What is Letterbox contact
The Letterbox is a system that enables birth relatives and adoptive parents to stay in contact by exchanging written information. The frequency with which you exchange information via the Letterbox will be discussed and agreed on when the adoption is being planned. This will usually happen once or twice a year.
Information is sent through our letterbox coordinator, who passes this on to the birth or adoptive parents. This means you can stay in touch via a confidential service. We check everything that is sent via the Letterbox to make sure it doesn’t contain anything inappropriate (eg if you accidentally write your address at the top).
Using the Letterbox is free of charge and completely confidential.
How can the Letterbox help me?
In the past it was believed that adopted children needed a ‘clean break’, and all ties with their birth family were cut. It is now agreed that many children benefit from a more open attitude towards adoption and the Letterbox service was set up in recognition of this.
Ongoing Letterbox contact can benefit everyone involved:
- Children – it is natural for children to be curious about their birth family as they grow up. Many adults who were adopted in the past have told us that as a child they would have liked information about their birth relatives. Adoptive parents are given information about the child’s birth family when they are first adopted, but this quickly becomes out of date. Letterbox contact helps children understand their history and develop a secure sense of identity. The Letterbox helps children feel accepted in their adoptive family while at the same time comfortable with their past.
- Adoptive parents – Letterbox contact helps adoptive parents understand their child’s background and answer any questions they have over the years. Prospective adopters sometimes worry that such contact will make it harder for them to develop a proper parent-child relationship with their child. However, adoptive parents have told us that, in practice, sharing information from the child’s birth relatives is more likely to boost this relationship by bringing them closer. It can also help them better understand their child’s needs.
- Birth families – birth relatives remember their children and often wonder how they are for years after the adoption. They can benefit greatly from reassurance that a child is safe and well. Many also like to have up to date information about the child, even though they no longer live with them.
Although Letterbox contact benefits everyone involved, the child’s needs are always put first when deciding whether or not it should take place.
Who can use the Letterbox?
The Letterbox service can be used by anyone who has been important in the life of an adopted child, so long as it will be helpful to continue written contact. This can be any relative including birth parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
The Letterbox service is a way for adults to exchange information. It is up to the adoptive parents to decide whether or not to show information to the child, or to involve the child in writing to the birth relatives.
What can be exchanged through the Letterbox?
Letters can be exchanged via the Letterbox dependent upon the agreement set up at the time of the adoption. Unfortunately it cannot be used to send presents or money.
How is a Letterbox arrangement set up?
Before a child is ‘matched’ with prospective adoptive parents, the birth relatives, potential adopters and possibly the child will all have a say in the sort of contact they would like after the adoption. Considering everyone’s wishes is an important part of the matching process and the social workers will help you come to an agreement that is both in the child’s best interests and acceptable for everyone involved.
Unfortunately it is not always possible to meet all requests. It is important to put the child’s needs first and compromise for their sake
Once the child has been formally matched with an adoptive family, the adoptive and birth families will complete a written agreement with their social workers. This will describe the frequency and type of contact that will take place after the adoption. It will clarify the details of any Letterbox contact including:
- how often it will take place
- whether the exchange will be two-way with both the adoptive parents and birth relatives sending information, or one-way with only the adoptive parents sending information
- photographs will not usually be exchanged in order to protect the child
Our letterbox coordinator will receive a copy of this agreement to keep on file. In general, we recommend that the adoptive family gets things going and writes first, because having specific news about the child to respond to makes it easier for birth relatives to reply.
How do I use the Letterbox service?
- When it is your turn to send information via the Letterbox, you will receive a letter reminding you that an exchange of information is due.
- Birth parents send back a completed attachment slip to ensure we have the correct address and details. You need to include the unique number that is given to you when your Letterbox arrangement is first set up. This will help us make sure it reaches the right person.
- Send the information to the Letterbox in the envelope that was provided with your reminder.
- We will open and photocopy everything you have sent. We will keep the photocopy on file in case anything happens to the originals. This also means that if the adopted person wishes to see their file when they reach 18 they will have access to all the information that was exchanged via the Letterbox. If we are concerned about anything you have written then a social worker will contact you to discuss the matter.
- We will send the information to the relevant person.
Please inform us if you change your address. We will keep your new address on file to make sure you continue to receive information sent via the Letterbox. We will not pass it to anyone else.
What happens if people don’t keep to the agreement?
All agreements made under the Letterbox scheme are voluntary and we ask that people only enter into agreements they feel they can keep to. Not keeping to an agreement can cause considerable hurt and distress to other people, including the child as they grow up.
The adoptive parents can decide whether or not to share information received via the Letterbox with the child. If they feel that certain information would be too painful to give to the child at the moment then they can keep it to themselves. However, they are expected to fulfill their side of the agreement and continue to exchange information for as long as it is agreed. If information is not sent as agreed then a reminder letter will be sent.
We recognise that children’s needs change over time, and Letterbox contact may not always be appropriate. If birth relatives or adopters wish to stop this contact and withdraw from the agreement then a social worker will contact them to discuss whether this is in the child’s best interests. If they decide to withdraw permanently then the other person will be informed.
If at a later stage you wish to restart the Letterbox you will need to discuss this with the post-adoption social worker to see if it is in the child’s best interests.
Where can I get support or advice?
Whether you are a birth relative or an adoptive parent, there may be times when you feel concerned or distressed and need advice or assistance with Letterbox contact or any other aspect of adoption. Please contact us and we will either help you ourselves or put you in touch with the most appropriate source of support.
The exchange of written information between birth relatives and adoptive parents is important, but many people aren’t very confident with writing. It is often difficult to find the right words, especially if the information you are writing is difficult or painful. Sometimes it is just difficult to think of something to write about!
Social workers from our Post-adoption Support team are available to assist you. Please contact us or your own social worker if you ever need any advice or support with writing your letter, or if you want to discuss information you have been sent via the Letterbox.