Fostering a child
Helpful information for carers, such as dealing with challenging behaviour, trauma, maintaining ties to culture, case planning, health, school, Life Story Work
Life Story work
Life story work is a method used to record the details about a child or young person’s history and personal development. It is a record of their life in words, pictures and photos made by the child or young person with help from a trusted adult or other person having a meaningful relationship with the child or young person.
My Life Story Book has been developed to assist children and young people in out-of-home care develop a sense of self, in relation to their life experiences. It is a chronological account of the child or young person’s history, and should be started when the child enters out-of-home care and maintained throughout their time in care.
Download My Life Story book PDF, 1685.5 KB
There are many benefits to keeping a life story book:
- working on the book together helps build a bond and develop trust between the child or young person in care, their foster carer and caseworker
- the child or young person develops a stronger feeling of self identity and self esteem through learning about and accepting their past
- the book “bridges the gap” between foster carers and parents when the child returns home, especially when parents feel they have missed out while their child has been in care
- making the book helps the child distinguish reality from fantasy
- the book allows the child or young person to ask their caseworker questions they may not have felt safe to ask before such as what their parents are like and why they are in care
- the book ensures that details about the child or young person’s culture and religion are recorded
It is up to the child or young person to decide who to share it with and they should be encouraged to keep the book in a safe place. The life story book stays with the child or young person when they return to their own home or go to another placement.
Aboriginal life story
The Aboriginal version of My Life Story Book supports Aboriginal children in out-of-home care in understanding more about their cultural identity and in developing a sense of connectedness to family, kinship groups and the community.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people placed in care have similar needs to non-Aboriginal children. However, there are differences that are specific to Aboriginal children and young people.
It is especially important to provide for their cultural needs as this helps them grow up strong, knowing who they are, where they come from and how they fit into their community. It is important to include information about an Aboriginal child’s family, community and culture in their life story. This information can be found by talking with:
- the child or young person
- their parents or extended family
- Aboriginal workers
- their caseworker
- Aboriginal leaders
- Aboriginal organisations and community groups
- using internet, libraries, books and videos
- attending art exhibitions, performing arts events, concerts and cultural camps
Life story for kids from other cultures
Children and young people from other backgrounds can explore their cultural and religious heritage and record details in their life story work. This includes:
- where the child’s family comes from
- what the country or city is like
- the religious beliefs and practices of the family
- what language or languages they speak
- holidays, special events, national foods and dress associated with their culture and or religion
- how the child takes part in the culture and religion of their birth families
- what the child liked or didn’t like.
Sources of information may include the child or young person, their family, caseworker and cultural organisations.
Role of carers
The carer is generally the person who works with the child or young person to record their life story. Carers spend the most time with them and have the opportunity to collect day-to-day information such as photos and other memorabilia.
Carers need to have a clear understanding of ways to maintain the My Life Story Book. This can include:
- taking photographs to put in the book at special events and on special occasions, such as birthdays and first day at school
- encouraging the child or young person to keep personal mementos to put in their book such as letters, cards, drawings and paintings
- recording the life story at the child or young person’s pace. This may be a gradual process as they become more comfortable compiling detailed information about their families and time in care
- spending time with the child or young person at regular intervals to update the My Life Story Book
- discussing with the child or young person that the My Life Story Book is confidential and that no-one should access it without their permission
- keeping the book in a safe place. The carer should discuss with the child or young person where to keep their My Life Story Book so it is safe
- ensuring that the My Life Story Book goes with the child or young person when they leave care.
People who can help with life story work include the child or young person, a caseworker, the carer, a counsellor and sometimes family members. These people can have different roles depending on the task or may work with the child or young person on certain parts of their life story.
Make it clear who will be responsible for the roles of:
- structuring the life story work
- preparing the child or young person for life story work
- collecting information
- asking the child or young person who they would like to have work with them
- maintaining the life story work once the My Life Story Book is compiled
Preparing kids for life story work
Generally, caseworkers will prepare the child or young person for life story work together with the carer.
An important aspect of life story work is to acknowledge the child or young person’s feelings about things that have happened to him or her. They can experience a range of feelings during the life story work. Some memories may make them feel uncomfortable or sad while others may be happy. It is important that the child or young person is encouraged to talk about these feelings with a person they feel comfortable with.
Additional support such as counselling can help deal with any difficult or sensitive issues that arise during life story work. It is also important to tell the child or young person that their My Life Story Book belongs to them and that they decide who else can look at it. If someone wants to look at their My Life Story Book they must have the child or young person’s permission.