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South West Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures
South West Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures South West Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures

5.2.16 Life Story Books Guidance


Good preparation for adoption and good life story work contribute towards a successful adoptive placements. The Life Story Book provides an accessible and child-friendly explanation for the child of how they have comes to be where they are today.

This chapter explains the importance of the Life Story Book for adoptive children, and provides guidance on for social workers on what to include in the life story book. All children with a plan for adoption must have a Life Story Book.


This chapter was reviewed in May 2019.


  1. What is a Life Story Book?
  2. Who Should Write the Life Story Book?
  3. What Materials are Needed?
  4. What Goes Into the Life Story Book?
  5. Foster Carers
  6. Using the Life Story Book
  7. Children who are Adopted

1. What is a Life Story Book?

All children with a plan for adoption must have a Life Story Book. Making a Life Story Book is more than creating a photograph album with identifying sentences giving dates, places and names. It is an account of a child's life in words, pictures and documents, and provides an opportunity for the child to explore and understand their early history and life before their adoption.

A Life Story Book is an evolving piece of work and all those involved in a child’s care and life should have a role to play in contributing, the key responsibility being that of the social worker to collect information from the earliest opportunity of a child coming into care.

A Life Story Book should:

  • Keep as full a chronological record as possible of a child's life;
  • Integrate the past into the future so that childhood makes sense;
  • Provide a basis on which a continuing Life Story can be added to;
  • Be something the child can return to when they need to deal with old feelings and clarify and/or accept the past;
  • Increase a child's sense of self and self-worth;
  • Provide a structure for talking to children about painful issues.

2. Who Should Write the Life Story Book?

The process should be initiated, driven and coordinated by the child's social worker, family finding social worker/adoption worker and carried out in coordination with the other people who know the child, including carer(s), parents and other relatives.

Time and care should be given to:

  • Planning carefully how undertake the work;
  • Reading the information about the child carefully and thoroughly;
  • Collating the information in chronological order;
  • Noting reasons for decisions;
  • Noting gaps in the records and attempting to fill them;
  • Counselling children, parents, friends, relatives and carers etc. as necessary.

3. What Materials are Needed?

Presentation is very important in terms of validating the importance of the life story and motivating the child to want to read it and show it to others:

  • It is important that the book is set out into chapters which are easily removed and added to therefore the format and collation should allow for this;
  • Drawings and photos should be mounted;
  • Dependent on a child’s age, they should be encouraged to actively participate in the collation of their life story, this could be through drawings, writing, making life story reflective arts and crafts;
  • Use good quality copies/photocopies of treasured photos, documents etc. and not the original;
  • Its format is appropriate to the child’s age and understanding and accessible for use by the child;
  • Additional information should be included within the book for later in life e.g. explanations of terms such as learning disability, mental health, medical terminology;
  • All Life Story Books should be held electronically and a colour paper copy should be held on the adoption file;
  • Prior to a Life Story Book being given to adopters/carers or the child, it should be quality assured and a record kept of this process. (NB Keep a copy of it.)

4. What Goes Into the Life Story Book?

  • Family tree;
  • Photos of maternity hospital (and, for younger children, a clock showing the time);
  • Weight, length, head circumference at birth;
  • Any items from the hospital (e.g. identity tag);
  • Dates of first smile, sounds, words, tooth, steps etc;
  • Photos of parents;
  • Photos and maps of places where the child lived;
  • Photos of relatives;
  • Photos of friends - need to consider third party information and issue of permission/parental consent;
  • A truthful life history which is age appropriate. More detailed and potentially distressing information about the reasons why a child was adopted should be included in the Later Life Letter which is given to them when they are older and better able to cope and understand such information;
  • Parents' memories;
  • Details of siblings;
  • The child's views and memories;
  • Photos of workers and their roles;
  • Story of the court process;
  • Photos of carers;
  • Story of family finding;
  • Photos and description of Wish You Well contact;
  • Details of ceremonies (e.g. baptism);
  • Anecdotes;
  • Favourite foods, likes and dislikes.

5. Foster Carers

Foster families should be encouraged to record the story of the child's stay with them as fully as possible, including:

  • Descriptions of what the child was like when they arrived, what they liked and disliked;
  • Details of development (e.g. learning to ride a bike);
  • Their own special memories of the child;
  • Birthdays, Christmases and other family celebrations/outings/holidays etc. - photos, favourite places etc;
  • Details and photos of the foster family (including extended family), home, pets etc., who they got on with and who they didn't;
  • If appropriate, times when they had arguments, sulks etc;
  • Special rituals the child liked;
  • Souvenirs of school - photos, certificates, reports, photos of and stories from teachers;
  • Contact visits;
  • Illnesses;
  • Photos of birth family with foster family;
  • Crafts/pictures completed in the foster home/school/playgroup;
  • Anecdotes.

Where appropriate, this memorabilia should be stored safely in a suitable box – a “memory box”.

6. Using the Life Story Book

Children need truthful and honest explanations that they can understand - that means using language they know.

It is important that:

  • Questions are answered as honestly as possible;
  • Adults admit when they don't know the answer and offer to try and find out (rather than making something up);
  • Children are helped to accept that not everything can be explained or understood;
  • Information is given sensitively and honestly - protection and evasion leads to confusion and fear;
  • Adults help children to realise which feelings are healthy and acceptable by discussing their own feelings frankly. If feelings are ignored, children get the message that to express them is wrong - bottling them up can lead to negative behaviour like aggression or withdrawal;
  • Adults never pretend abusive/bad relationships didn't exist.

7. Children who are Adopted

Where there is an adoption plan for a Child Looked After, life story work should be part of the preparation of the child for the adoptive placement.

The Adoption Agency clearly explains to the adoptive parents the importance of keeping safe any information provided by the birth families via agencies and encourages them to provide this to the adopted child on request or as they feel appropriate.

Prospective adopters are helped and supported in understanding of keeping safe any information provided by the birth family and in giving this information to their adopted child in an age appropriate format when they feel the time is right or on request when the young person reaches adulthood.

It is important for adopters to be able to feedback and ask for amendments of language or format as they will be conveying the information to their child. An adopter should be encouraged to feedback any questions the information in the book has raised for them. The social worker is responsible to make efforts to find further information to clarify further and find answers. In the event that further information is not available then a note should be made of the attempts to resolve the issue.

Adopters are encouraged to update the book with the child as their understanding develops.

The Life Story Book and “memory box” should be co-ordinated by one person, preferably the child’s social worker, and given to the child and prospective adopters in stages at the latest in draft form given to by the second statutory adoption review of the child’s placement with the prospective adopters.

The completed Life Story Book should be given to the adopters, at the latest, within 10 days of the Adoption ceremony.