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Caring for Children
Owned and managed by Department of Communities & Justice

Life Story work

Kids in care may have experienced a lot of changes including where they live, who they live with and where they go to school. Sometimes, they might feel confused about who they are and what’s happened to them. Working on a My Life Story Book is a way of gathering and maintaining accurate information that can help kids understand who they are and where they have come from.

What is Life Story work?

Using Life Story work to gather and record information about a child or young person’s family, community and personal life journey helps them develop a confident sense of their own identity. The book also becomes a great source of information about childhood experiences and achievements.

What goes into the My Life Story Book?

The My Life Story Book needs to include a written history of the child or young person’s life, from birth to the present time. The specifics of what goes into the My Life Story Book will depend on the information available and the child’s wishes.

The My Life Story Book can include:

  • photos (remember to print photos from smartphones!)
  • drawings
  • report cards, awards and certificates
  • letters from parents and carers
  • maps, postcards or pictures of significant places where the child has lived or visited
  • photos of past and present family, carers, friends, pets and so on
  • genogram or family tree
  • religious and cultural information.

Who is responsible for Life Story work?

The caseworker is usually the person who sets up the child’s Life Story work, but it’s the carer who is responsible for the day-to-day work of helping the child or young person record their story. Carers spend more time with the child in care than anyone else, and have the greatest opportunity to collect photos and other keepsakes.

Other people who can help with Life Story work include the child or young person’s counsellor or psychologist, family and kin. These people can play different roles depending on the task. Talk to your caseworker to make sure you’re clear about who is doing the following:

  • structuring the Life Story work
  • preparing the child or young person for Life Story work
  • collecting information
  • asking them who they’d like to have work with them
  • maintaining Life Story work once it’s compiled.

The child or young person is the only one who can decide who looks at their book, so please respect their right to privacy. In some situations, they may wish to keep their own circumstances and possessions private.

Download the My Life Story Book

DCJ has developed the downloadable My Life Story Book as a tool for guiding children and young people in care to record their life story in a way they can understand. There is also a downloadable version of the book designed specifically for Aboriginal kids in care.

What you can do to support Life Story work

It’s important to encourage the child in your care to establish a My Life Story Book even if they are placed with you for a short time. This is so they can link their current placement with their future journey.

Here are some ways you can help your child maintain their My Life Story Book.

  • Spend time with them at regular intervals to update their book.
  • Explain that their book is confidential and that no one should look at it without their permission.
  • Agree on a safe place to keep the book.
  • Take photos at special events and occasions, such as birthdays and the first day at school.
  • Encourage them to keep personal mementos such as letters, cards, drawings and paintings.
  • Record the Life Story at the child’s pace; this may be a gradual process as they become more comfortable compiling detailed information about their families and time in care.
  • Ensure the book goes with them when they leave your care.

If information about the child or young person’s baby days isn’t available, it may be useful to use general information about childhood development.

An important aspect in the life story is to acknowledge how the child or young person may have felt about difficult events in their life. It’s equally important to acknowledge the happy times they’ve had in the past.

Unhappy events, such as neglect or abandonment by parents or lack of community and family support, should not be ignored but presented in a way that the child or young person can understand. You may need to work with your caseworker to ensure these events are discussed sensitively. The story should be balanced and non-judgmental.

The most important way to help kids with their Life Story work is to listen, answer questions and provide information as requested. If you don’t know the information, ask your caseworker to fill in the details. You should allow the child or young person to guide you as they explore sensitive issues.