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Podcast Season 3: Episode 6 – Why develop a life story work policy?

In this episode of the podcast, we talk to Blue Cabin’s Director, Jenny Young, and Local Authority Specialist, Joanne Stoddart, to find out what they discovered and why a life story work policy is important.

Why develop a life story work policy?

The Creative Life Story Work team asked local authorities across England how they approach life story work and whether they have a life story work policy in place. In this episode of the podcast, we talk to Blue Cabin’s Director, Jenny Young, and Local Authority Specialist, Joanne Stoddart, to find out what they discovered and why a life story work policy is important. Hear a new episode of the Creative Life Story Work podcast on the first Thursday of each month, and listen wherever you get your podcasts.

Click here for more guidance on how to develop your own Life Story Work policy.

Click here to find out more about Creative Life Story Work membership.


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.


DAWN: 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.

Today we are focusing on what to consider When developing a life story, work policy and procedure for your organization. We’re out [00:01:00] and about in Newcastle. So I am delighted to speak in person to director of blue cabin, Jenny Young and blue cabin, local authority specialist, Joanne Stoddard. Joanne is a local authority specialist working with Blue Cabin and she also holds a role in a regional adoption agency.

She is an experienced children’s social worker and manager with 25 years experience of working in local authorities. And Joanne has been involved in Blue Cabin’s Creative Life Story work project over the past four years, and has worked very closely in collaborative. Collaboratively with Blue Cabin throughout Jenny is director of Blue Cabin, which she founded in 2016, and she has 20 years experience of working both in local authority and cultural.

Sectors with extensive knowledge and interesting care experienced communities. Welcome my friends. Hello. Hello.

JENNY: In [00:02:00] real life, it’s Hira. Hello. Hello,

DAWN: Jenny. I wanted to start off by asking you, there was a particular piece of work that you commissioned Joanne to do for Blue Cabin in her role as local authority specialist, and I wondered if to set the scene you would just.

Tell us what the brief was that you asked Joanne to do and, and why. I

JENNY: think it was back in, Joanne correct me if I get the dates wrong here, in um, 2022?

JOANNE: I think so. So

JENNY: 20, 2022 and um, we were in the midst of our creative life story work programme. We’d received What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care funding, um, we had the partnership with Professor Richard Rose, um.

We were rolling out the model in three local authorities in the northeast of England, and it became really clear that, um, it would be really beneficial for us to have a better [00:03:00] understanding of not only the regional. picture of life story work, uh, taking place in local authorities, but also the England wide picture to help inform if creative life story work is to help other local authorities is, if it is to fill a gap, what is that gap?

Is there a gap? Um, and how can we better understand, I suppose, the landscape of life story work taking place in local authorities across England? Um, and we wanted to do that in a number of different ways and it was very much about how best we could inform our own understanding of that. national picture, but also then perhaps come on board to fill the gap through offering creative life story work membership.

Um, and so worked really closely with Juwan who we were so delighted, um, to. work alongside [00:04:00] who really helped to frame what the brief would be with her extensive knowledge working in local authorities, but also with that firm understanding of what could we ask local authorities for, what information could we request in order to build this knowledge, build this bank of information to help.

Us going forward. So when we met, we talked about well, what could we, what could we ask? What could we find out? And, um, Joanne said, well, actually you could look at the Ofsted reports and also you could request information via a freedom of information request, and then really dive into the detail of. what life story work looks like in each local authority.

We knew at that point that there was no national guidance of for what life story work looks like for children and young people in care. We know that that existed for adoption but not in care so we were really interested to understand well, with there being no national guidance, then what does life story work actually look [00:05:00] like in each local authority for children and young people and their supporting adults.

Um, so Joanne really helped to frame the brief of what the piece of work would be. Would be. Is

JOANNE: that fair to say? I think that’s fair to say.

DAWN: That’s interesting that even in the um, framing of what that the scope of that brief would be it was a collaborative act um, pooling different bits of experience together to do that.

It’s quite big picture high level strategic um, work that you were being asked to do. Joanne. Um, Jenny’s already mentioned freedom of information. It would be good to know what even that is. Um, and also, um, where did you begin? I think if I was given a brief like that, I’d just go, ooh. It’s like, where did you begin?

Where did you begin to think about sourcing some of the information?

JOANNE: I think I probably did go, ooh, what am I doing? Um, but I think because I’ve worked in [00:06:00] local authorities for such a long time, I knew what, um, could be asked for. Um, so the freedom of information requests when I was thinking about that.

Um, I knew I wouldn’t get responses from every single local authority, but we tried our hardest to, to contact every local authority. Um, and we did actually get, um, a pretty good response and some more generous with their information than others. But even the fact that some people, uh, some local authorities responded with quite minimal, um, information suggested that there wasn’t.

Information in that local authority to actually provide, which again tells a story, which, which you can take from, um, and in terms of the Ofsted report. Um, that was interesting as well because I did research every single Ofsted report for every local authority in England. And again, noticing that, um, there wasn’t really that much consistency from [00:07:00] Ofsted reports in terms of reporting on life story work, whether that was children with a plan of adoption or children remaining in foster care.

So that was interesting as well, that there were different priorities for different Ofsted teams all dependent upon, um, the priorities in that particular local authority at that time. Um, so it was, it was generally a very interesting process for me to go through as well. Um, and the information we got, it took a few months to, to gather that information up and to try and pull together a report, which, which I did do, um, but just pulling, pulling out the themes really.

Um, so it was a fascinating process to go through and, and quite telling, um, for various different reasons. So your outstanding local authorities for children in care, um, had some fantastic, uh, models of, of how to engage children and young people in. you know, life story work. Um, and then the [00:08:00] authorities that were struggling potentially requires improvement to be good or inadequate.

You could tell they were struggling with that area, um, generally of how to approach life story work. But it was a fascinating process. It was genuinely a fascinating process to be involved in and to go through, so. What

DAWN: would you say were Some of the key themes that emerged or your key findings that you gave

JOANNE: back to Blue Cabin.

I don’t think it was a surprise to me what I found to be honest, um, because again my experience in, in several local authorities over the years. But in a nutshell, it was quite interesting to note that not every local authority had policies, procedures, guidance, tools in place for practitioners, social workers to engage children with, in life story work.

Um, and again, very little available in terms of how, uh, when you’re talking about children with a plan of adoption, how practitioners should go ahead with preparing a life story [00:09:00] book. And I think we know from, um, experience from some adoptive parents, and there is a, um, a podcast between myself and, um, an adoptive parent that you might want to listen to, um, that’s, that’s fascinating in terms of, we assume social workers, um, are IT literate, we assume that designers and artists, and they’re not.

They’re people like me who have no idea how to approach things like this. And so yes, you can put the words down, but how to present it is quite a challenge. And so there’s this assumption that, that social workers just know what to do when they’re being asked to do these pieces of work. And I think the main thing that kept theme, sorry, that came through was that a lot of policies were either missing, not available to us.

So we couldn’t really comment, or there was a lot that were, um, The bog standard, the off the shelf, um, policies that local authorities tend to buy from TriEx online [00:10:00] that hadn’t been, um, personalized to the particular local authority. So what other local authorities won’t have realized they were sending me exactly the same policy and procedure.

So I think in total we had about 17 that were provided that were exactly the same that hadn’t been personalized. And again, that tells a tale and again through My personal experience. I know how difficult it is to pull policies and procedures together When you are working in a local authority because there’s so many stakeholders involved But that for me was ultimately the the main theme that came through that.

How are you expecting practitioners? to undertake such important pieces of work with, with children and young people who are incredibly vulnerable, um, without proper guidance, um, in place. So that for me was the outstanding theme that, that, that came through, that absolutely shone through.

DAWN: Jenny, uh, with your blue cabin hat on, what, what, what stood out from the report for you?

Was that the same [00:11:00] or, or did you notice something? I

JENNY: think that definitely stood out, the policy element, and I think perhaps it did because part of my role for Blue Cabin is around ensuring that we have all of our policies and procedures in place for all of our work. Some of them are statutory, some of them are legal, some of them are good practice guides, and so I am really at the center of ensuring that policy is in place and know how challenging that can be, know how much time and energy that can take, know that you could have a policy that you can, a template policy that you can get, say, for example, um, um, And that can be in place, but there’s a difference between that policy being a living and breathing document being something that people understand across the organization, something that they really buy into something that they advocate for.

And underneath that is this constant learning and training and development to ensure that all [00:12:00] of the team are understanding of their role in how to make that policy a reality. So I think the policy thing struck a chord with me because of an expectation that is. It’s on local authorities to ensure that life story work takes place, but with no national guidance there, and therefore no guidance around policy development, it leaves them in a very challenging position, um, and knowing that, um, Ofsted will come in and look at it.

Thank you. Life story work provision. It really stood out in that. How? How are staff members and local authorities expected to do this without this guide without living and breathing guide? That’s very much around a narrative based pro process for Children and young people to understand the past and the present.

How? How can we expect this of local authority staff with no training? And I think I’m right in saying, but do correct me if I’m wrong, anybody that’s out there listening to the podcast at all. So there is not necessarily life story work training in social work qualifications [00:13:00] either. So how are social workers meant to know?

Um, so I think that sense of the policy being a really crucial template of understanding within a local authority, the fact that either it wasn’t there or that it might have been a, an off the shelf policy really stood out. I think the other thing that we really, uh, understood from the work that Joanne did was that there was a real keenness for learning and a real keenness that more support is needed, a real appetite and a curiosity to understand how life story work is done.

I think social workers that we speak to on a daily basis through creative life story work absolutely want to do this work. They want to do it safely, they want to do it creatively, they want to facilitate it really well and they’re really keen to understand the work. The how and the why and that not being present nationally or regionally I think is, it must be very challenging.

I’m not a trained social worker, I know Joanne is, but I imagine that’s a [00:14:00] very difficult position to be in as a social worker.

DAWN: We’re going to go to a short break now so that you can find out more about our Creative Life Story Work membership.

JOANNE: We want people to gain more of an understanding about what it’s like to be care experienced and to have a better

JENNY: understanding

JOANNE: of what it actually means.

Could creative life story work make a difference to the care experienced children and young people you work with? Maybe you’re a social worker. I think we forget

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

JOANNE: could ever operate.

Perhaps you’re a foster carer. 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 [00:15:00] 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 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. Find out about our membership for individuals and for organisations on our website, creativelifestorywork. com

DAWN: Joanne, if a local authority If the local authority doesn’t have a policy in place, what does that mean for the children who are in their care? And I’m just wondering if [00:16:00] there is no, if the local authority doesn’t have a policy, what are some of the things that might need to be taken into consideration?

JOANNE: Yeah, so when you, you’re talking about not having a policy in place, um, that would affect children with a plan of permanence to remain in, in local authority foster care in whatever format that is. When you’re talking about children placed for adoption. There is national minimum standards in place for that.

So that’s a little bit different. So we’re predominantly talking about children in foster care who don’t have a plan to be rehabilitated back to parents or family. What that means is ultimately you’ve potentially got. Confused workforce who don’t actually know what they’re doing, the frequency, when to do this work, how to engage a child or young person.

And it creates a workforce that potentially are not as confident as they could be or should be in engaging [00:17:00] children and young people. And obviously in turn, that translates to social workers potentially avoiding doing this piece of work. Managers not chasing. social workers to say, um, this child has never ever been engaged with life story work in 10 years, we need to start doing this.

Um, and that ultimately means children are sitting there not understanding usually why they’re in care. And it still surprises me to this day that even when you’ve worked with a child, that they can still turn around and still not actually understand. Because the work that’s being, uh, done with with children and young people isn’t at the level it needs to be at because social workers predominantly may not be confident in that piece of work and couple that with foster care has been quite concerned about opening up a can of worms and how how are they going to manage if work if you know you’re scratching the surface Child starts asking [00:18:00] lots and lots of questions and if you’ve got a workforce, a social worker for example, and a foster carer who are concerned about how to go about this and you’ve got no wraparound support available, it ultimately, it’s a recipe for disaster because it is such an important piece of work and an ongoing piece of work to be engaged, to engage a child in.

Um, a child needs to understand. their history. They need to understand that why decisions have been made. They need to understand why their, for example, their brother’s actually living at home, but I can’t live at home. What, what’s that about? My mum’s had a baby, but I can’t live at home. What’s this about?

Um, I have memories of, of, um, Feelings. I have emotions that I can remember, but I don’t understand what’s happened. Why do I feel like this? Um, and unless a child or a young person is able to explore that and openly explore [00:19:00] that, but with somebody who is confident in doing that and has the wraparound support available to them and the tools, um, that child is going to continue down a path, um, where they’re going to question and question and question and they’re getting older.

Every single day they’re getting older. And not knowing what, what’s happened and why. Yes, they may understand the top, the top level reason, but scratch the surface. and they don’t understand why. Um, so it’s so important to be able to give, um, social workers, practitioners, the tools and support to be able to engage children, young people and foster carers or residential workers.

Um, you know, or parents, because we are talking about children in care and they may be living with their parents and may not understand what’s going on. So it is about just, just making sure that the tools are available, the guidance. is there. Um, if, if there isn’t a policy or procedure or guidance in place.

There’s lots of [00:20:00] things that people, that local authorities will, will need to think about. Um, and writing a policy, it might sound quite straightforward, but when you’re talking about life story work, for children in care, care experienced children, not talking adoption, um, it’s incredibly challenging. And I’m talking from personal experience as a head of service.

It’s a previous head of service. It’s incredibly challenging, even, even thinking about the frequency is a minefield. Are you talking about frequency in terms of once every two years or when the child starts asking questions or when your manager tells you to do it or the independent reviewing officer tells you to do it?

Or if you’ve done it, I’m saying done it with, with inverted commas. If you’ve done it when the child is 10, does that mean that’s over and done with? Or, or, or, is that your local authority’s view, or is it actually, he was 10, now he’s 16, and his, you know, brain [00:21:00] functioning is very different, has a different level of understanding, do we need to be looking at this again?

So even just looking at the frequency of when life story work, um, should be, you know, initiated, is incredibly challenging.

DAWN: Jenny. So, I’m wondering now that we’ve, uh, Um,


JENNY: think it’s been such a full, useful, rich and really important report for us at Blue Cabin and we’ve been Um, using it in various different ways.

We were really keen to have an understanding across the team around Joanne’s findings. So Joanne has shared that internally with team members and it’s also been presented to our board of trustees. We’re a charity incorporated organization. So it was really important that our trustees had that understanding of, of, uh, the why, um, with regards to life [00:22:00] story work nationally.

Um, it’s also informed, um, our creative life story work team who do, um, work on creative life story work that includes this podcast, that includes the website, that includes the membership, content creation, commissioning of live classrooms, because what we’re wanting to do is take the intelligence and the findings and the learning and the themes from the report and think, well, based upon what this is telling us, how can we then ensure that what we’re putting on the website and the membership is responding to that need, is filling any gaps that may, may be in place.

So the reason why the next, um, one of the, the up and coming blogs is around policy, which Joanne’s written and this podcast is happening around policy, is to try and respond to the needs that have been identified in the report. And you will see that hopefully emerging through content that’s added to the website, um, on a monthly basis.

What we’ve also done is we’ve gone back to every single local authority who, um, provided information and responded to the request for information. We’ve offered them live [00:23:00] classroom, um, discounted rates and free rates to say thank you for providing the information. It was really important that we were able to, to say thank you and we’re really grateful for all of the information that’s been provided.

But also we have then tailored information that has been sent to each of the local authorities to say, based upon what you. provided around life story work in your local authority, have you thought about this in relation to whether this could be helpful? And so that’s links to the creative life story work website, the membership offer, the live classrooms, and it’s all tailored to, we see that you’re an outstanding local authority.

For example, we see you’re doing great things with life story work. Perhaps some of the free resources might be beneficial for your practitioners. We see that actually right now you don’t have a policy and you need support with life story work. Have you thought about buying a membership? So we’ve tailored all of the, um, emails to each local authority, um, to say, this is how we can help.

Now, we’re not the only life story work [00:24:00] provider in the country. There are many life story work providers, and I think it’s really important to say at this point, we’re not saying creative life story work is the way. It is our way. I think the key takeaway from this and the key call to action is, if not creative life story work as a provider, find a provider.

Reach out for support. Ask for help to develop your practice, to think about what life story work looks like in your local authority, to ask for help. I do that in Blue Cabinet as my role as director all the time. I am not an expert in data protection, neither am I an expert in GDPR or safeguarding or risk assessment, but as it’s my job to develop the policy and the procedures and the practice.

I reach out to people who can support me in my role to do that. And that’s what we’re encouraging people to do here with Life Story Work. Reach out, ask for help. There is information out there that can help you do what you do. Um, I think the call to action is don’t, don’t do nothing because this is too important.

Children and young people must have an [00:25:00] understanding of their past and their now in order to move forward. So yeah, that would be one of the main things we’d

JOANNE: encourage.

DAWN: And I think on that call to action, that should be our Closing. Don’t do nothing. This is too important to finish our chat today. So Jenny and Joanne, thank you so much for your time this morning.

Lovely, lovely to see you in real life, out and about in

JOANNE: Newcastle. Dawn.

JENNY: Thank you Joanne.

DAWN: Whether 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. You can find out more about creative life story work on our website, creativelifestorywork.

com and you can find us on LinkedIn and Twitter. Or X as it’s now called at, at [00:26:00] creative LSW. Please do get in touch there with any comments or questions as we’d love to hear from you. And if you’re using Apple podcasts, please do leave us a review as it really helps others to find our show. So until next month, bye bye for now.

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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