If I could give you one gift it would be to see yourself through my eyes and then you would see how special you really are.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Life Story

What does life story mean to you?

Life story books and journeys mean so much more to those involved in fostering and adoption. Every child that is adopted will arrive at their new family with a life story book or their social worker will be in the process of completing one. This is a book telling the child's life so far, where they were born, who their birth families are, who fostered them and then as in our case on the last page is a picture and description of the adoptive family. Child 4's book is a brightly coloured laminated A4 sized book, full of photos and basic information. It tells the history of his birth parents, other children they have, it has photos that the birth family wished to be included. It has a picture of the hospital he was born in along with his time and date of birth, giving birth weight and length. It explains where he lived when he left the hospital. More pages give an insight into his life in foster care and the two families who looked after him until his social worker found us. The middle of the book explains why he couldn't remain with his birth family and why he was placed for adoption. 

This book has sat on a shelf for two years, the older children, particularly child 3 have read it cover to cover absorbing the information and with it the sadness and loss that touches all of us involved. Child 4 hasn't really shown any interest, probably because he is too young yet, that was until his birthday when we showed him the photos of when he was a baby.

I have been meaning to follow up on his story, but didn't really know how, would each of our children want to create a book, should we have a family one, perhaps for each year. Then I was given the opportunity by CORAM to attend a Life Story Work workshop run by Joy Rees. I have to say I love adoption courses and workshops, they are packed full of useful information and maybe just as importantly other adopters who share their stories, the highs and the lows, making me at least feel normal even if just for a little while.

Joy Rees began her course explaining what should be in a life story book and what definitely shouldn't be. Understandably in this age of modern technology and social media the advice is to not include full names, dates of birth and definitely not addresses. This information would have been used much better if we had, had it before our children were placed but she also gave alternatives if our children had been with us for a while, such as road maps, That's for another day. Her idea was that the books centred on the child and his family, his adoptive family because that is who his family is. Of course the birth parents were mentioned, after all we all have birth parents and they are the roots of where we start but actually the here and now and what happens next is what is important. Our children need to know that they have a future and a happy, safe and secure one.  Here sample books are simple, brightly coloured, full of the relevant information, the child is the main character and his family, us are chapter 2 not the epilogue!

I find it fascinating how grown adults as myself sometimes just accept things as the way they are, we don't always question, because we don't look too hard at the information we are given we just assume that it's ok, trusting that the person who has completed the work firstly, knows what they are doing or secondly has been give the time and support to complete it correctly and to the best possible standard. We are sometimes too scared of being seen as difficult or too assertive, after all that maybe the way to ensure that we are never matched with a child if we question when we should. Sometimes, time and events over run us meaning that we miss things.

When I returned home I took child 4's book from the shelf and re read it, it has his birth parents, grandparents, extended family names in full, some with dates of birth. In the family tree it's has the parents home town listed and his paternal grandparents full addresses!! When you consider that child 4 was to be placed outside of the area he had been born because his parents and paternal grandparents were adamant that they would find him and bring him "home" allowing child 4 the information that would enable him to contact them so very easily (his birth mum is the first person to come up on Facebook when you search for her) I am amazed that not only the social work team did not pick up on this but that I didn't either. (I have read Bubble Wrapped Children and should have known better)  I have contacted our social worker to ask for advice, but don't have high expectations as child 4 has been with us for two years now and with the turn over of staff I don't even know if child 4's social worker is still around.
Don't misunderstand me, most social workers do their best but I know that for child 4's social worker ours was her first adoption and she had a massive work load, her attention had to have been taken by those children still at risk. child 4 was now safe with foster carers so would no longer be a priority in her mind. No one else noticed that information he could use as he grew up to find and contact his birth family was now readily available.

We his family will now rewrite his life story book, we will include all the information from his original one and keep the original one safe until he is 18. But I will follow Joy Rees ideas  making child 4 and his place within our family not his history or that of his birth family the centre of his book.
My life story books aim to reinforce the child's sense of belonging and security within the adoptive family before addressing their history and early trauma. The book brings the child back to a secure present and leaves them with a sense of a positive future.



  1. I have never heard about not using full names and addresses in life story books before. Ours most definitely have both. What I can't understand is how you can help a child to understand where they come from when you cant use some of this information. It sounds like a course I would be interested in. Thanks for linking to #WASO

  2. Some really interesting thoughts here. As a worker, I to and fro between the benefits/risks of using full identifying details before adulthood , especially because I have learned where there's a will, there's a way, so to speak.
    Should elements be withheld and should a need or curiosity arise before they were of adult age. I would only hope that 1) the child had a capacity to understand and then accept why the decision had been made to withhold information and 2) that the child would feel comfortable enough to ask their adoptive parents, rather than trying to find information out in a covert and unsupported manner.

    1. I really hope that child 4 will always be able to come to us, we are as open as we can be, so fingers crossed.