Statement 4: Support to explore and make sense of identity and relationships

Key messages

Children develop a sense of who they are from birth. This identity is built on their relationships with:

  • family members
  • other adults and children
  • friends and members of their community.

This leads to the development of multiple identities from the network of relationships that a child has. For looked after children and young people, this is likely to include a 'care' identity as well as a family and cultural identity.

To develop a secure sense of identity, children need to grow up in an environment where they feel loved and secure. Foster carers also need to know about their family background and personal history. Developing a positive personal identity and a sense of personal history is associated with high self-esteem and emotional wellbeing.

Looked after children and young people who are not able to live with their family may have difficulty developing a clear sense of who they are. They may also experience a conflict of loyalty between their carer and their birth family, particularly if they enter care at an older age. Their views about which members of their family they wish to see and how often need to be listened to and respected.

Looked after children and young people who do not live with their siblings generally want to see them more often. They may also wish to have contact with other members of their community who are important to them or engage in community leisure activities. This also needs to be considered as part of the care plan.

Life story work is important for looked after children and young people. It can help them to make sense of their family history and life outside the care system, as well as why they entered care. Life story work should be an ongoing process and should be done sensitively. Foster carers and others should be trained and supported to develop the skills to do this at a time and pace that is appropriate for the child.

Foster carers also need the skills to help children and young people deal with discrimination around being in care, or around their ethnicity or cultural heritage. Personal files also need to be accessible and up to date so that looked after children and young people and their carers have access to accurate information.

Links to Ofsted judgments

This statement links to the following Ofsted judgements:

  • 'Children and young people have appropriate, carefully assessed and supported contact with family and friends and other people who are important to them.'
  • 'The recruitment, assessment, training, support, supervision, review and retention of foster carers including kinship carers (connected persons) and, as appropriate, special guardians, ensures that families are safe and sufficient in number to care for children and young people with a wide range of needs. This enables children to be placed with their brothers and sisters and have contact with their birth family and friends when it is in their best interests.'
  • 'Children and young people are helped to develop secure primary attachments with the adults caring for them. Social workers help them to understand their lives and identities through life history work that is effective and provided when they need it. Therapeutic materials are made available to the child and their family when and wherever the child is placed.'
  • 'Children and young people receive care that is sensitive and responsive to age, disability, ethnicity, faith or belief, gender, gender identity, language, race and sexual orientation.'
  • 'Case records reflect the work that is undertaken with children and clearly relate to the plans for their futures. The style and clarity of records enhances the understanding that children and young people have about their histories and experiences.'
  • 'Care leavers are positive about themselves. Their achievements are celebrated and the local authority shows they are positive and proud of their care leavers.'

How to assess performance

Evidence that could be collected to assess performance against this quality statement includes:

  • contact with siblings and other people who are important to the child or young person
  • young people are able to make sense of their past and talk about their own life story
  • how the local authority works with other agencies (for example, schools, health) in terms of training around identity issues for looked-after children and young people.

Evidence should always include feedback from children and young people.

Useful resources

Life story work (CoramBAAF)

CoramBAAF, a successor organisation to the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), has a number of resources on life story work. These include: