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Podcast Season 3: Episode 5 – Attachment, trauma and their impact on children and young people

We welcome to the podcast the brilliant Professor Richard Rose of Therapeutic Life Story Work International, to explore the topics of attachment and trauma.

We welcome to the podcast the brilliant Professor Richard Rose of Therapeutic Life Story Work International, to explore the topics of attachment and trauma. We find out how early experiences of attachment and trauma can affect children and young people later in life and how foster carers and social workers can recognise resulting behaviours and support the children and young people in their care.

Richard will share more about attachment and trauma in our forthcoming Creative Life Story Work Live Classrooms – find out more and book your place here.

Attachment, trauma and their impact on children and young people


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 to make life story work better for all care experienced children and young people. Creative Life Story Work is a new approach which can improve children and young people’s lives and their relationships with others at home and at school.

It’s based on the Rose model of therapeutic life story work. Every month we’ll explore a different aspect of creative life story work and we’ll give insights into how you can use this approach to help care experienced children and young people make sense of their past and build a brighter future. My name is Dawn Williams and I am an associate at Blue Cabin, one of the partners on this exciting work in the region.

In this podcast, we will [00:01:00] explore attachment and trauma theory and how it relates to care experience to children and young people. I really am delighted to welcome to the studio today, Professor Richard Rose, as well as being a truly Inspiring trainer. Richard is the director of therapeutic life story work international.

He provides consultancy and training on therapeutic life story work and develops academic training programs in the UK and internationally. Richard has written some books. He’s the author of The Child’s Own Story, Life Story Work with Traumatised Children and Life Story Therapy with Traumatised Children, A Model for Practice and Innovative Therapeutic Life Story Work.

But most of all for me today, Blue Cabin, I’m delighted that Richard has been our friend and ally in all of our creative life story work and really lovely to have you here today,

RICHARD: Richard. Thank you very much, Dawn, and hello everybody. Nice to [00:02:00] have you back on a podcast, and it’s a pleasure to be involved in the work that Blue Cabin are championing.


DAWN: wondered, because I always like to start with some definitions, and I wondered, What would be a definition of attachment that you might offer to people who are first thinking about the importance of attachment when they’re working with the children who are in their lives?

RICHARD: Well, the actual concept of attachment obviously is vast.

First of all, what I would say is that if you wanted to read everything written about attachment, you wouldn’t live long enough to read it all. So we have to, we have to think about an attachment in a simplified way. And most people that You know, get involved with my training, or perhaps I have the opportunity to talk with, they know that I’m pretty much a Forrest Gump as far as theory is concerned.

Simple is as simple does. And so making sense of attachment is actually quite simple. Attachment really is how someone has survived their first few years of life. And in that survival journey, how they’ve [00:03:00] learned to make sure their needs are met, which creates for them defenses. And so in a way, attachment is how I learned to survive.

And my style, if you like, is how I’ve then learned to make sure that I get my needs met. So for some children, attachment is wonderful in a sense of it provides all they need. They have good attachment models. They can get their needs met by the people around them that protect them and care for them. So really, at the end of the day, survival is a given.

And they don’t really need to worry too much about making things happen, because they are happening as they’re designed to. Whereas many of the children that I work with, and the carers and the social workers on this podcast may work with, and others, is that the children often that we support have not had that easy opportunity of having their needs met.

There may have been problems in the early years. There may be issues around their journey in the womb. There may be issues around domestic violence, et cetera, et cetera. And so they had to To still survive those things, but they would now [00:04:00] have to think about how do I get my needs met? Do I cry? Do I grab, do I take, do I wait patiently?

And of course, many of the young people that you and I might come across are children that have learned behaviors that get their needs met, which. equally make them safe, but sadly, for others, make them feel unsafe. So if you have a child, for instance, has learnt that the only way to get my needs met is to take from somebody else, that might upset somebody that might be around that child.

But for that child, their intention wasn’t to upset them, their intention was to get their needs met, because otherwise, how do I survive? So there’s a nutshell of attachment for you. brief and in the training obviously that we do, we talk a bit more about that. But it really is just simple and Bowlby back in the 1950s would say, we’re hardwired to survive.

And then if we look at Ainsworth, we know that we have different ways in which we get our needs met, or we learn that they won’t be met in the ways we assumed they’d be met. And we learn new ways or we wait [00:05:00] patiently in hope. And

DAWN: if some of the people listening to this podcast of foster care, for instance, might be observing some of these behaviors and perhaps doesn’t have a massive understanding of what attachment is.

How can they best support the child who’s, who’s in their care?

RICHARD: Sure, so I think first of all is to acknowledge and accept how the child has managed their life so far. It’s not necessarily then to say, right, I’ll let this continue, but it’s then about thinking, how can I remodel? How can I show different ways in which your needs can be met?

How do I help you to understand what healthy sleep is? What healthy food is? What having a A hug is without any kind of alternative notion about creating boundaries and praise. So a good way of doing it is actually called the wall. And this is something again, we’ll talk about in training, but in the wall, we just look at a child’s needs in the first five years of life.

And then we look at what they didn’t [00:06:00] get. And then we think, well, is that maybe why some of the behaviours we see and some of the challenges we have around parenting or being able to meet that child’s needs is so kind of clear. And then what we do is we actually then think, OK, so what didn’t this child get?

So let’s say a foster care is caring for a child of two. And let’s say that since they came into the world, food hasn’t been something that’s consistent and predictable. Safety is non existent because of domestic violence. Let’s say that there’s neglect within the household and therefore there’s not really an understanding of, you know, kind of regulation and calm and peace and so on.

So all those things are going to be new now to this child the carer’s looking after. So how do we make that something that becomes not just a process which you will now experience as a two year old, but a process which actually has joy connected to it? And so, again, what we look at is how can we rebuild, actually, their opportunity?

So if you have a [00:07:00] wall. And we put all the things children need on the wall and then we remove the bits they haven’t had, like praise and boundaries and routine and maybe healthy food and sleep, we’ve got a broken wall. So our carers, what we can do, is we can help that child remend their wall or rebuild their wall by giving them Opportunities to enjoy sleep by helping them to understand through commentary, the importance of food to explore with them, safe adults, rather than maybe unsafe adults, and as they build that wall back up, there’ll be lots of testing.

There’ll be a lot of boundaries. There’ll be a lot of kind of going backwards and forwards, but very often we like an attachment to, you know, that kind of dance of attachment and it’s two steps forward, one step back, three steps forward, one step back, two steps forward. and only one step back. And that’s the kind of thing that we’d be talking about, how carers might work with children who are rejecting or find it hard to accept those kind of care that we would hope [00:08:00] children would have and deserve.

DAWN: I’m wondering what difference it makes depending at different ages. So if a, if a carer is being asked to care for a baby as opposed to a 12 or 13 year old child who might come in, is there different impacts on different developmental stages that that that the foster carer might be seeing and needing to understand?

RICHARD: I mean I think again if you look at kind of what we understand around attachment formation and we go all the way back to Bowlby and his concepts of the internal working model or we can look at Work by, say, Erickson in personality development of trust versus mistrust and autonomy versus, you know, kind of that concept of not good enough.

If you are working then with a baby, we’re still in the grounds of developing that baby’s conscious self. And what we know from people like Bruce Perry, for instance, is that in the first three years of life, everything that we [00:09:00] experience is actually creating our brain and the architect of our brain. And it’s really a kind of mirror of what we experience externally, how we make sense then about our brain development.

Perry goes on to talk about the importance of, you know, nought to three. Being a crucial moment where our core neural networks develop, but really in, in, in kind of my terms, my simplest, simple does terms, what really we’ve got is that a child is just learning the world and they’re learning the world from what they experienced in those three years.

And they then start to make certain kind of clarities. I usually call this clue sets, i. e. clue sets. Now. If you’ve got a young baby of one years old coming into your care as a foster carer, you have the perfect opportunity to actually start to build in that beautiful relational health. But if you’re working with a twelve year old, as example, who may not have had anybody repairing that concept, then they’re cornering networks to not [00:10:00] only develop to mirror their early years experience, but everything else that’s happened since then is compacted onto that core neural network.

So it takes more time, and it takes more patience, and it takes more kind of therapeutic support to help a child to start to relearn trust being a two way. process or to learn that adults can be safe. So certainly with my work, for instance, in therapeutic life story work and in the creative life story work, you know, that part of exploring the past to make sense of the present is how we help children of 12 go back to being nought to three.

And by helping children to understand the roots of their story, we can help them understand the creation of their kind of presentation. And then whether that’s helpful or not helpful can be discussed in that beautiful recovery. So when we look at this training that you and I, you know, are engaged in in February onwards, you know, part of that training [00:11:00] is, well, what is attachment?

Part of it then is, well, what about trauma? Big part of the end is what we do about it. And you’re a 12 year old living in a foster care home. The best thing you can do is consistency, predictability, repetition. And as me as a 12 year old starts to see that food happens the same time, bedtime happens the same time, school happens the same time.

I can then start to take those risks thinking, well, at least I know I’m going to get fed. At least I know I’m going to be safe. At least I know I’m going to be sleeping well. And it’s those little things that are very important.

DAWN: Let’s go to a break now so that you can hear about our Creative Life Storywork membership offer.

We want

RICHARD: people to gain more of an understanding about what it’s like to be care experienced and to have a better understanding of what it actually means. Could Creative Life Storywork make a difference to the care experienced children and young people you work with? [00:12:00] I

DAWN: think we forget at our peril that actually telling a child the story of their early life is one of the most profound uses of

RICHARD: social work power that we could ever operate.

You know, when they say it’s all about the child, it’s not because our experiences, it’s about the carer and the child and it just gives a new angle to our relationship because we’re learning about each other together. A Creative Life Story Work membership will give you, or your whole team, access to resources.

Including activities you can use in direct work with children and young people. Training with life story work experts and lots more. And I think a lot of our children are looking for meaning, looking for, you know, well, why is it I feel this way when my, you know, my friends don’t? Why is it I get angry internally?

And my friends don’t. The greatest thing we see is when we are able to say to young people, this is your story, this is about who you [00:13:00] are. And then children towards the end say, it’s not my fault that these things happened, but it is something that I can do something about. And once we have that, then we know we can move forward.

And for organizations on our website, creative life story,

DAWN: at Blue Cabin, we’ve been thinking a lot, particularly with your help, we’ve been thinking about ourselves as an organization and how we might work in a trauma informed way. You’ve been a massive part of those conversations as have Kazoom Arts and in some of the training that they delivered for us.

Thinking back to my definitions again, because you know, I love a definition. They gave us a definition and I wondered what you thought about this. It’s a definition of trauma that they gave to us. And they said, trauma is what happens to a person where there is either too much, too soon. Too much for too long, or [00:14:00] not enough for too long, and that’s a quote from Peg Djuros and Dee Crowley.

I just wondered if that was something that you’d heard before, or whether that’s a, you have a different, simpler definition of trauma that you would prefer to share. We just really liked that one

RICHARD: as well. Yeah. Yeah, I haven’t actually heard that one before, um, but I think, again, just like with attachment, there are so many different, uh, definitions of trauma.

And, of course, trauma is a very, kind of, unique situation for us. Not one of us will experience trauma in the same way. And so the uniqueness of trauma, I think, will actually be, kind of, illustrated in that quote. The quote I tend to use, and there are loads, by the way, is one which actually is Kind of from the Australian Childhood Foundation, although I’ve made a little change myself for it.

And it really goes in tune with what Gabor Mate is currently presenting, which is, is trauma an event or is trauma the residual left after? And so for me, trauma is the [00:15:00] unresolved residuals of events that we have not made our peace with. Now that goes alongside our current thinking around grief and loss.

So grief and loss, you’ll never get over your grief and loss. You’ll never forget it. But what you do learn is how to live alongside it. And it’s the same with trauma. We’re never going to forget a trauma event. We’re never going to forget what happened. But what we will be able to learn is to make sense of it.

is to understand we can’t change it, but it doesn’t have to define us. So, for me, my simple explanation of definition would be trauma is the unresolved residuals of past events that we have not made our peace with. And that’s mine, so you can quote me on that one. Well, I

DAWN: might in the next one, Richard.

Well, who knows. What happens if, if the attachment and trauma are not supported as the children that we’re working with move into adulthood. What, what, what might we see if [00:16:00] that isn’t put in place? Well,

RICHARD: I think that, you know, obviously what we see is that many young people who are in care that leave care, that then, you know, are very much left to their own devices.

So although we have systems like aftercare, leaving care, and we have a commitment to children over 20, 25, it’s very You know, seldom happens like that. And very often we lose track of our young people. Sometimes our young people end up in mental health services or, you know, in different situations. And sadly, you know, some will still end up in other institutional environments, such as prisons, et cetera.

And I always wondered myself that, you know, why was it that this, a child could journey through our system of care journey through our, our kind of childcare environments without. actually having the opportunity to understand, to communicate with, to think with, to get support from those very people that are there to provide care.

So for me, it’s [00:17:00] very much a failure of our system. If children do journey through our care to the other side into leaving care without having been able to think through, to make sense of, and to, as I say, make their peace with all that’s happened in their journey. I work a lot with adults doing therapeutic life story work and most of us in social care will work with parents of children where the parents of been impacted by their own very, very difficult years, and this is why I like seeing new thinking in local authorities.

So, Birmingham, for instance, with breaking the cycle, we have Lancashire with breathing space. I hope I got those around the right way, and, uh, we have Paul’s, of course, a national charity, and a lot of that is about these, these parents who have journeyed through care into young adulthood, into adulthood, into parentage, and all that.

It’s unresolved, and it then plays out itself in their children. So I don’t think there’s any excuse in this day and age for us not to [00:18:00] have those opportunities to help children to talk about their trauma, their attachment, to talk about their hurts, their sadnesses, but also for us to, you know, ensure children that they are wonderful, lovable, worthwhile, that they have a space and a place, and that there are people that care for

DAWN: them.

I’m thinking about particularly for the foster carers hearing that and what are, what might be some of the very practical things that they might find themselves doing which would really help and support the, the child that they’re, they’re, they’re caring for. I

RICHARD: mean for me it’s to be kind of curious about their young people, to commentate.

You know, not, not in a lecture style, but to commentate about some of the things and why they do some of the things to share some of their story, you know, so that children see that, you know, it’s okay to talk about children they’ve cared for in the past. You don’t have to name them. You don’t have to break, break confidences, but you can [00:19:00] say it’s okay.

You know, I did look after a young person and we talked a lot about things and I’m really happy to talk to you about things, not to be afraid to ask for help. If you are a. Carer with a special guardianship order where the child’s been in care first or you’re an adoptee, adoption parent rather, you know, there are now resources for you that you can get financial support to provide therapy and therapy to intervention.

But really there should be that for all children in care. So I think there’s that. I think the other thing that I would absolutely recommend, and it won’t be a surprise to those that know our work, yours and mine, all about me. Having a curiosity every six months about what’s happening in your world, who are your friends, you know, what do you enjoy, what’s your faith, what’s your, uh, notion of culture, and sharing that.

So, uh, we’re seeing some wonderful work in Oregon at the moment, for instance, where All About Me, the ones that we, uh, in Blue Cabinet and in TLSWI talk about, they’ve been doing for three years, and now [00:20:00] carers are doing their All About Me alongside children doing All About Me. all about me. And now you have this beautiful conversation which says it’s okay because we can share, we can think, we can grow together.

And I think if that was a kind of a promissory note, a promissory note I would say to foster carers particularly, we can give you this opportunity to do all about me. And once you get that conversation, and once it becomes a conversation which includes opportunities for laughing, for sharing, for remembering, for making sense, that commentary then becomes something that grows that child.

And that’s what I would recommend.

DAWN: I really love that and that’s certainly something that our artists have taken from the training that you’ve developed with them about playing and sharing and being in that space together so that that relationship’s given space to grow.

RICHARD: as well. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, we talk a lot [00:21:00] about Dan Hughes’s work and Kim Golding’s work around place and place.

And it’s a brilliant acronym, because really, if a carer can be playful with their child, if the carer can accept who their child is, and not try to change them for, you know, any other reason than to improve their opportunities, if they’re curious about them, and, you know, I use the word commentary. Use commentary about them, then the emotions that we deliver, those emotions that spring from that relation, the emotions that come from fear, but also hope and success can all then almost be a kind of meaningful.

And once it’s meaningful, then it becomes a relationship.

DAWN: That’s really, really lovely, Richard. We could speak all day. I could make you talk all about your live classroom that we’ve got coming up. But if people wanted to find out more, you have a live classroom that you will be delivering for Blue Cabin on March the 12th in 2024, where, well, you can [00:22:00] tell people what will they be finding out in that live classroom that you’re doing in March.

RICHARD: In March, it’s all about attachment. So we’ll be talking about the concept of attachment. A little bit of theory, but not too heavy. But enough for us to know that attachment comes from, you know, the kind of experience of carers and children themselves. We’ll talk about what does disorganised attachment look like?

How do we manage that attachment concept? We’ll be thinking around the notion of defence. The emotion that the kind of concept of survival, we’ll have some video, some opportunities for breakout discussion. Um, but hopefully by the end of that first session around attachment, people are familiar with the main attachment theory, the concepts of how we can understand attachment, but also thinking about our children that we currently look after and how we might make more sense of their journey.

DAWN: Fantastic. Thank you very much for your time today, Richard. As ever, it’s been a huge pleasure to speak to you.

RICHARD: Always good Dawn, always [00:23:00] good. Whether

DAWN: you’re a foster carer, someone who has experience with the care system, or you work with children and young people, we hope this episode has given you an insight into how we can make life story work better for young people and how you can use it in your own practice.

The Creative Life Story Work podcast is released on the first Thursday of every month. You can find out more about Creative Life Story Work on our website, creativelifestorywork. com. You can find us on LinkedIn and Twitter, or X as it’s now called, at CreativeLSW. Please do get in touch there with any comments or questions and we’d really love to hear from you.

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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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