Supporting the creative use of technology to improve life story work for vulnerable children: trove as a case example from REACT

  • Watson, Debbie L (Principal Investigator)
  • Cater, Kirsten F (Co-Principal Investigator)
  • Meineck, Chloe (Collaborator)
  • Metcalfe, Tom (Researcher)
  • Hahn, Rachel (Researcher)

Project Details


The project context is that of the provision of life story work and life story books to children in care and adopted children. This is an established social work practice and seen as ‘best practice’ to enable children to connect their past with their present selves and is believed to connect to better long term outcomes for children. It is also a statutory provision for all children placed for adoption under the Adoption Act (2002).

There is, however, little attention paid to the material possessions that children may own and find comfort from and enable increased understanding of their life journey. The importance of objects in children’s narrative understandings was emphasised in the study conducted between Watson and Coram and reiterates other research with children in care (Ward, 2011).

Watson’s work is emphasising the links between physical objects and children’s memory and identity over time through the importance of narrating the self and storying. However, within the children in care sector understandings of this are very limited. This is a genuine gap in knowledge which could be informed from literatures across the arts and social sciences as yet not been associated. There is also a lack of professional training in choosing how to present knowledge of the child’s life to them in safe and authentic ways (Hooley et al, 2016) and this project partly aims to address this through a focus on technologies and children’s material objects in life story work with a number of activities and outputs specifically aimed at raising awareness and supporting changed practices for professionals and carers.

trove was originally funded through the AHRC REACT Play Sandbox scheme to co-design a product with a group of general population children aged 7-12 years through rapid R & D. trove is a digitally enabled memory box to enable children to attach stories to their precious objects and to take some control over their telling of their life story through their objects. It is designed to complement life story books, anchoring memories over time. Indications from a trial with 10 adopted children suggest the use of trove opens up beneficial conversations about adoption, siblings and life stories- enhancing ‘communicative openness’ (Brodzinsky, 2006; Jones & Hackett, 2008). It is anticipated this could help encourage a deeper sense of identity and address concerns of further loss and dislocation (Watson, Meineck & Lancaster, forthcoming).

This project is intended to unlock the impact and develop this prototype in order to address the following aims:

• To support children who have been taken into care to capture their early childhood stories and memories and to keep objects of meaning in a secure manner.
• To support children to have advocacy over their story and to communicate and share this with their adopted families or carers where they wish to.
• To support social workers and care organisations to best support children in care
• To create a sustainable business model and ensure the uptake of the solution

Work packages
Work Package 1 Understanding system, mapping networks, and stakeholder needs - enable us to map all stakeholder engagement in life story work with vulnerable children. This will focus specifically on the use of technologies to better understand what else exists in this space.

Work Package 2
Developing Academic justification for technologies in life story work to enable better articulation of the potential value of technologies to improve life story work practice with vulnerable children, robustly underpinned with academic literature and to enable the therapeutic basis of trove to be better understood and framed.

Work Package 3 Co-designed digital intervention development -working with our Bristol partner we will be using insights from WPs 1, 2 and 4 to engage in user-centred design to address known problems with the existing trove solution such as security and price.

Work Package 4 User trials and analysis- We will use existing prototypes with a new audience - children in care in a therapeutically driven residential home, the Mulberry Bush School.

Work Package 5 Sector engagement event - a jointly hosted and designed event at either the Foundling Museum in London or Coram headquarters focused on the importance of life story work, object importance and interventions for vulnerable children and young people.

Work Package 6 Developed and extended evidence-based business plan including route to market.
Effective start/end date23/01/1722/10/18

Structured keywords

  • SPS Children and Families Research Centre


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