This report presents the findings from a randomised controlled trial (RCT) of the Creative Life Story Work programme, an initiative developed by Blue Cabin in partnership with Professor Richard Rose of Therapeutic Life Story Work International (TLSWi).
Life story work (LSW) is a social work intervention that aims to help care experienced children and young people understand and accept their personal history, present and future. The model of Life Story Work evaluated was Tier 1: All About Me creative experiences.
The evaluation was designed to answer the following questions:
- What is the impact of Tier 1: All About Me creative experiences on the wellbeing of children and young people currently in care (as measured by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire), compared to those who receive business-as-usual LSW provision?
- What is the impact of introducing Tier 1: All About Me creative experiences on placement stability (number of placement moves) for beneficiary children and young people in the first 12 months of the CLSW programme, compared to those who receive business-as-usual LSW provision?
- What is the impact of introducing Tier 1: All About Me creative experiences on school stability (number of school moves) for beneficiary children and young people in the first 12 months of the CLSW programme, compared to those who receive business-as-usual LSW provision?
In addition to this, the evaluators conducted a process evaluation to answer the following questions:
- What is usual practice and how does the programme differentiate itself from this?
- What changes are made by introducing the programme relative to usual practice, and what are the core elements, and how (if at all) do they vary across sites?
- What are the barriers and enablers to successful implementation?
- What are the views of children and young people, families and professionals on the programme, including perceived financial and non-financial benefits, costs, and unintended consequences?
The cost evaluation question aimed to determine how much it costs to introduce the programme.
The evaluators used data from the local authorities:
- Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire scores gathered in the period January to March 2022, and compared: the mean scores in the intervention and control groups
- The number of placement moves between April 2021 to March 2022, for example, moving from one foster family to another
- The number of school moves between April 2021 to March 2022, excluding moves such as the transition from primary to secondary school.
These three outcomes were compared for the two groups of the 629 randomised children and young people:
- Those who we had randomly assigned to be offered All About Me
- Those who we had randomly assigned to not be offered All About Me.
In addition to this, the evaluator conducted interviews with children and young people, carers (foster and kinship), social workers, and a focus group with Blue Cabin staff.
The findings of our impact analysis did not reach statistical significance for the impact of All About Me creative experiences on wellbeing, placement changes, and school moves. Unfortunately, it remains unclear whether the effects did not reach significance due to low statistical power or the programme itself not making a difference to the children and young people.
The survey of 168 local authority staff found the majority perceived the new Creative Life Story Work model as more effective than traditional Life Story Work. Social workers reported changes to their usual Life Story Work practice, and/or their local authorities. Of those directly involved in delivery, there was a perception it improved relationships between carers and children and young people, and improved wellbeing and the stability of placements. A better understanding of care experience and identity were most often cited among the benefits. Various barriers to participation were seen as important, including the child not being ready, and clashes with other commitments.
The evaluators calculated the cost of the whole one-year programme at £80,195 per local authority, including costs that were incurred by Blue Cabin. The cost of All About Me creative experiences was calculated at £2,673 per child who attended sessions. This unit cost is likely to have been inflated by the delivery of this programme, given that randomisation meant only a maximum of half of children could receive All About Me creative experiences.
- A larger future evaluation would enable analysis across different groups, such as by age group, family type, in-person versus online delivery, and nature of creative practice
- A future mixed-methods process evaluation should: focus on understanding the experiences of those who have business-as-usual Life Story Work; include any young people who do not have a good experience of All About Me creative experiences; include observation of sessions across sites to help assess quality and consistency of delivery; and not rely on convenience sampling to recruit carers for interview
- A set of questions more tailored to the Life Story Work context, rather than the generic Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, would be preferable for future evaluations.