Incorporating ACEs in relationship-based social work practice: The Family Life Stories workbook

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This article describes the development of the ‘Family Life Stories’ practice workbook. This initiative emerged from a pilot social work strategy in Northern Ireland to utilise the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) research in frontline practice. ACEs research is currently having a significant impact on health and social care policy and practice across the UK. This article proposes that ACEs-awareness has potential benefits for child welfare social work, encouraging consideration of parent/caregivers’ and children’s lives beyond presenting referral concerns, with many parents involved with child welfare services known to have experienced multiple adversities themselves. However, when applied in a reductionist manner, ACEs-informed practice risks amplifying parental powerlessness, exacerbating feelings of shame and blame, and rendering structural inequalities invisible to assessment. Based on systemic and narrative therapeutic principles, the Family Life Stories workbook and guidance seeks to address concerns by using participative mapping activities. These assist practitioners to have purposeful conversations with parents in ways that promote engagement. The workbook aims to provide opportunities to consider with parents how previous experiences have influenced their life stories, the impact on their current situation, and their wishes for their children - maximising the benefit for parental wellbeing and engagement, while maintaining a focus on child safety. Although lacking a rigorous independent evaluation, feedback from social workers involved in the pilot demonstrates provisional acceptability to practitioners and parents. This novel practice approach provides one example of how to use the ACEs research to promote sensitive relationship-based practice within a social justice framework.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)564-581
Number of pages17
JournalScottish Affairs
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 01 Nov 2020


  • Child welfare
  • childhood adversities
  • social work practice


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