"It was a family experience," says adoptive parent Jane Cooper. Not a comment often made about using a piece of software, but very appropriate where My Life Story is concerned. Produced by Orkney-based Information Plus, My Life Story offers looked-after children the opportunity to record what has happened to them. The approach is well-established for looked-after children such as those who have been fostered or adopted, but using the software helps to guide the process and makes it easier for the young person to store the result confidentially.
My Life Story uses a menu system based on a treasure island and divided into seven interactive sections. In these sections, looked-after children are encouraged to record information about their background, people and places, the past, their likes and dislikes, their hopes and fears, their wishes and dreams and contact details for all the people that are important in their lives. Each section also has printable activity sheets for use away from the computer.
Robert and Claire had been in and out of care for eight years before they came to live with their adoptive family. "They had a book with photographs, ongoing life stories, but we asked them if they would like to do something else," explains Jane. "The format of the CD-Rom makes it so easy." They asked questions about their background which Jane was able to answer through her links with social services.
The children approached the task quite differently. "Claire was quite independent and used the software alone. She was very interested in what her birth mother's labour was like, and whether she was breast-fed.
Robert's reading and writing is not so good, but I helped him to type the answers in. He was more interested in recording things like his wishes and dreams."
An important aspect of the process is that the result is private, stored on a disk and only shared with a carer if that is the wish of the young person. As Jane explains, "It's not being written for my benefit, it's a personal record for them. It's very emotional for me. The children didn't get distressed though; it was rewarding for us all."
My Life Story was written by Bridget Betts and Afshan Ahmad and launched earlier this year. It's now in use in more than 50 local authorities, has received very positive reviews from care magazines and has attracted a lot of interest. Perhaps its most important facet is that it can strengthen the voice of the child in care. Listening to children is recognised as vitally important, but resources such as My Life Story are needed to help children to talk and raise issues.
My Life Story is designed to be used by care workers but in this case it was used in a family setting, although its price might rule this out for others.
(All names in this article have been changed.) My Life Story
Price: pound;195 + VAT
3 Hill of Heddle
Orkney KW17 2LH
Tel: 01856 761334
Information about adoption is available from: Adoption UK
Tel: 0870 7700450