story stem assessment profile

The story stem assessment profile (SSAP) was developed by a team at the Anna Freud Centre to address the need for a gentle, non-intrusive way of allowing children to communicate their understanding of what to expect from the adults and siblings around them.

The children are invited to respond to a set of narrative story stems where they are given the beginning of a ‘story’ highlighting everyday scenarios with an inherent dilemma. Children are then asked to ‘show and tell me what happens next?’ This allows some assessment of the child’s expectations and perceptions of family roles, attachments and relationships, without asking the child’s direct questions about their family which might cause them conflict or anxiety.

The SSAP is a clinical and research assessment tool involving a technique specifically for use with clinical and maltreatment populations. It has proved a valuable and non-intrusive tool for examining young children’s mental representations of attachment and relationships, both in research and in clinical practice. Normally, it is best used with children aged between about 4 and 9 years.

Previous research has shown that children’s response to these story stems reflect both current and past features of their family life and attachment histories. The technique allows the child’s attachment representations to be evidenced in a displaced way which is usually enjoyed by the child and not experienced as unduly threatening.