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Therapeutic Life Story Work: curiosity, wondering & making meaning of why a child needs to be a lion


00:00 - Start 03:21 - Story work, life history work and Therapeutic Life Story Work 07:38 - Process starts with information from files and then broadening that - theres always many questions to answer and always corrections and reframing as you come from a place of curiosity 15:16 - Questions to ask to be the best detective for the child 18:49 - Family and community connections are important to have a starting point for the work. 20:48 - Use curiosity when you don't have content to make meaning. Wonder about things with your child and get them ready. 22:21 - TLSW starts in safety and relationship building slowly one hour each week 25:00 - We can make it age appropriate and child centred 28:10 - Even when there is no history, there are answers and the process offers opportunities to validate what children think about themselves, regardless of any information discovered. An opportunity to build the child carer relationship or honour the timeline, celebrate symbolically around the grief and loss. 32:00 - It can be a tactile process for children with ASD or a physical, collecting things from nature and reflecting that in the behaviour tree 35:13 - How to get ready for the work: emotional literacy and history, attachment and attunement 37:01 - Its a journey where the kids get to take off their cape of protection and really be true to who they are in a shared journey with their carer to walk together more openly and safely 41:20 - We become part of the broader team including teachers and others to avoid that disciplinary or linear lens 43:05 - Some stories. An 11yo girl where Mum was found and information about important milestones shared. For the first time this girl felt a biological connection and felt normal. 52:44 - What can we read or learn about if we want to know more?


This is Sonia Wagner, representing PCA Families in one of our recordings that capture lived experience and best practice evidence-based learning that assist kinship, permanent and adoptive parents/carers in supporting young people. PCA Families has a zero tolerance of child abuse. I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet and pay respect to elders past and present and express our intention to move together to a place of justice and partnership.

Today we are speaking about Therapeutic Life Story Work with Anna and Elise.

00:35 Introducing Anna and Elise

Anna is a social worker, trauma counsellor and therapeutic life story work practitioner who has worked closely with families formed through adoption, kinship and permanent care for over a decade.

Elise completed studies in psychology and developmental trauma and is a qualified TLSW practitioner and chair of TLSWAustralia. Elise also provides supervision to TLSW practitioners so that others can continue to benefit from her support, knowledge and experience. 

Elise - Thank you again for having me here today. It's a really exciting space to be able to come and share a little bit more about on therapeutic life story work. A little bit more about me. I’ve had the privilege of working across two states so my knowledge and the people and the children I’ve worked with have been in New South Wales and Victoria over the last 15 years or so. There's been a lot of change in the environment. A lot of change to programs and the permanent care changes across both states and what that looks like and how that's impacted children and young people and the carers as well as families. This has been something that's been prominent in the therapeutic life story work that we've been doing. I am just really, really excited to be able to talk about some experiences around therapeutic life story work today.

Anna - I was so lucky to come into therapeutic life story work. I was in my first job fresh out of my social work degree and I had this fantastic manager who was a big believer in the work that Richard Rose was doing. I think it was my second week on the job and she sent me and another new starter off to do a three-day workshop. So like I said I was really lucky and yes it just sort of put a fire under me ever since. I think it just made so much sense. Permanent care, adoption, whanau (kinship care in NZ) or kinship care and foster care they've all had a role in the formation of my family over three generations so I think it really just sort of spoke to this growing awareness that we're seeing about the need to really think about the various stories, the journeys where information comes from and how we make meaning of that. So when the opportunity to do the professional diploma came up a few years ago I was really excited. It's been lovely to sort of just keep that journey going.

Wow what an opportunity you had!

03:21 So you obviously completed the training with Richard Rose. He is the life story work practitioner and trainer and I wonder can you tell me a little bit more about his work and about the difference between life story work and life story therapy?

Elise - There's so many words that I could use - generous comes to mind when I first think about it and time and commitment that he's put into to helping so many children across the world. He started over 20 years ago with therapeutic life story work, working in a residential care space and has developed the model primarily in the UK space. Having a look at

how we can start to reach our vulnerable children and young people and carers and really start to put some of that fragmented history into a really cohesive, safe and healthy narrative has been a really big focus for him. So he's done a lot of work in Australia and around research as well with Mackillop and Berry Street and also the Department (DFFH) so he's quite well known in Victoria. He does a lot of work as well as doing the diploma training which I’m fortunate enough to be a part of as well along that journey. He does provide a lot of training in that space. It wouldn't be unfamiliar I think to a lot of people that we might be reaching with or connecting with today to have heard of Richard Rose. I might hand over to Anna to tell us a little bit more about the difference between the different approaches to gathering information or sharing information.

4:56 Anna - I think you know we hear a lot of different terms sometimes used for different contexts. I think three of the main different ones that come to mind are story work, life history work and therapeutic life story work.

Anna - So when we think of story work, one of the really exciting things about that is it captures the voice of the child. You know we're really trying to work with the young person to get a sense of their narrative, their understanding. That can be incredibly powerful when and it’s really necessary. The worry is that if that’s not been further explored, if that young person isn't given safety and support to go into that a bit deeper and think about some of the maybe the black and white thinking they have or the sense of shame that they have, or just the inaccurate information about why they might be in care. It can really cement that thinking.

Anna -The other one, the life history work is what we see happening in a lot of the agencies, who are doing this beautiful work trying to collate as much information as they can. Again it's really necessary and really lovely, but what can happen in just that case is you're collating all this information from the files, reports and assessments. You end up sometimes with a narrative that's sometimes untested. It might just be indicative of one person's or two people's perspective. Some of the information can actually be really inaccurate. That can be damaging in itself and it's not always in language that the young person can understand or it skips parts that are really important to the young person.

Anna - The idea I guess with then therapeutic life story work is you're bringing these different parts together but you're also doing that along with the young person. Someone who is safe to the young person. You're really trying to think about well what are these voices, what are these stories, what are meaningful to you and what are the questions and what does this mean for my past my present and my future.

Sonia - It’s so important because you're making sense of what you've gathered. I can say that having been on the end of actually having had a child in our lives that did the history work but not the therapeutic part to it.

07:38 So what are the components to therapeutic life's story work? There's a few parts. There's an internalization process. The acronym HIDE (History, Internal Working Model, Development and Environment) comes to mind. Can you tell us a little bit more about those kind of components and others?

Anna – Absolutely. I think the HIDE acronym that's really, really important in terms of our assessment process initially with our information. That’s the first stage. There's the internalization phase but there's really three stages. The first one is really about gathering that information so that's often referred to as information banking which is a term I really like because I feel like you're creating this wealth of information. We do that in so many different ways. There's of course there's reading and re-reading the files and gathering all these dates and names and places and the who and the where and the when but as we already touched on that can be inaccurate. It can be just one perspective. So then we get the opportunity to go and broaden this. One of the most valuable parts of some of these files and documents is helping us identify where are the gaps. You might have an example where a young person started school on this date and the next piece of information you have is that young person got suspended for that three days, three months later. That would raise so many questions about was this a new school, what were we seeing happening in the young person between these dates, inside school and outside school, were there any other big changes happening in this young person's life, maybe in their health their social. Had they changed placements? What supports had come or gone? So there's just you know for every maybe one line of information, you probably end up with a list of about 50 questions. Then we get to take those questions and ask them of the people you know who are important. So that could be professionals as well as family members, past carers and all those significant people, which is a really exciting part of the process.

Elise - It's a really pivotal point when we do our information gathering to not just have that one piece or one source of information. So often we get that one piece of information that says this is what happened, but without giving the child a chance to explore that without bringing in other people's experiences of that moment. Everyone has a different view at different times in their world about what happened. All three of us sitting here today will have a different view and feeling about how this conversation is going and the people hearing us are going to have their own view around what's happening. There's so many different pieces of information that have come from different points in time and then being able to bring that together and to really dig deeper into that. You know our lovely carers our family members our case managers they all want to get as much information as possible and sometimes that's really hard. It's a struggle and there's barriers around. To have someone who's really dedicated to go that level below and to seek that extra information that we all want to have is invaluable. It takes time and a dedicated worker to do that and they need to think therapeutically what's safe to do with the child. What information can I share? What do I need to know and how is that going to look? From what we're saying that one line becomes those 50 questions and Anna's got some great thinking around that and sharing around how we start to make that meaning.

Elise - It brings to mind this one story of this this young person that I was working with and he was in permanent care. He'd been in permanent care for a really long time since he was an infant and he started to ask questions. When we were doing the work he was a teenager/ emerging adult and we were having a look at some history with mum. Mum didn't have a long history associated with the file so I had to do a lot more digging to the side because we didn't have that. I’m a big believer of every child has a story it's just about finding it. So the whole detective exploration element comes into play when we're looking at who can we go to. Let's take that moment to call that number or to connect with that extra person to get that piece of extra information to kind of complete that story for the child. So this one young person had been told information about mum and about mum's history and in this case they were told that mum had come into care as a teenager. When we started to explore that, when I started to explore at first during the information gathering stage, what I was actually able to find was that was actually incorrect information and that mum had a different care experience and was actually in a in a group home from a very young age. That would have had a huge impact on her ability to connect, her ability to give back to her own children. That's formation of attachment and relationships and all of those building blocks affected by her earlier experiences. So what we're then able to do with that information is then bring that into the work and explore around that what makes sense you know for the child in hearing mum's story. But then how do we make sense of it for mum in this bigger sense of what is trauma and how do we understand attachments ourselves. So it is that great process when you're doing the information gathering to test and question is this something that's correct or something might have been ticked on the file that I might need to follow up on that a little bit more to get a little bit deeper. The things that you find when you talk to your families that you're working with and their experiences and you come from a place of curiosity. You just open up with you know things about their childhood, what they remember and letting people know that you're not there for a child protection matter. You're not there to make a risk assessment. You're just there to hear their story because their story is their child's story and their an integral part of that and you want to be able to share that in all the good and all the joyous and all the bad challenging times. That's what makes the child part of them so it's really important during the information gathering stage as well.

Sonia - I mean curiosity is such an important word in my view to to these kind of children on every level curiosity about behaviour curiosity about their story you know. I think it's probably a word that could be promoted a little bit more!

Elise - I think so. Curiosity is wondering. I think wandering and wondering together. That curiosity is the key to some of the therapeutic work and making that safe space available whether you're a caregiver, whether you're a professional, we should all be having that therapeutic mindset when you are working with vulnerable and traumatized children. It is about helping our carers as well develop that which is beautiful about this model, that direct work where we actually work alongside the carer to help them share that journey with the child as well.

Sonia - You're reminding me of a time where one of our children got slammed on the front page of that report for not being resilient but there was four things that had happened for that child in the background - a number of deaths. Just lack of awareness. So if you put those things in perspective you would not have slammed the child for not being resilient you would have had you know a deeper understanding and I think that's what you're talking about here is that that deeper understanding to reframe and correct.

15:16 So you guys are like these detectives out there! So tell me a little bit more about some tips for the process or where to start and what to look for if families want to go down this kind of pathway.

Anna - I think you know I always like to keep in mind four particular questions when starting to think about gathering this information. We're always trying to think about the children's voice or child's voice and part of that is well what might the child want to know?

Anna - Right at the get-go thinking around what's important information to the child. Later on I'll briefly speak to an example where that really came up for me. You know there are so many times where you might think that children are really are focused on the reasons that they are in care and that's such an important part of their journey but sometimes they just want to know what people thought of them. You know they want to know those special memories or special moments. They want to feel a sense of connection so you know really keeping that in mind. What makes this child? What's their identity? What is their view of themselves and what do they want to know other people might have thought or viewed about them is just as important as maybe some of the protective concerns and that journey into care.

The second question, you know the second question that I’m always keeping in mind which touches on you know all of that stuff we're just saying, is who provided or wrote this information? It's just really important to always keep that in mind and think alright is there something I need to balance this with, to check this, to test this, to verify this? Again thinking about what are the gaps? You know it's just really important. That example of the school of a young person getting suspended. One of the things to also be thinking about is what was observed immediately before and immediately after? you know that in itself it's a story that is worth actually thinking about in its own right.

The other question too is that I try to keep in mind is who is the information, when we come across a new piece of information, who is that information helpful to and when is it not helpful? So (you know) there's a really strong belief I think within the therapeutic life story work community that if a child has lived through something, thinking that they just can't be told about it, is almost telling them ‘well it's just so terrible that (you know) we can't speak about it. And that doesn't actually necessarily help them.

18:01 So we want to be able to give them the information, talk about their experiences but there might be cases where parts of the story, for example one person's opinion that the young person was all to blame for everything that happened, is that something we need to share with the young person? So you know thinking about these sorts of questions all the time with every bit of information we're getting into. Also thinking when is it helpful to give that information. Are we just going to throw everything at the child in one lot? Well can we start you know thinking and sort of planning about when it is helpful and what sort of supports they were going to need around them in different environments while that information is shared and then in the hours days and weeks that follow.

18:49 Family connections are important to have a starting point for the work

Elise - I think what comes into play when you talk about how do we start that internalizing process for life story work. I did just want to jump on that around what can permanent carers do in terms of investigating that information. I know that when things go to permanent care and adoptions sometimes getting information can be harder. I’ve worked with a Chinese adoptive children and families before doing the therapeutic life story work and it's so very challenging to get information from overseas other than what comes over with the child at the time. To access files when they might already be closed within the department and to really put that cohesive narrative together. What we like to say is yes the child protection history is really important, because we'd like to know what those big concerns were, but there's so many other people that you can go to for that information to start navigating that. When people say how do I find out more about a family member if I’m not doing this work? I think there's those important questions where you might be meeting with family members or responsible persons post permanent care and adoptions and there's a lot of responsibility sometimes on the carers and the families to maintain that contact and what that looks like. You know I’ve supported carers in the past who have gone through that permanent care process during life story work to start writing potential letters to parents to make that connection. So any chance you get to make a connection with a parent, with that curiosity like we were talking about, to then have that open conversation, hopefully down the track when you feel comfortable. It's all about that relationship and connection that you have with them. When we do the work with the child and the carer, but also with our permanent carers and their connection with significant people in the child's life. Especially important when we're talking about Aboriginal children and young people from different multicultural backgrounds and reaching out to those networks and resources. The richness of that culture and connection with community has and can add a real big value to understanding the sense of the self for the child and start to explore that.

20:48 Use curiosity and wonder with your child

Elise - So there are so many different times you can explore. It could be post contact. You know you might get that curious question about why did mum present that way and you might be able to start to wonder curiously with the child. “I wonder why mum was presenting that way and I wonder why we couldn't have contact today?” And “how did you feel about that?” And the elements around life story work, around that thinking feeling and doing, connecting all of that together and then having those safe conversations to start to build on that curiosity for a child to get ready. Probably for that space as well you can go online the amount of things that you can find online these days. Don’t necessarily trust Dr google but you'd be surprised what you can find out online in terms of potential locations or big events or previous service records. So grandparents who might have served in the army might have records available to them or the electoral roll can sometimes be a good one if you're able to access that or if someone's passed away there might be some notices in the paper or you might be able to locate where they're actually buried or where a service was held. So you're adding to that by just pulling out those little pieces of information at a time and asking those extra little questions.

Sonia - Definitely amazing! It's like you see those shows on TV where they reconnect some of these celebrities with their history - it's fascinating!

22:21 So you're uncovering some really traumatic kind of history as well aren't you along the way. I's hard to know what to do with those parts of the history. Can you talk us through that a little bit about in terms of how to handle some of those traumatic parts?

Elise - I can happily jump into that as well. That's not a problem. We have probably got a bit excited with the information gathering and probably jumped ahead in terms of what it actually looks like in practice. When we're doing the work with the child and we're starting that internalisation it's actually one hour once a fortnight that we're coming into the home. We make that a safe space and we come in and we get to know the child. We do some welcome books and we definitely start the process in safety and relationship building. Anyone who's been traumatised or thinks about opening themselves up to talk about something, or to play peekaboo and to test out how people are going to respond to certain situations, need that safety. So the therapeutic archway that oversees what we do starts with well let's create a safe enough connection so that there's a trust building that we can work on to understand our emotions and where they've come from and how they might be linked to our past and linked to their present. Then we can start as we've got a common language. Then we can start to move into some of those more difficult conversations. Anna I’m sure you wanted to add something there.

23:55 Anna - I think that consistency, that predictability, that repetition, you know establishing that safety. What I love about therapeutic life story work is it really considers the young person's age and stage of development. So we're trying before we are naming and touching on some big themes and big questions, some big stories, that first we want to make sure that you can trust us and that you're feeling okay. So we're just going to get to know each other for a bit first. Anybody when they are feeling unsafe, when they're having to scan the room for danger, when they're trying to suss you out, they're not on a place where they can do that they're wondering. Before we can really go into those parts we need to be able to create that relationship and also that that environmental safety.

25:00 Finding ways that are child centred

Anna - One of the tools is that there's so many amazing therapeutic life story work tools for thinking about big questions and big stories. One of the really lovely ways that I’ve found is for supporting some of our older young people in the adolescent age. In the younger ones there's some beautiful play-based activities. Sometimes the older kids they can maybe find that you know in those initial stages they want to show that you know they're not a little kid and they don't want to be treated like a little kid. So one of the examples that came to mind for me was I worked with a young person and he was 16 years old. He had a lot of walls up, but he was just an incredibly bright kid and so curious about the world, so engaged in everything. So I said to him as we were having a conversation that I love animals and I love the use of animals and exploring some of these things. So I invited him to sort of think about if we write on secret pieces of paper what animal we each thought the other in the room was. So for the carer, myself and the young person. So that created some really lovely conversations and surprises and everyone wanted to know what people thought about them. We were able to invite this young person to think about different important people in their life and what he guessed the animal they would say he was. So through this he had this whole range you know he had lion, he had elephant, he had house cat, he had dog, he had scary crocodile. So then we were able to sort of sit back and think about why are there so many differences here? Why do you think that these different people would see you so differently? He was able to really acknowledge that well sometimes I am scary and you know these people would see me when I’m angry or these people would see me in this circumstance. That led to a really rich conversation around how what we're feeling affects how we experience the world and it affects the ways we interact with the world. That then lead us to think about well you know why do you think you've had to be a lion sometimes? He himself was able to go back into some of his memories from previous placements and really identifying times when he had felt scared and how he had to learn to protect himself. So that wasn't me sitting him down saying right we're going to talk about this now. It’s one example of how some of these tools can be used. A really safe way to revisit.

28:10 What about you know the situation where there is very little or no history. What do you do then? I can recall grabbing photos of children off the internet for some work at school to show a family tree or because at times there was no information?

Elise – Yes I’ve heard that multiple times that people have done that to add to the child story and to integrate it into their bigger story. Because there's a task happening and they don't have that information which is really heartbreaking. And they've got shame. Then it becomes that extra layer as an adoptive or a permanent carer as part of a family you want to be able to give that relevance and make sense of it. I think that, like I have said to you before, I don't believe in no story. I’ll always find something. I think there's an element of  looking at the here and now that comes into play about that. There's also that wondering and curiosity. So we might not have been able to have contact with a parent during the work that we're doing to get some of that information despite our best efforts. But there is a space, a safe space, to when you are doing those activities to bring in that wonder of you know “I wonder what you'd like to know about mum?”. Or even that personal aspect and then that internalization and control of well “what would you like mum to know about you?” So what we're doing, we're not just saying here's information that you know we're giving to you. It's how do we interpret that and, if we could, what would you like your Mum to know about you? So we're validating who these people are. We're validating their story. We may not have this information but let's have a think about it a little bit more. Let's have a think about how you might feel about that. Let's have a think about what questions might come from that and not knowing that. Then putting that together as part of their story as well is really, really important because that then sits as the child's story and they get to choose from that which parts are their story that they're going to keep and integrate and then to move forwards with hopefully a healthier and happier way to moving forward.  It can be really tricky and it can be really hard. I’m sure carers and the communities that you work are forever coming up with different ways to integrate life story work into their practice and being creative about the way that they do it. That's just so appreciated I think by our children and young people, whether it's a seed that's left today or when they're adults and they're reflecting back on that they (carers) are creating life story while they're doing it. So that's a really important thing to hold. They may not have all that information but with what you've got currently you can start to explore and make sense of.

31:04 Anna - I totally agree. I think sometimes the one thing I think about too is that when we maybe don't know much about a young person before a certain age, sometimes even just bringing it back to the basics. Well we might not have a lot of information from when you were this stage. Let's think about what pretty much every child this age needs or experiences. Thinking about those needs at those different developmental stages and being able to even honor this child might not have any photos of birthday parties. They might not know what their first words were. But as you're going through that timeline, being able to acknowledge that you maybe don't have photos of those events. But even being able to celebrate them symbolically together in that space can really help with some of that grief and loss around not having that information or not having those parts of their story.

32:00 ASD and Tactile or Physical Needs

Elise - I think that the power of doing the work is that it is done on the wallpaper. So on the wallpaper with the child and the young person and us if we're lucky enough to be privileged to be able to write on it after we've met the children. To be able to share that journey through that process really adds that power in terms of creating that story together and strengthening that attachment with the primary carer and really helping that child tell their story. So it's not necessarily just a face-to-face discussion. We are creative about how we do it. So when we might work with children who have additional sensory needs or you know autism, for example, or needing to be tactile. What we might do is bring in different elements or we might do what we would normally do on wallpaper but we might actually physically do it. So when we're talking about the behavioural tree, and thinking about that psychodynamic thinking, what sits below kind of that surface, different things like that. What sits below and what are our roots that connects us to our present thinking and our behaviours. How do we make sense of that sometimes when we're doing that with carers or care teams sometimes to give a different view or to bring empathy and understanding to a child's story.

Elise - Doing it with a child as well we can actually physically make it. So I’ve physically gone outside before and gotten tree branches and we've got dirt and we've got little stones, which turned into safety stones, which was really beautiful because the safety stones held down what was below the roots and the safety stones were safe people. So you get led (by the child), and the children are our best learners, we learn so much from the children and getting into their world and understanding them and following their lead while we are the narrators of their story. This really adds a sense of safety and it adds to the power of their story and what they take away from it. So this child had this beautiful tree with leaves that we wrote different feelings on and behaviours on and then I became a safe person on top of the roots and then so did the carer and then we used those stones. Then every time we came to the session she would take it like we'd all have our little stones and if she wasn't feeling safe she'd take it away. So there's so much about the therapeutic process and when we're doing that training and thinking that comes into play when we are sharing those stories that really make it therapeutic, really safe to talk about. It (TLSW) caters for the different children that we that we work with as well.

34:25 Elise - When people say I don't think this would work with someone who for whatever reason they're not ready. That's a big part of the assessment process, what is the environment. While the child's ready who are they asking and what are they wondering, who are they asking. Is it the school, is it the carer? What are those questions? Or is it that environmental side of things where you're looking at is the carer ready?

Sonia - I’m glad you brought that up because I think for me I look back at that time of doing that work and I don't think I was ready for that for my child.

35:10 Are there other things you can do to get the carer ready or is it just a matter of waiting for the right time?

Anna - I think there's huge amounts that you can do I think. You know right in that initial information banking state we're already assessing, we're working with the carer to get a sense of (you know) their emotional literacy for example. How comfortable are they with their own history? Is it a shared trauma history? In the case of kinship for example we need to be really mindful about that journey and whether this person is ready to play that role in supporting the young person through the therapeutic life story work process.

35:46 Anna I think you know one of the other things that's really helpful in this is we're always thinking about attachment and attunement. When we're developing that rapport and helping the young person develop that sense of safety with us, as long as we've made an assessment that with some extra supports and strategies this carer is going to be able to, some of that work, that we are doing with developing the young person's emotional literacy in a shared language around emotions and worries, we're also developing that for the carer at the same time because they're really actively involved in that process. We're coming up with agreements, we're using visual tools and tactile tools and we're really encouraging and supporting them in that one hour a week that we're there doing it together. But also ongoing. How was that? What worked, what didn't work? Just keep building that capacity, that confidence, that skill base and that knowledge base.

Sonia - yes that's the beauty of what you do - you're involving everybody. I think for me when I look back it was an activity the child went off and did elsewhere. I wasn't included as part of the process.

37: 01 Taking off the Cape

Elise You just brought back a memory of a permanent care case I was working on and the child and the carer were going through permanent care. It was a really, really big process and we started life story work and there was a bit of uncertainty because court was coming up and there was a lot happening for this young child at the time. The carer was really committed to looking after this child and was doing beautiful things like getting stamps ready for permanent care so the judge could stamp it which is an absolutely beautiful idea. The judge, the magistrate, did stamp it which was beautiful when permanent care was made. But we went through that journey together during that process of therapeutic life story work.

But what we had was this child who was wearing their cape. We had constantly asked how are you feeling now? I’m good I’m happy I’m okay. So I started to question that for a moment and I thought hang on a second this child is always happy. There's something bigger going on here. The carer will say no he's great he's really happy and there's no concerns. So we did a little bit of a chart on the fridge just to touch base to see every day how he was feeling. Smiley face and different emotions you know sad face, angry face and upset faces and different things to stick on the fridge. The carers did this in between sessions. So getting ready to develop that process. What we found was when he got permanent care he felt a lot of safety because he'd had a permanent carer and that's what he wanted. But at the same time, as a lot of your carers would attest to, there's a grief and loss with that because you've now got permanent care or adoption from someone and that means that to some level there is a disconnect and a grief and loss from the original (birth) family. So this child's cape came off but with that cape also then came the other feelings and it was a rush of feelings. So what we were able to do was to work through that in the life story work. And there was that disagreement and that worry from the carer - I’ve just spent so long trying to get you to this point and now I don't understand what's happening. Do you not want to be here? It's being able to be there to therapeutically unpack that safely and start to use those emotions and look at wow there's a lot of grief and loss and how do we move forward from that? We did that really successfully and worked through that and his life story work and the book at the end was absolutely beautiful. The carers were amazing but it really does speak to that carer connection. We don't just work with the child we actually work with that carer and we say to that carer between sessions, maybe beforehand, here's what we're going to be talking about today. It might be another therapeutic specialist who we're walking alongside to do the work. Because we are there to do this successfully because if we can create a safe base, not just for the hour that we're there, but the safe base in general around the community, around the child, they're going to feel a lot safer to test things outside of the sessions. And the carer is going to feel a lot safer too and feel confident doing that. When the carer knows the child's story and is part of that journey, I’m sure you could attest to it too it becomes a lot safer to start having those conversations and they become quite free in the general day-to-day conversations. So we really help to build on that through that therapeutic life story work,  whether it's pre-permanent care, whether it's a new placement. So you could even have it where the permanent care is happening. That's part of that process that the kids aren't wearing capes so tight and they can share the journey. That honeymoon period that people talk about. I don’t like that word but everyone knows what I mean when I say it. That journey then allows you to take that cape off and walk together more openly and safely. It helps to create that trust a lot sooner.

Sometimes when things are rocky we often get a call saying hey Elise could you come in and wave your magic wand? We say it's not about anything you want more than that and here's what that process is. So it does work across so many different areas. When people say is that child ready, is the carer ready, it's about going in and trying to be that anchor and making those initial assessments before you get to talking about the heavy stuff. Is that child ready and if the child's not ready what can we do in the meantime to help the carer and the child?

41:20 We are a part of the care team, the wider systems

Anna - I also think you touched on the community there which is a really important consideration. We try where positive possible to actually be a part of the care team as well so that the wider systems, not just the immediate household, but the people supporting that household, are able to have a level of awareness about what you know what might be happening for that young person. If they're seeing new behaviours or changes in presentation, less engagement, social concerns for example in the school setting, then instead of maybe taking a disciplinary lens or you know a really linear approach, they're able to more systemically think about well what's actually going on? I have that context so they can talk with the carer or they can talk with us around what are the strategies, what are the messages, how are we going to consistently and responsively support this young person no matter what environment they're in? I think that can be incredibly validating to a carer when they see that they're not alone on that journey.

42:35 Sonia - I think that's a good point that you make is bringing the school world and the home life and all those kind of worlds together. I think also in this space it's really important to have that kind of village to support you as well, not to go it alone and to be able to ask for help when you need, because you know invariably the way life started for these children means you're going to need help at some point. So that's important

43:05 So I love hearing stories so I’d love it if you could share a few stories with us today about you know maybe what you've done in practice for some children and the process and the outcomes for those children.

Anna - I’m happy to go first. I know at least I’m really lucky that Elise does so much within the TLSW Vic and Australian community where she share her knowledge, so she has a lot of amazing stories. One of the ones that comes up for me and in my practice, and I actually checked in with this particular young person. I obviously won't share any identifying details but I just checked she was comfortable me sharing part of her story and she was quite excited about it. So I was working with an 11 year old girl and she'd been in care since infancy. She'd come straight out of the hospital and been placed in in this placement and she had been in this one placement her entire life. She'd had contact with her parents quite sporadically for the first few years and then contact just disappeared, just dropped off. None of the agencies or child protection were able to really contact the parents and all letters, phone calls everything was just not turning up anything. This young girl was really experiencing this as another rejection. There was a lot of grief and loss and it was causing her a lot of pain.

In getting a sense as to what she really wanted to get out of the TLSW process, it became clear that any kind of connection and knowledge of her Mum, particularly her mum and also her dad, but she was really focused on her mum, would be incredibly valuable to her. So I tried. I sent letters I called all the numbers I could find I and I just you know I tried searching through the electoral roll and all the stuff and I just I couldn't seem to locate her. So in the meantime I was able to travel rurally to meet with an extended family member and I was able to get a photo of her mum. This young girl's mum when she was a teenager. This young girl was just over the moon, she was rapt. I was able to find out a bit of information about this family member's knowledge of her mother when she was a teenager. I was able to speak with a family member who lived interstate and I had a number of conversations with these people as they started initiating contact with me as new memories were coming up. They were really supportive of this young person learning about their extended family. Then it was speaking with one of these family members that they said oh look, probably shouldn't do this but just try this particular phone number for mum.  Good detective work! So I called there was no answer and I sent a message. I just introduced myself I said look I I completely respect and understand that working with anybody associated with child protection is probably not a safe experience for you. It likely doesn't feel particularly good. Just be really clear my role is just to support your daughter to understand her story and you're such an important part of her story. So learning a little bit about who you are, what you are like, what you dislike, what you're good at, you know these sorts of things that make you you. That’s really all I’m sort of wanting to touch on. Within three days I got a phone call and we explored when it would be, what would be the safest way for us to have this conversation. We actually met the very next day in a café. She wanted it to be somewhere public and I was just really conscious that it could be difficult for this mother to have that conversation while we were in that public space. I said to her I wasn't sure if you'd really actually feel comfortable but I brought some lovely art paper and materials. I’m no artist but I I have eternal optimism that other people are. As we talked her eyes were down the whole time. She was just really really focused on this drawing. I said if there's anything you'd like to write or draw I can give it to your daughter, so even if we don't talk about anything, you know I can take this. She ended up speaking about lots of her childhood. Some of her interests and she also self-initiated speaking around some of the harder times and I got a lot more context. After sharing all of this information I also had a list of questions from this young person. By this time we started working together and I was able to say that if I was to meet your mum what questions would you want to know? I had these questions written down. At the very end she passed me the drawing and a book that she brought to give to her daughter. She said really quietly I just can't meet her because I know she'll hate me because I caused her disability. I said look, I’ve only been working with your daughter for a couple of months and I have to be honest, I’ve never heard her say anything that would make me believe that that's how she feels. But I’m wondering if it would be helpful for you to see the questions that she sent me with? So I actually showed her mum this list and when she could see “does my mom play netball”, “what's my mom's favourite colour”, you know there was all these different questions. This mum just got so emotional when she realised that this sense of shame she was carrying, this belief that she was hated, was her own fear. It wasn't actually this young person's reality. This young person was just desperate for a sense of connection.

I took this information, this drawing and this book and these answers to these questions back. This particular young person she makes me laugh so hard so sometimes I don't know if it’s just a master of deflection, she gets me laughing to the point where I can't carry on with the work. She was so rapt, she ran and she put it all on her wall and she wanted photos taken that I could take back to her Mum of her displaying the photos she'd gotten off her. After we'd gone through the questions she kind of went really quiet. I said to her, I was like well just wondering if you've been if you know if you'd been a bit of a secret squirrel and I’d had an earpiece on, and you'd been able to whisper in my ear while I’ve been there, were there any questions that maybe you might have wanted to ask that weren't on our list? She kind of nodded and then she said I want to know how old my mum was when she started puberty. Of course, she was 11 years old and its what all of her friends were talking about. I was able to go away. I was able to call mum and have that conversation and mum was more than happy to provide the information of the different puberty milestones that she experienced. When I took that back and gave that to this young person her face just lit up. She had at the same age had a similar milestone to her mother and for her that meant they were really connected. We have this biological connection that nothing, no amount of time or distance, can take away from us. And secondly she felt normal.

She can also contribute to a normal conversation with that extra information that’s so relevant to her at that point in time. What a lot of information you uncovered. That's amazing and how rewarding as well.

52:00 Elise – It’s truly a privilege to be able to do the work that we do to have children and carers and families open up their worlds to us and allow us to walk alongside them to make sense of it. It's just an honour, a privilege really like I said. There's so many practitioners who are able to do the work and to be a part of that and yeah we're just very, very grateful I think at the same time to be able to do what we do.

52:44 What are the authors that we need to read about or the complementary practices or where do we go to read up and find out more?

Anna – Here is one I prepared earlier. I think this particular book (Richard Rose – Life Story Therapy with Traumatised Children) and the other two that Richard Rose wrote. The other one is the innovative therapeutic life story work which is a beautiful compilation of different practices. And then also the child's own story. They're all fantastic.  I really like this one just to get your head around the model and sort of the rationale behind it.  And as a bonus it's actually very consumable - it's not really chunky.

This is the other one because I always have it in my hand in my office. This is the innovative therapeutic life story which has some beautiful stories particularly if you're thinking of working in particular contexts or settings. I think Elise you have a chapter in here don't you? I’ll let you speak to that one.

54:13 Elise - There's not too much to say except it was an exploration about therapeutic life story work while working in residential care with really vulnerable children.  It was researched and put together over four and a half years, so that was a really big project. There's lots of things and different resources that we can connect with. Kim Golding and Dan Hughes around you know their pace and place because now there's love added into it as well. Have a look at how we do the wondering and curiosity and how we go in and we do a lot of play in the work that we do. Bruce Perry and the impact of trauma on the brain is a big one and that we use (resource) that as well. There's just so many resources. Berry street run training with Richard Rose and he gives his time quite freely to Carer Kafe I’m not sure if you are in that space. Our members are also members of Carer Kafe. Wonderful. There are those opportunities to reach out to the practitioners in Victoria who are doing the work or are qualified to do that work. So there's always someone in the region who will know what therapeutic life story work is. There is the international website which is which has a list of resources that you can get some more information on and freely, given the kindness that Richard shows to be able to support not just the practitioners but also parents and carers and children who are taking the journey with us.

56:00 Sonia - Is there anything else that we should talk about today?

Anna - I guess for me one of the things that I really like to hold in mind at all times is that for permanent carers, for adoptive parents, for foster carers for kinship carers, anybody in that area, there can be so many experiences where you're feeling rejected. Where you're feeling like I am just pouring and pouring my love, my time, my energy, everything I have and it's just not enough. I guess one of the things that I love about the growing knowledge about trauma and the understanding of the impact of trauma is that we're starting to really be able to show in an evidence-based manner that actually it's not about rejecting you. It's about the child simply being affected by their experiences of feeling unsafe, unloved, rejected in the past. I think work like this which supports a carer to sit in this space with a young person and to think about all of these big themes, all of these big emotions, cannot just be really healing for the young person, but it can be really healing for the carer and for their relationship with the young person.

Sonia - Absolutely. I think you've hit the nail on the head. It takes time for that to happen doesn't it, such a long time. It's not an overnight fix.

57:40 – Elise - It's a lifelong journey just like our own life stories are addressed and we add elements (experiences) to it, so we learn about our past and we learn about how we're in the present and that influences who we are in the future. I think until children in care, and my big goal and my big hope is that it's available to everyone. Whether it's the right time and the assessments are made about you know when to have it available as a resource for carers. Whether they be foster carers, kinship carers or residential care or adoptive parents, just to have it available because until we understand that child's story, or they understand that story with us, and we start to make sense of it together and do that meaning making, it's really hard to know who you (they) want to be into the future. We don’t want to be led by our past. We get to make that decision. What we get from therapeutic life story work is an ownership of story. We get to choose to move forward with certain behaviours and thinking and feelings and relationships that we can choose now. Our world is (hopefully) now safer and we have that safe space and we belong to the world. We belong with family. Whether that be your birth family or whether that be your permanent care family, or however you describe family, because families are so different. Through the process you really get that sense that that hopefully you've got that healthy safe base to then move forward with into adulthood or emerging adulthood with your carer or someone who absolutely adores you.

Sonia - Thank you so much I’ve learnt so much today about curiosity and meaning making and I’m making sense of my parenting and my history as well. I really appreciate it and I think it'll be invaluable for families to just keep hold of. Whether it's directly doing the work now or in the background of what they can do in the future so thank you.

Thankyou Anna and Elise for giving up your time today.

Thanks for having us. Thankyou very much.

To anyone making the time to listen to this recording thank you for giving up your valuable time for the benefit of the young people in your life. Until next time have an amazing week.


Anna Beeson – Therapeutic Outcomes – TLSW, Counsellor and Social Worker

Anna Beeson Therapeutic Life Story Work Pyramid (The What)

The Behaviour Tree

Elise Saunders – Therapeutic Life Story Work Australia

Therapeutic Life Story Work International

Berry Street with Richard Rose – Therapeutic Life Story Work Training

Richard Rose - Life Story Therapy with Traumatised Children: A Model for Practice

Richard Rose & Terry Philpot - The Child’s Own Story: Life Story work with Traumatised Children

Richard Rose - Innovative therapeutic life story work (includes a chapter by Elise Saunders)

Kim Golding Pace

Dan Hughes Pace

Bruce Perry - What happened to you?