Frustration. That was the overriding emotion I remember when I was a worker faced with a lack of ways to engage adolescents in life story work. I, like many others trying to engage adolescents in reflective dialogues akin to those of life story work, was frustrated. The year was 2005. Technologies such as MSN chat and mobile phones with inbuilt cameras were beginning to pose more challenges for those working with vulnerable populations. Young people in society were clearly using these digital technologies to communicate with those around them in ways which they felt confident and competent in doing. For better or worse, these things were here to stay. Yet I didn’t have any age sensitive resources or guidance regarding how to work with a population that had a different stake in their identity than younger children.

Based on my four-year PhD undertaken in the Centre for Research on Children and Families at the University of East Anglia, the book Digital life story work: using technology to help young people make sense of their experiences is my attempt to help those working with adolescents. With the use of free software, smartphones and camcorders the book aims to demonstrate how digital technology can be used in exciting and contemporary ways to support and become an integral instrument of life story work. Using case study examples and quotes from young people and carers drawn from the research, the book covers topics such as: why life story work is so important and what can be achieved; how to work successfully with young people, including negotiating expectations, setting boundaries and managing risks; points to consider when setting up and undertaking a project; how to prepare and edit visual and audio material to produce something the young person can be proud of. It features a series of fun and engaging projects including; photo collages, making soundtracks, creating cartoons, and filming guided walks.

This practice guide is aimed at all those working with or looking after young people who cannot live with their birth families, including social workers, residential workers, therapists, counsellors, foster carers and adopters. It can be read from cover to cover (although my brother-in-law insists it would have been better with some wizards in it) or dipped in and out of. A worker’s technological proficiency is not important. Like conventional life story work, the cornerstone of digital life story work remains the therapeutic relationship. The digital technologies are simply vehicles to help access these dialogues.

Simon Hammond

Simon is the author of Digital Life Story Work