Improving the mental health and mental health support available to adolescents in out-of-home care via Adolescent-Focused Low-Intensity Life Story Work: A realist review

Simon Hammond, Ella Mickleburgh, Claire Duddy, Rachel Hiller, Beth Neil, Rosie Blackett, Kevin Williams, Geoff Wong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Life Story Work (LSW) is used to promote the mental health of children and adolescents living in out-of-home care. LSW should be offered to all but is conventionally delivered in high-intensity ways. Low-intensity approaches are more accessible but there is significant variation and little guidance for supporting adolescents. We aimed to create guidance for Adolescent-Focused Low-Intensity LSW.
Design: Realist review

Data sources: MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, Sociology Collection (Proquest), CINAHL, CDAS, Web of Science (SCIE, SSCI), Social Care Online and grey literature sources. Searches were performed between December 2021-March 2022

Eligibility criteria: Documents on children and adolescents in care, LSW and/or low-intensity interventions to improve mental health were included. Documents focusing on parenting style and contact with birth family were excluded.

Analysis: Documents were analysed using a realist logic of analysis. In consultation with Content Expert Groups (comprising professionals and care leavers), we developed an initial programme theory. Data relating to and challenging the initial programme theory were extracted and Context-Mechanism-Outcome-Configurations developed, critiqued, and refined in an iterative fashion. Interpretations were drawn from Context-Mechanism-Outcome-Configurations to enhance the programme theory.

Results: 75 documents contributed to the analysis. Generally, studies were small-scale and lacked in-depth methods and evaluation descriptions. Findings indicated important factors contribute to the development of high-quality Adolescent-Focused Low-Intensity LSW. Adolescent-Focused Low-Intensity LSW should be person-centred, begin in the now, involve co-construction, record everyday positive life events, and be supported by trained carer(s). Context-mechanism-outcome-configurations relating to these themes are reported.

Conclusions: Using this knowledge we developed of initial practice guidance to support social care to deliver better quality Adolescent-Focused Low-Intensity LSW more consistently. To address gaps in our knowledge about the impact of Adolescent-Focused Low-Intensity LSW, further primary research is needed to strengthen understandings of how this intervention works (or not) in different contexts.

PROSPERO registration number: CRD42021279816.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBMJ Open
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 21 Aug 2023

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