6.2.19 Life Appreciation Days
1. What is a Life Appreciation Day?
All children who are being placed for adoption should have a life appreciation day including children where the foster carer is proposing to adopt the child. A life appreciation day is essentially the 'child's appreciation day' and is a guided chronological journey through the child's life to date and the circumstances which led to a plan of adoption.
The Life Appreciation Day should take place after the match with the potential adoptive family is identified, but before it is formally presented to adoption panel.
This allows the adopters to gradually build up and absorb the layers of information available and have as full a picture as possible of the child before attendance at matching panel and before their initial meeting with the child.
It is always possible that new information emerges from the Life Appreciation Day that could impact on the match.
For some children holding a Life Appreciation Day may only involve a very small number of participants and adopters may prefer to then have individual time with each potential participant, prior to the introductions.
2. Purpose of a Life Appreciation Day
Life appreciation days are part of the matching process and preparation required to move the child to an adoptive placement and to develop and maintain the future stability and security of the adoptive placement.
A life appreciation day will support the adopters by providing:
- As much information as possible to the prospective adoptive family in a relatively short space of time by the greatest number of professionals and significant others in the child's life;
- Assistance to the prospective adopter(s) to 'feel' the reality of the child's experiences and to help the adopters to develop and sustain empathy for the child, his/her history and experiences;
- Detailed understanding and knowledge about the child's experiences which makes 'real' the written information already provided and supports understanding how the child might have made sense of their experiences to date;
- Understanding of the child's attachment patterns with birth family and foster carers and therefore the style of parenting and parenting strategies that the child is likely to need in the future;
- A narrative/timeline of the child's journey to date which will assist the adopters in providing a continuous narrative for the child, as the child develops in their care;
- An opportunity to gain a vivid sense, understanding and explanation of the child's reality and experience, which can identify the child's strengths, vulnerabilities and resilience;
- An opportunity to capture memories, differing perceptions of and feelings about the child and anecdotal information which may otherwise be "lost" or not recorded on the child's file/written records;
- Information which can help the adopters in assisting the child to maintain and develop a positive self-image, self-esteem and identity;
- Assistance for the adopter in identifying potential behavioural/emotional triggers and strategies to deal with problems, e.g. bath times and patterns of behaviour;
- An opportunity to highlight any gaps in the information/knowledge/history provided to date.
At the conclusion of a life appreciation day, the prospective adopters should take time to reflect and to feel confident that they have been provided with all relevant information to progress the match, to assist them in their parenting and in providing a stable base for permanence.
3. Who Attends a Life Appreciation Day?
There should be a core group of people who will be invited to attend the Life Appreciation Day. All participants dependent on their knowledge and involvement with the child and their family may attend the full day or part of the day and contributions can be made via attendance, DVDs, oral or written recordings, provision of photographs, memorabilia etc. The day should include:
- The child's social worker;
- The prospective adopters and their social worker;
- The child, dependent on their age and understanding may be able to contribute to the life appreciation day, by making a DVD/video/picture/letter/poster/making name badges;
- Chair and minute taker;
- Professional workers and other adults who have a played a significant role in the child's life and who may include:
- Current foster carers and respite carers and their fostering supervising officer workers;
- Previous foster carers including respite carers;
- Previous social workers/support workers;
- Family finders;
- Current and previous class and nursery teacher and other relevant education workers;
- Adoption medical adviser;
- Current and previous health visitors and other relevant health professionals;
- Independent Reviewing Officers;
- Contact supervisors/taxi drivers/escorts/home visitors/volunteers;
- Children's Guardian or solicitor;
- Advocates for the child or birth family;
- Other agencies that were known to birth parents e.g. probation, mental health workers;
- Post adoption support worker – if immediate adoption support is planned;
- Birth family members where appropriate;
- Other adults who may have played a significant role in the child's life e.g. school lunchtime supervisor/the child's friends' parents/school crossing patrols;
- Birth parents, in very occasional circumstances for example where the child is being relinquished.
4. Who Arranges the Life Appreciation Day?
The child's social worker should take responsibility for arranging, in detail, the agenda, venue, timetable and practical arrangements for the day. The better the planning, the more effective the day will be for all participants and all participants should be fully briefed as to their role and contribution, prior to their attendance. Potential attendees that are unable to attend should be encouraged to prepare a contribution, in advance, that can be shared on the day.
It is the responsibility of the child's team manager to chair the day or to ensure suitable chairing. The child's social worker and the Chair should be familiar and aware of:
- The child's history and be able to fully relate the child's history and interpret for the adopters how events/losses/separations/moves etc. may have impacted on the child and their birth family;
- The child's heritage and culture in its widest sense as this gives a sense of continuity, belonging and meaning;
- Other participants' contributions;
- How both positive and negative perspectives of the child and family should be shared and understood;
- The concept of life appreciation days, either by training, observation or discussion as uncertainty about its purpose may lead to the adopters and other participants to feel unsure about the day;
- The fact that organising and participating in life appreciation days can be demanding and potentially quite emotional for the adopters and other participants and take steps to address this.
The child's social worker will need to give consideration to:
- Arranging a suitable venue. The venue needs to be friendly and spacious enough to allow all those that will attend to be comfortable and should be away from offices/work settings and where participants will not be interrupted;
- Providing refreshments for all participants throughout the day;
- Authorisation for funding for venue and refreshments;
- The agenda and the length of time required for each participant along with regular breaks;
- Having name badges/child friendly wall charts/posters depicting the child's Chronology/timeline/moves/key events from the child's perspective/photographs/family trees etc. This can aid discussion of the child's journey in a chronological way and can help in offering summaries to participants who are only attending for their 'slot'. A DVD running of the child throughout the day may be helpful to underline the child's story. Visual information can offer immediate communication and impact;
- Invitations and written timetable for all participants, room bookings and summary minutes of the meeting and recording of the day via DVD, photographs etc.
5. Issues for Adopters / Foster Carers
- The adopter's social worker will need to prepare the adopters for the life appreciation day and should have all relevant written information regarding the child and birth family before the day and with sufficient time to absorb the information;
- To ensure confidentiality, copies of recorded information should only be provided to the adopter and their social worker and a copy should also be retained with the child's adoption case record;
- Current and past foster carers need to be adequately prepared to contribute to the life appreciation day by their supervising social worker. This also includes assistance with child care arrangements and transport if required;
- The adopters and the current foster carers should have had the opportunity to meet or engage in telephone discussion about the child before the life appreciation day.
6. Conducting the Life Appreciation Day
The chair will need to:
- Ensure introductions are made and that the purpose of the day is carefully explained, paying particular attention to the factual and anecdotal information that is being sought;
- Provide information about the day's arrangements which should include the arrangements for recording of information shared, confidentiality, expected attendees, roles and expectations, ground rules and refreshment arrangements;
- Be aware of the adopters' need to understand the information being given, and their need to ask for clarification;
- Bear in mind that the sharing of information may be distressing for some participants which will need to be managed with sensitivity;
- Establish a relaxed and friendly atmosphere paying particular attention to highlighting and summarising which periods of a child's life history are being explored as attendees join and leave the meeting;
- Be aware of and manage any shift in focus away from the child to revisiting casework management and decision making;
- Follow a timeline of the child's history, where possible so that information is presented in an historical context. If some participants have to present their information out of the timeline, the chair will need to address how this information is woven into the overall picture;
- Provide a summary of the recurring themes that have been present throughout the day and their context within a developmental framework and within an understanding of loss, trauma and abuse on the child and their capacity to develop healthy attachments;
- Provide a summary and identify the child's coping mechanisms and behaviour and the way the child has understood his/her history, his responses and involvement in life story, care experience and wishes and feelings about adoption;
- Summarise the strengths and vulnerabilities of the child and any anticipated difficulties/behaviour that the child may present when first placed with the adopters;
- Allow participants to add to visual information, if on display, ensuring that as much information as possible is gathered and put in context;
- Ensure that all photographs/letters and other memorabilia brought by participants are collected for the child's 'memory box';
- Ensure that regular breaks are facilitated, throughout the day;
- Ensure that the adopters are aware when they will receive any further written information, e.g. recording of the life appreciation day;
- Allow time for de-briefing at the end of the day and ensure that a follow up visit is arranged to the adopters to discuss the day and their thoughts about the day and proposed match;
- Ensure that where relevant the child's permanence report, chronology and family tree is updated with any new/corrected information;
- Ensure that thank you letters are sent to all participants and receive feedback about the day.