Life Story Work


Helping children in care understand and accept what’s happened to them

Children and young people who are in care or adopted may have little understanding of why they don’t live with their birth parents, the reason for them entering care and events that took place in their early lives. This can have a negative impact on their emotional wellbeing and self-esteem.

Life Story Work aims to help children in care begin to understand and accept their personal history.

How it works

How Life Story Work works

Our Life Story team will consult with the key people in the child’s support network to decide whether it is the right time to introduce the Life Story programme.

They will then gather information to help the child or young person build a picture of their family history and their journey through care.

We provide direct support to help the young person process and express their feelings – the good and the bad – in an environment where they feel comfortable. This includes:

  • emotional safety and strengthening support networks – helping the young person consider how they can access people or things that make them feel safe when they need to
  • emotional regulation – helping the young person manage difficult feelings
  • emotional literacy – helping the young person recognise, reflect on and express feelings
  • strengths-based work – helping the young person to develop and build resilience and a positive sense of self
  • Information sharing and integration – helping the young person to consider which parts of their life story they wish to share with others, and which to keep private.

A key part of Life Story Work is celebrating the child or young person’s achievements. We recognise the resilience they’ve shown by overcoming adversity and help them to see themselves in a positive light.

The service can last up to seven months (around 16 one-to-one sessions). However, the pace, progress and timing of the programme must always be child-led.

By the end of the programme, the child or young person will be given a Life Story book to take away with them as a visual reminder of the significant events and relationships in their life to-date.

Evidence base

The evidence base

Life story work is not unique to the NSPCC. But there is little research evidence about the value of this form of support and, as a result, it is not always prioritised by children’s services.

Our Achieving emotional wellbeing for looked after children project found that, although life story work was viewed positively by professionals, carers and children, there were too few people with the skills needed to carry out the work (Bazalgette, Rahilly and Trevelyan, 2015).

We’re piloting and evaluating the life story model to build the evidence base for its contribution to the wellbeing of children in care.

Who it is for

Who is Life Story Work for?

Children aged 10 to 17 who are in care and not currently in an adoption plan can be referred for Life Story Work.

We accept cases where the child:

  • has a limited understanding of their personal history as a consequence of multiple care arrangements
  • has a lack of trust towards adults
  • has poor peer relations
  • has taken responsibility for life events out of their control
  • is struggling to settle within their foster placements
  • is having difficulty expressing their emotions and needs
  • is assessed as vulnerable and having poor levels of resilience.

The child must be known to local children’s services and social workers must obtain informed consent from the child before making a referral.

Making a referral

To make a referral to Life Story Work, get in touch with one of the service centres offering this service.


Evaluation of Life Story Work

We’re evaluating the programme to find out if the life story approach is viable for use by NSPCC practitioners and foster carers, and whether it can be embedded consistently within local authority foster care practice across the UK.

How we’re evaluating this service

We’re interviewing NSPCC practitioners, foster carers and their team managers, to get feedback on the service and how it operates. To evaluate the strategic challenges that are involved with embedding Life Story Work in local authority practice, we’re also interviewing senior managers or directors from the NSPCC and our partner local authorities.

Out practitioners will use standardised measures to evaluate how children’s emotional wellbeing has changed as a result of the programme.

Evaluation tools

The evaluation uses the following measures:

  • outcome rating scale
  • resiliency scales.

As part of our feasibility study, we are testing these measures to see how well they help us to see the effects of the programme, and how easy they are to administer. As we are at a very early stage of testing, the tools have not yet been approved as evaluation measures so we are currently using them as practice tools.