Evolution of TLSW

Since the 1980’s with publications dedicated to Life Story Work (LSW) and major developments in social work, we have seen LSW evolve and become a firmly established part of practice.

In the early 1980’s, books and practice on LSW took a systematic approach, focusing on ensuring children had photo’s, memorabilia and a basic chronology from their past to create a life story book (Aust, 1981;  Ryan and Walker, 1985). In 1984 Fahlberg raised the question ‘How do we expect children to move forward if they don’t know where they have been’ and prompted professionals to explore the importance of children having a detailed knowledge about their past (Fahlberg, 1994: 326). 

The Children Act 1989 placed a legal requirement to listen to the child’s views including what the child wanted to know about their past (Children Act, 1989).  In 1996 Dr Juliet Harper evidenced in a case review that the traditional life story book is not always appropriate and alternative methods of life story work through play and exploration with children should be pursued as a constructive path to therapeutically rebuilding their sense of self (Harper, 1996). LSW therefore began to develop to include play and be less methodical and reliant on a readymade life story book. 

The Adoption and Children Act 2002 placed a requirement on local authorities to provide children with comprehensive information about themselves prior to adoption underlining the fact that some LSW needed to be carried out (Adoption and Children Act, 2002).  Ryan and Walker acknowledge in their 2007 publication that helping the child therapeutically talk about feelings is a key part of life story work and that this has significantly evolved since the life story book of the early 1980’s (Ryan & Walker, 2007).   

In April 2013 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) produced a quality standard detailing that LSW should be delivered using a sensitive approach which focuses on the needs of the child and that it should be an on-going process and not a “one off” (NICE, 2013). In 2014 the first Diploma in Therapeutic Life Story Work was available in the UK at the University of East London adding clarity to the standard required to deliver this type of therapy to children. In 2015 the Adoption Support Fund (England) supported Therapeutic Life Story Work as a therapeutic intervention to support children in adoptive placements. The realisation of the importance of a narrative for a child has gradually built over the past 30 years and been reflected in policy, legislation and practice.

For more information about how Therapeutic Life Story Work can benefit children Click Here


Adoption and Children Act (2002) London: The Stationary Office
Aust, P. (1981) ‘Using the life story book in treatment of children in placement’, Child Welfare, vol. 60, pp. 535-560
Children Act (1989) London: The Stationary Office
Fahlberg, V. (1994) A Child’s Journey through Placement. London: British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF)
Harper, J. (1996) ‘Recapturing the Past Alternative Methods of Life Story Work in Adoption and Fostering’, Adoption and Fostering, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 21-28
NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) (2013) Health and wellbeing of looked-after children and young people: Quality Standard 31, (Online), Available http://www.nice.org.uk/Guidance/QS31 (10 December 2015)
Ryan, T. and Walker, R. (2007) Life Story Work. London: British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF).