Evaluation of a creative, relational approach to life story work has shown it to be higher quality and more collaborative than traditional life story work, and that it helps to develop and strengthen relationships between care-experienced children and young people and their carers.
Creative Life Story Work, based upon the Rose model of Therapeutic Life Story Work, has been rolled out in three local authorities in the North East of England – Gateshead, Darlington and South Tyneside – and was funded by What Works Centre for Social Care and evaluated by Coram and Ipsos Mori.
The approach has been led by Blue Cabin, a North East-based charity which transforms outcomes for care-experienced children and young people, and was developed alongside South Tyneside Council; Professor Richard Rose (Therapeutic Life Story Work International), who is an internationally respected authority on Life Story Work; and Blue Cabin’s team of Associate Artists.
Jenny Young, Director of Blue Cabin, explained: “Creative Life Story Work uses artist-led creative activities, combined with therapeutic life story work, to help care-experienced children and young people better understand their own life stories and strengthen their relationships with the people in their lives.
“What stands out to me most in this evaluation report is what children and young people said about being involved. They talked about ‘significant changes in their lives’ linked to taking part including improved mental health, a better understanding of their identity and improved relationships with people in the lives. We cannot underestimate this finding, particularly as they participated in sessions during a global pandemic.”
Findings of the evaluation included:
- 85% of local authority staff who responded to a survey thought that Creative Life Story Work is more effective than traditional life story work
- A better understanding of care experience and identity were most often cited among the benefits to care-experienced children and young people of Creative Life Story Work
- Of those involved in delivery of Creative Life Story Work, there was generally a perception it had improved the relationships between carers and children and young people, and improved well-being and stability of placements
- In interviews, no negative effects of taking part were reported, and carers and children and young people recommended the programme.
No statistically significant differences were found in wellbeing, placement stability or school stability between children and young people offered and not offered the intervention. It’s not known whether this was due to low statistical power and further evaluation has been recommended.
“Whilst the randomised control trial showed no significant difference, children and young people and their trusted adults told evaluators that they would recommend the programme to others and 85% of staff who took part from local authorities reported that it was more effective than more traditional models of life story work. We are taking this feedback as a sign to continue our work and make Creative Life Story Work available to more local authorities,” added Jenny Young.
“The evidence also tells us that some children and young people made ‘big life decisions’ such as ‘changing contact arrangements and rethinking career plans’. This was possible with the incredible support from the trusted adults in their lives who participated in these sessions alongside them. This demonstrates that for some children and young people group sessions, safely co-facilitated by our Associate Artists and Local Authority Pastoral Support Workers online or face to face, are working and are needed.
“With guidance throughout from Professor Richard Rose of Therapeutic Life Story Work International, and dedication and commitment from our local authority partners and colleagues we have shown that it is possible to think about life story work differently – as a creative, relational process, not a one-off event. We are also working hard to develop a trauma informed approach to measuring the impact of Creative Life Story Work.”
Professor Richard Rose said: “This is an innovative way of hearing the voices of our children and young people in care.
“Blue Cabin and the Local Authorities in the North East have developed Creative Life Story Work which is based around the Rose Model of Therapeutic Life Story Work (which, since November 2022, has become an evidenced-based therapeutic intervention).
“This report details research undertaken at the height of the COVID pandemic, where all sessions were taken online but had been designed a year earlier for offline – an amazing achievement by the artists, the organisers and more importantly the children and their carers.
“What the report doesn’t show is the impact of the low numbers of children and young people taking part, and the restrictions on who could take part, due to the evaluation methodology, and the resulting impact on the cost per child figure. In reality, the cost of each intervention is lower when more children and young people take part. It is my belief that this is why each local authority has invested in a subsequent programme this year – in short – IT WORKS!
“I love to hear that children and young people and the carers found out about each other, valued each other and were seen, heard and celebrated. The idea of this approach is to ensure that not one child or young person leaving care asks “who am I?” Or “why was I in care?” Or, “what happened to me?”
Councillor Gary Haley, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People at Gateshead Council, said: “We’re always striving to find innovative ways of engaging care-experienced children and young people with life story work, which aims to improve emotional wellbeing and relationships so that they can thrive.
“The new model has already shown how a more creative approach can encourage young people to explore their emotions, which in turn has a positive impact on their relationships with the adults in their lives.
“By continuing to work with Blue Cabin and the professional artists, we hope to see more evidence of our care-experienced children, carers and social workers benefiting from the programme.”
Councillor Jon Clarke, Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet member for children and young people said: “Children and young people living in care have only found positive support from working on their creative life story and we are delighted to have had the opportunity to work with Blue Cabin to introduce such great work… We must and will continue to do everything possible to support the improvement of lives of children and young people in Darlington, who have experienced living in care, to ensure they have good understanding of their experiences, are able to form positive relationships, and the very best future possible.”
The study was supported by a co-production project which recruited 12 care-experienced young people in the three local authorities to provide input into evaluation tools and reporting.
The report includes the voices of children, young people and carers, with one young person saying: “I could speak more honestly and openly about stuff because now I know what to say […] like before all I could say was like, well I’m in care, I didn’t really know what to say about my family, but now I feel like I can.”
A carer said: “It did make our relationship stronger. He has now got a very strong attachment with me which we did not have before and so that has been really good. He trusts me and he knows I will keep him safe.”
And a social worker who was surveyed said: “It’s unique and a real opportunity to work with children in this way. It’s unusual to work with professional artists with children and young people – I really like that it’s bringing a whole new aspect of working with children and young people.”
Read the Creative Life Story Work evaluation report here
Creative Life Story Work is now being made available to local authorities and practitioners throughout the UK. Find out more at www.creativelifestorywork.com.