Life story work could help address mental health needs of children in care

The LIMITLESS project will focus on how adolescents living in care could benefit from understanding more about who they are and how past experiences have shaped them, through the use of life story work interventions.

19/02/21

Life story work could help address mental health needs of children in care

A new project to examine the use of life story work in practice when working with the mental health needs of adolescents who have had experience of being ‘looked-after’, has been launched.

Led by the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), the LIMITLESS project aims to outline how and to what extent life story work could be delivered to improve mental health outcomes for adolescents in care, as well as identify those who should receive it.

Life story work is currently delivered as a ‘high-intensity’ intervention, meaning it commonly relies on specialist professional input over a number of months and mainly focuses on younger children, meaning there is minimal guidance available for its use with adolescents.

With more than 90,000 adolescents currently living in care in the UK, the project aims to improve the level of evidence around the use of life story work within adolescent mental health practice.

Project lead and Lecturer in Education in UEA’s School of Education and Lifelong Learning Dr Simon P Hammond stressed how adolescents were consistently reported to have higher mental health needs than their peers in the general population, and that the research into mental health support was a “health, social care and educational priority.”

“Life story work is widely valued by children and adolescents with experience of living in care, their carers and professionals.”

“Adolescents are the fastest growing age group entering the English social-care system and the group most at risk of poor mental health. Unaddressed mental health needs are one the biggest issues facing children and young people who have experience of living in care. “

Dr Jon Wilson, Consultant Psychiatrist and NSFT Research Director and co-applicant on the LIMITLESS study, added that the research would aim to help “chronically underfunded” mental health services to use effective intervention strategies.

“As children and adolescent mental health services nationally remain chronically underfunded and demand for services continues to increase, better evidence on existing interventions and effective, low-intensity interventions are urgently needed,” said Dr Wilson.

Luke Rodgers BEM, Director of Strategy at The Care Leaders, who is also involved in the research project, highlighted the importance of life story work as a practice method for children and young people.

Mr Rodgers said: “Life story work is important because not every child will know about people in their family or have pictures or information about their own childhood and places, they have lived. These are taken for granted things for many people but are massively important and can be devastating if they become lost.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of this project and the way it will go about tackling this problem by working with those who have experienced children’s social care and life story work.

“By understanding and giving a platform for the voices of those with lived experience, the project will gain knowledge to develop our services to best serve young people. This will help ensure children’s social care is meeting the needs of young people with experience of living in care.”

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