.

And, um, this particular young person had written the most beautiful letter to her future self and gave herself some really empowering advice. And, um, we gave her lots and lots of praise for that. And we were, I mean, It was really eloquent and beautiful and we were so super proud of her for being able to share that with us.

Um, and I just, [00:23:00] when we had that conversation, I thought that was really interesting that she had chosen to talk to her foster carers. About something really significant that had happened to her in that same format. So actually she’d been brave enough to write them a letter and say, this is what has happened to me.

And, um, yes, like you say, it was interesting that that came just after we’d finished the group. And she’d obviously felt safe enough to at that point. Um, talk to her foster carers about

DAWN: it. I do think that is the power of the life story work sessions though, because the foster carers were there and they, they went through all six sessions with her.

They supported her through that process. Um, and I found that with all of the foster carers that I had that had young people take part in the group that I’ve been able to observe within the groups as well, that the relationship between the foster carer and the young person got better. There was a vulnerability and a [00:24:00] building of trust as we shared different stories together and different moments within our lives.

The fed into the life story picture as a whole, and we got the opportunity to be silly and to, to create together and to make, I know some of them made masks and some of them made hats and, um, we sang along to songs and, and, um, had that opportunity to be, to be vulnerable. Um, it, it really has fed into, um, them building this really strong bond and that that’s continued even now.

We’ve heard a huge amount about what’s been happening in the workshops and the network of support that happens and the links and connections that are made. Um, by you as professionals to support the child and the adult. Um, my last question to you, um, Pauline, is, um, going forward in Darlington, uh, what are your hopes for creative life story [00:25:00] work going forward?

What are the hopes for you, for the children, for the carers, and for yourselves as professionals supporting them? I really hope that we have a, an opportunity to, um, continue this and develop our knowledge. Um, Darlington’s in, in a unique position where quite a lot of, um, members of staff have worked for the local authority for a long time.

Um, which means that, especially in long term looked after, we have a, an opportunity to develop relationships with our young people. My, my children on my caseload have now been, um, part of their lives for five years. You know, I’ll be taking them up. Until they reach 18 and one of them is just during my caseload, um, just recently, and she’s only two, so I know that she’ll probably see me through to my retirement, which is quite scary.

But, um, so I’m really hoping that the development of life story will, will help me help her understand her story. And as she grows and develops and [00:26:00] understands it further, that that knowledge, um. will develop along with her maturity and her ability to understand, um, so that she understands that actually it’s not her fault.

And even though these difficulties have happened, you know, that her parents loved her to the best of their ability. Unfortunately, it’s meant that, uh, that she’s needed to be looked after. But, um, throughout that, the period that we’re going to look after her for, she’ll have access to her, her family members.

She’ll have a really good understanding of her story. She’ll have a feeling of belonging and an ability to, um, strive for the best future, um, for herself. And, and that she’s going to have a whole team of people around her, um, which is a unique opportunity if she allows us to, to support her through. I

REBECCA: mean, I think my hopes as with any creative intervention really is that we can just embed it as much as we can in [00:27:00] frontline social work.

I think we’re, we’re in a really interesting time, I think, in children’s services, social work in general, where we’re almost creating divides in practice where, um, it’s incredibly challenging, I think, for allocated social workers to do quite complex therapeutic intervention, um, because they’re so busy. A lot of the time.

So we kind of create therapeutic social worker roles. Um, uh, which, you know, I absolutely love. I absolutely love the role. But for me, that’s what social work should be anyway. It’s, it shouldn’t be that we need a separate. job title as a therapeutic social worker because social work is a therapeutic profession.

So my, I mean, my hope is that we continue to, um, push from the bottom up [00:28:00] really, um, and just try and be as creative in our practice as we can and, um, start to kind of really embed creative interventions in. in frontline practice as

DAWN: much as we can. I think they underestimate just how much um, therapeutic life story work is evidence based practice and actually that, um, undertaking this and doing it well will provide us with so much information.

And actually it builds on the relationship um, practice that we’re we’re all trying to um, really develop with our young people as well. And so all All of this if they embed it right from the very moment that we, uh, reach out and knock on the door to say we’ve had a referral. Can I come in and have a conversation to the point where we say, um.

Look after yourself and we have great hopes for your future and it would be. [00:29:00] amazing to, to build this within our practice on an everyday basis and move away from this process that we’ve got into where we’ve got a piece of paper and a report that we have to write in a particular style, from a particular perspective to present in a particular meeting.

Uh, which we’re, we’re very focused on doing and it’s very time consuming writing those massive documents. Um, it would be really good to embed life stories so that we can get back to focusing on the children and young people that we’re working with and the families that have been impacted from, um, so many different, um, things for the reasons why we, we get involved with them in the first place.

Pauline and Rebecca. What a fantastic conversation you’ve had this morning. Thank you so much. Thank you for your time. Thank you for being here. It’s been a pleasure to listen to you speaking. Um, [00:30:00] and I hope to see you in a Zoom room very soon. Whether you’re a foster carer, someone who has experience of the care system, or you work with children and young people, we hope this episode has given you an insight into how we could make life story work better for young people.

You can find out more about our show at wearebluecabin. com forward slash podcast. And we’d love to hear your thoughts. You can record and send a direct question or message to the show via the website. You can tweet us at wearebluecabin or if you’re one of the 1, 500 people taking part in our creative life story work learning program, you can always get touch through our online.

Online learning platform. If you’d like to listen to future episodes, remember to subscribe wherever it is, you usually get your podcasts. And if you’re using Apple podcasts, please do leave us a review as it really helps others to find our show. [00:31:00] Bye for now.

Who are the other professionals involved? How do they work together? What connections do they make? What are they noticing?

Produced and mixed by Will Sadler of Anya Media. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts by clicking one of the following links:


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