Children's co-production and use of "trove" (a digitally enhanced memory box) to better understand their care histories

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Children in the care system often struggle to comprehend the reasons for their being placed in care and to make sense of the experiences in birth families which may be extremely traumatic. Many have gaps in biographical memory and these have been linked to poor mental health outcomes in adolescence. Having a coherent narrative of adverse experiences has been associated with recovery from trauma and PTSD (Adshead, 2012). The way coherent narratives are created for children in care in the UK and in other parts of the world is through life story work and the development of a life story book- which, it is argued, contributes to identity construction (Cook‐Cottone & Beck, 2007; Loxterkamp, 2009). In earlier work I have interviewed children about their experiences of their life storybooks (Watson et al, 2015) which revealed a number of challenges and areas of poor practice in the production and use of this intervention which often left children with questions unanswered, additional confusion, and a lack of ownership over the story of their life. Moreover, it became apparent in interviews and in reviewing the literature that memories for children in care, are also constructed through interaction with tangible birth objects which life storybooks do not ordinarily accommodate; such as toys, baby clothes and blankets, mementoes and other familial gifts. This paper presents an innovative project that enabled me to work with a creative designer to rapidly develop a prototype product to start to address some of these challenges in a co-produced design process with children and young people, including children both in long term authority care and adoptive placements. 'trove' is a digitally enhanced memory box that utilises raspberry pi and RFID technologies to enable children to record their own birth and care memories and to attach these to their precious birth objects; as well as providing a safe 'container' for their mementoes and memories. The prototype was developed in a rapid co-design process with children and tested with a number of target groups as we iterated the design over time. The paper will describe the process and the benefits of children's' engagements in this development and what they brought to the overall design. Secondly, the paper will present data collected as part of a small trial with 10 children aged 5- 15 years where the children have had a trove to use and customise for a period of 4 weeks. Data to be presented includes children's design feedback, the stories and pictures of their objects that they decided to include, real time data downloads on frequency and time of use through Wifi dongles that were incorporated into the prototype and carers pre and post accounts of the children's interest and ability to discuss and raise questions about their care journey and reasons for being in care. The paper will conclude with a consideration of the contribution of trove in enabling more positive wellbeing outcomes, long term memory retention through interaction with birth objects and enabling children to achieve a stronger sense of narrative identity, that is the: ‘internalized, evolving story of the self that each person crafts to provide his or her life with a sense of purpose and unity’ (Adler, 2012, p.367).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventEUSARF 2016: European Scientific Association on Residential & Family Care for Children and Adolescents - Auditorio Príncipe Felipe, Oviedo, Spain
Duration: 13 Sept 201616 Sept 2016


ConferenceEUSARF 2016
Internet address


  • adoption
  • memory
  • identity
  • trauma
  • children in care


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