Tuesday, February 23, 2016


I'm not a 100% expert on 'Life Story Work'. That's not to say I don't care for it, far from it, but I'm glad it's one that tends to get left to experts; psychologists and their ilk.

The thing for us foster parents is that our foster children ask us sudden, unexpected and hugely significant questions about their past that need some kind of answer. There's no trained expert in the kitchen except ourselves. We have to give it a go.  

I think a child, especially a young child, who spends enough time in care learns about their past in a series of snapshots. They wonder about all sorts of things, then when they trust us to give kind, thoughtful and truthful answers to their big questions, they ask.

They ask;

"Why doesn't anybody know who my daddy is?"

Or they ask why their daddy is in prison. I actually was asked that question and the little fellow was too young to hear the full story, I was peeling potatoes when he just came out with it.

"Why did my mummy burn all my toys?"

Worst of all for me, this one, from a few years back;

"When it's okay for me to go back with mummy could she come and live here with us so she can find out what a mummy should be like?"

The Life Story teams (as I understand it) have sessions with the child and a session with carers, and put together a joined-up version of the child's life that is age and development appropriate. They give carers a copy of the 'script' so we have answers for questions when they come up.

It also helps carers understand why the child is as the child is.

I was once advised by a child psychologist to always tell a looked-after child the absolute truth but I remember on the way home from that session wondering if he'd told the child there was no Father Christmas from the off?

And how do you answer truthfully a child's questions about God and whether He deigned horrible things to happen to the child? 

Add "Archbishop of Canterbury"* to all the other fostering jobs we do.

I don't think many of us end up with a very accurate picture of our lives, especially those crucial early years up to about 7.

I'm always amazed how many people , when I ask "What was your birth like?' reply "I don't know, I've never asked".

Or even "Why did your parents choose your name". People don't know anything about themselves, why they act as they do, think what they think.

I've transferred quite a few practices that we are trained to learn and apply with looked-after children to myself and my family. Life story work is one.

Just another little benefit from being in this fostering lark.

* Other religions are available.


  1. Great post, those questions must have been so hard to answer, you know we had some real humdingers off the Bright One so I sympathise.

    Life story work is hugely important and for children who have limited or no contact with their birth family it’s the only way for them to fill in the gaps and hang onto early memories. I notice we do lots of oral history now, do you remember the first time we went to X or that time when XYZ happened, focusing on only the good things. We do this both with the kids we have now and the younger children of our friends, hopefully it helps to strengthen the positive recollections and bring a little order to their chaotic memories.

    I do worry about the lack of Life Story work done for the children who we’ve had. I’m sure our experience isn’t unusual and I can see the problem of getting the work done- Contradictory, inconsistent and very jumbled stories, absolute denial of known facts, multiple varying versions of the same events ranging from blunt unfiltered abd not always age appropriate facts to obvious fantasy and fiction, and things children were clearly coached to say/deny. Multiple carers and social workers lead to a fair bit of buck passing too.

    In our training we were told to always ask for photographs from any birth family we meet, so now we have a small stock of photos from life before care, its not much but better than nothing. We print our current photos as we go (costs about £3 a month for 50 photos from one of those online places) and we save school certificates etc, at least when the kids are older they will have strong memories of their time with us. I keep thinking I should put it into a scrapbook for the time they are with us, but then I think I’d rather spend my free time actually with them.

    I am worried that without anything to jog the memory and no-one to do any oral history, happy early memories might get forgotten or lost in the chaos of the unhappy memories. Do you have any ways you help to maintain the positive memories or help them order things?

  2. Great comments, thank you.
    Life story work is maybe best done over time, drip feeding it at a pace to suit the child. I find over and again the best place to get them talking is in the car, just the two of you.
    A memory box is something Blue Sky help us organise, they think it's very important and I agree. We add all sorts to it, a single Pokemon card will bring happy memories flooding back.
    But how to raise bad things from their past and help them understand? I talked to a therapist who specialises in LS recently and she said that even they are sometimes totally blindsided. She says the advice when that happens is to say;
    "Do you know what, that is a very good question, I'm going to have to think about that and get back to you".
    As to your question about maintaining and ordering positive things, I can't do better than to agree with your strategies of raising positives whenever possible, and sticking with the truth. The one thing I disagree about with a few psychologists who are sticklers about 'the truth, the facts' is that sometimes one doesn't know what the truth is, so I always err on the side of the best possible interpretation from the point of view of the child's sense of self.