Creative Life Story Work

08 December 2022

Sarah Taylor, Group Head of Impact and Evaluation at Coram, and Principal Investigator on the evaluation, and Jenny Young, Director of Blue Cabin, reflect on the evaluation of Creative Life Story Work.

Sarah Taylor shares her thoughts on the evaluation.

All About Me creative experiences were delivered to looked after children and young people in small groups, in person and virtually, in Darlington, Gateshead and South Tyneside, in 2021-22. We ran a randomised controlled trial of All About Me creative experiences, which we believe to be the first ever randomised controlled trial of a Life Story Work intervention in the UK.

Coram and Ipsos were pleased to evaluate the programme. Our evaluation took the form of a randomised controlled trial (RCT) of the impact on child outcomes (‘did it work?’), a process evaluation (‘if so, why did it work?’) to understand the experiences of those taking part through interviews and a survey, and a cost analysis (‘how much did it cost?’). The model takes a needs-based three-tiered approach and we focused on Tier 1 ‘All About Me creative experiences’ which are sessions using creative approaches, introduced and facilitated by Blue Cabin’s Associate Artists, with local authority pastoral support workers. In online sessions a Blue Cabin producer is also present. 

We looked at three outcomes for children and young people: wellbeing, and stability at home and in school. We measured these using Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire scores; number of school moves; and number of placement changes, where children change who they live with. Our findings do not show whether All About Me creative experiences make a difference to the three outcomes we analysed. 

Owing to recruitment challenges, fewer children received All About Me creative experiences than the original aim: 90 against a target of 270.  This meant the 90 recipients would have needed to gain enormous benefits from the programme for this to show up in the data. It is not surprising, therefore, that our findings did not reach statistical significance, and we recommend that a larger RCT is now carried out. In our interviews various reasons were suggested for the low uptake, including practical and logistical barriers for foster carers. 

Those who did attend engaged with the sessions, and almost all attended all six sessions. Positively, our interviews found some perceived benefits for child anxiety, confidence, decisions around contact, and clearer life plans. For professionals, changes in local authority practice were viewed as beneficial.  A better understanding of care experience and identity were most often cited among the benefits. While our findings did not show whether All About Me creative experiences make a difference to the outcomes analysed, it is positive to see this encouraging feedback.  

Jenny reflects on the feedback from care-experienced children, young people and their carers. Blue Cabin are a North East-based charity which nurtures meaningful relationships between care experienced individuals, and the people and organisations who are part of their lives.

“[the programme has] made me realise my worth”. young person

Creative Life Story Work is based upon the Rose model of Life Story Work and uses artist-led creative experiences, combined for some children and young people with therapeutic life story work, to help care-experienced children and young people better understand their own life stories, and strengthen relationships with the people in their lives. This approach was developed over a two-year period by the team at Blue Cabin alongside Professor Richard Rose (Therapeutic Life Story Work International) who is an internationally respected authority on life story work, South Tyneside Council and Blue Cabin’s team of Associate Artists. In 2020 we had a unique opportunity through What Works for Children’s Social Care funding, to roll the intervention out to South Tyneside, Gateshead and Darlington councils. 

It is with great pride that I read the findings of the Creative Life Story Work evaluation report, knowing that 90 children and young people and their trusted adults took part in high quality, safe and meaningful life story conversations during the study.

What stands out to me most in this evaluation report is what children and young people said about being involved. They talked about significant changes in their lives linked to taking part including improved mental health, a better understanding of their identity and improved relationships with people in their lives. This clearly demonstrates to us that for some children and young people, group sessions, safely co-facilitated by our Associate Artists and Local Authority Pastoral Support Workers, can be facilitated successfully.

“it’s unique and a real opportunity to work with children in this way. It’s unusual to work with professional artists with children and young people – I really like that it’s bringing a whole new aspect of working with children and young people.” social worker

Children and young people and their trusted adults told evaluators that they would recommend the programme to others and 85% of staff from local authorities who were surveyed reported that they thought it was more effective than traditional models of life story work at helping children and young people in care understand their care experience. 

The evidence in the report also tells us that some children and young people made ‘big life decisions’ such as changing contact arrangements and rethinking career plans. This was possible with the incredible support from the trusted adults in their lives who participated in these sessions alongside them – a core feature of the Rose model.

“I’d recommend them [other looked after children] to take part…it helps you express your feeling …. and then they can get all the stuff that happened in the past, can come out your head and the past can stay in the past” young person

Following this study and feedback, we are continuing our work and making Creative Life Story Work available to more local authorities through our brand-new Creative Life Story Work website.

We also take seriously the feedback from participants when they reflected that the six-week intervention can feel too short, and that more follow-up work would be beneficial. We are working with our partners and team to find solutions and we will continue to ask children and young people how we can improve what we do. 

I want to thank the skilled and dedicated group of young researchers who were brought together by Ipsos and Blue Cabin, through funding from the three local authorities, to provide critique and contributions to the evaluation. These young people were trained and supported to review key documents and tools and provided expert feedback to the evaluators. Most of their feedback was acted on (and where it wasn’t, the researchers explained why). These young researchers played a valuable role in this evaluation. 

Moving forward, we are delighted that Darlington, Gateshead and South Tyneside councils are investing in this approach so that more children and young people can take part in creative life story conversations. A Care Leavers development group is working on how Creative Life Story Work could be tailored for those aged 17+, and we are also working hard to develop a trauma-informed approach to looking at the impact of this intervention. We want to support more local authorities and organisations to facilitate meaningful, creative life story conversations with all children and young people in their care. Our hope is that the Creative Life Story Work programme and the website and all its resources and tools can support them on that journey. 

Creative Life Story Work was evaluated by Coram and Ipsos. You can read the summary report here and the full evaluation report here