Tag Archives: letterbox

Help with Writing Letterbox

Today Sarah from The Puffin Diaries  shares her experiences and ideas about writing letterbox contact…

letterbox

I remember having to write my first letterbox contact and feeling a little bit lost. Yes we had been giving some advice by social workers but actually coming to do it, and suddenly sitting in front of a computer screen, it was all a very different matter.  For some letterbox comes as part of a child’s profile, something you need to be prepared to take part in for certain children. For me it never seemed like something I couldn’t do, however as the years have gone on I have struggled at times. It’s great therefore that I have a strategy for doing the letters, a plan to help you through and get the job done.

As I’m writing this post from my own experiences, not as a complete expert if anyone else has any good suggestions please let us know in the comments below.

  • I try and cover a couple of main subject areas, achievements, likes and dislikes, health and any major events.
  • Don’t give too much personal detail, as in names of places or other people in your lives.
  • On the whole I keep it positive.
  • As your children get older ask them if there are things they would like to share in the letters.
  • I try to write at least a page of A4 in double spacing.
  • If you have to write a number of letters, duplicate what you’ve written with slight personal amendments. For example I write to birth mum and grandma, I add a little extra for mum but on the whole the letter is the same.
  • Keep copies of the letters and any pictures you send. I think it’s great for the children to see what you’ve written and it can make a good diary of events through their life.  I keep all ours in a folder.
  • We include photographs in our letterbox. I made a decision early on that I didn’t really like sharing our family pictures. What I do is send copies of school pictures and make sure that they have the shots done with no sweatshirt on, so the school can’t be identified.
  •  I usually ask politely that we receive a response, even though we have only ever received a couple of letters in the early years. The children ask why we don’t get replies and ask that I write that they would like to hear.

It’s not always easy maintaining this contact, especially when you don’t receive replies. However, I believe it’s important for your children to know that you have tried your hardest to keep to an agreement you made. As children get older it is good to include them in the process. I am still happy to write the letters, but do always ask if they want me to write and what they would like to be included. I am aware that some older children do not wish this contact to be continued and I believe this is very much a point of discussion and thought for each individual family.

As I said above, if you have any useful tips of your own I would really like to read them, as I’m sure others would too, so please add in the comments below.

Adoptee reflections

We have a second guest post today, this one an anonymous reflection on contact…

‘I’ve got three dads and two mums’ I hear my self saying this at work quite a lot. I use it to try and help children understand variety in family life and help feel more secure about their situation. I work in a supervised contact centre supporting children to rebuild safe relationships with parents and I have a growing number of cases where the courts have ordered direct contact to take place for children (typically ages 4-11) with a parent they have either never met or have no memory of.

Despite the legal context being different, (parents have not legally lost their parental rights) I see many similarities with the dilemmas facing contact and reunions for both adopted children and adoptive parents. For the children, it’s about having the freedom to make choices free of guilt and worry. Rebuilding relationships is a dynamic process and children experience a wide range of emotions they often don’t understand. Parents on both sides are expected to be able to manage this in the best interest of the child, yet so often their past experiences, own inability to trust, lack of support, plus fear of the future, cloud this process. We are only human after all. Emotional beings. We process everything sensory and emotionally first, before processing it rationally. It is a fine skill to be emotionally intelligent, something most people have to work at, not a given.  In my eyes we now expect people to have superhuman emotional resilience and manage these complex interactions as if second nature. What a wonderful world that would be.

Adoption in 2015, is a different animal to when I was adopted, and the question of open adoption is a curious one and something I reflect on regularly. Especially when working with thecontact letters cases described above. I was once asked by my social worker, if I had the option of letterbox contact as I was growing up do I think this would I have engaged with it? My instant reaction was ‘No, no way’ I would have found it confusing as a child, I wanted to know I had the security of my family and not have to worry the feelings of my birth parents. What happened if when I grew up, I could just run off to them when times were hard at home? (of which there were many). Now given my understanding of the effects of my adoption, I ponder if I would have. Maybe it would have helped the whole of my very large complex family let go of so many of the harmful feelings that hurt us all.

After all there were no safeguarding issues, I wasn’t taken away under a care order, I was relinquished (although my birth mother would dispute the use of this word) at birth. I later found out upon meeting her that she never even held me, her sister did before I was put in an incubator until being adopted at 6 days old. My dad said when they came to collect me I was in the middle of a big room all on my own, because all the other babies were out on the maternity ward with their families. An image that has clearly stuck with him and sticks with me.

I am only now fully realising the rippling effects of my adoption.

Despite having gone on to be a fiercely independent adult completing a BA hons & MA, travelling extensively and forming some incredible relationships, I struggle inside. I don’t see myself the way others do. I don’t have a strong sense of self, that got lost as I hit my teenage years. My adoptive parents divorced when I was 12. The conflict, tension and silence was not conducive to a healthy mind. I averaged my way through school, below 70% attendance to avoid my bullying friends, who picked up on the fact that I was indeed different.

My self-esteem can at times be crippling low, my fundamental belief being ‘I am not good enough’. It is exhausting at times, especially now I have a responsible, professional job. I see failure at every corner and blame myself so much, that if it were true I would be a god.

As for my birth parents, I made contact at age 22, they had married a year or so after having me, when they were pregnant with their second child. I have four full siblings. The consequence of my adoption for my birth family I cannot fairly describe. Our reunion has been, to date, protracted. 8 years of indirect and direct contact. Two of my siblings still do not know about me, two do, but I still have not had any form of contact with them. My understanding, openness and forgiveness (only I loth to use that term as I do not feel my birth parents need forgiving. In my eyes they were a victim of circumstance as my maternal grandfather was responsible for the adoption) cannot overcome the damage that shame, guilt and helplessness has created. Our relationship is currently on hold.

Would letterbox or possible contact as I grew up have made a difference to this, would it have opened up a dialog to share what had happened to all of us? Would my birth parents been able to forgive themselves? Would it have helped me understand my identity, given me stronger foundations and would we all be more resilient?

As for how my adoptive parents would have managed this I don’t know. My mother said she supported me to find my birth parents, up until I found them. When I sent her a photograph of them, she ripped it up. When I met them, she asked me to stop. I don’t agree with the way she has acted, but I also don’t blame her. The reaction she had is the same I see in so many of the parents I work with in the contact centre.  Having children fulfils an emotional need, to detach the child’s needs from your own is not an easy feat for everyone. Not when their past or culture pollutes this. All I could offer my mother was the reassurance that my need to contact my birth parents wasn’t about a rejection of her. It wasn’t enough.

When I was adopted I don’t think there was any pre adoption training, certainly no post adoption support. Information on attachment theory, let alone adult attachment theory would have been scarce. I doubt it came into assessment. Life story work was not around, nothing to help my parents or me think about how the past effects the future.

I simply don’t talk about it with my mother anymore, it’s too painful. I can’t bear to hear the anger. Another closed door.

My dad is different, he’s supported me throughout, but again, it’s a rarely spoken about topic these days. I think he’s frustrated and upset with how the reunion has turned out. He and many others say their loss. I don’t feel that way, I think OUR loss, all of us. Nobody is a winner in this.

My social worker now wants to research the topic of letterbox and opening adoption and I said I’d contribute. I think 8 years on, considering all of my experiences so far, I have to conclude that something would have been better than nothing. None of us have dealt with it. We all hold it as best we can, unhealthy in the majority of our cases. Despite my pressing for openness, it appears that it’s too late 30 years on.

I now work hard at trying to support parents so they can help their children have the opportunity to learn about their histories, to develop relationships, to learn openness and to learn how to talk about and manage emotions. I have learnt that those are the things that are important, it’s challenging and very messy, but the alternative I think is even messier. The effects hit you years later and it’s far harder to work backwards.

Resource information on contact

We have collated a resource list, which may be helpful in relation to contact. Whilst we believe the content to be of use, we suggest that individuals carry out their own research to ensure it will be of use to them. Websites, Web Pages and Helplines Guidance on writing letterbox – a guide published on The Adoption Social. Here’s an example of a successful contact letter that you might find helpful. And in contrast, an example of a contact letter that was rejected by the Letterbox Social Worker. An interesting post on the pros and cons of post adoption contact from The Child Protection Resource website. The Adoption Contact Register – you can add yourself to the government register here to help you make contact, or note that you don’t want to be contacted. Contact – a list of relevant articles on Be My Parent. Direct and indirect contact – an explanation of contact on Be My Parent. Types of contact – an overview and more information from Adoption UK. Writing Your Letterbox Letter – Cumbria County Council have advice for adoptive parents. Adoption UK Helpline 0844 848 7900 All agencies should have information about their letterbox agreements available. Many are published online, so you could try searching online for your local authority/voluntary agency agreement. Books and Television Programmes Facilitating Meaningful Contact in Adoption and Fostering – this is a review of a book available from Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Supporting Direct Contact After Adoption – a book available from BAAF.

For Peer Support

The Open Nest – forward thinking adoption support charity. The Potato Group – parents of traumatised adopted teens organisation

Feelings on contact

We’re always pleased to have opinions and guest posts from a wide variety of people. Today’s post is from Suzanne, whose grandchild was removed and placed for adoption…

I personally think it (contact) should be facilitated. Adoptive families and birth families, if parents are not suitable then other relatives. In a mutually agreed venue, preferably not too public, but DEFINATELY not local authority. If only the once. But more often if agreeable. After all we are talking about a child’s identity. Letterbox is sterile and not a trustworthy form of contact if the birth parents have had a bad time with Social Services.
With only a letter it could just as easily be fabricated. While I have heard stories for and against this idea, the ‘for’ camp wins as far as I cannot trust what I am told by anything Local Authority.

Our son, his brother, sister and us wanted contact initially with the adoptive mother, perhaps IMG_1014over the years starting with our son; the father so that she could build up a relationship and as she felt more sure of us to include ‘the daughter/grand daughter/ niece later as she grew older. So she could come to know us as an introduction for the future. To see we are not the monsters we are sure the adoptive mother at least has been told. We have absolutely no assurances that this is not the case just meaningless comments to the contrary, “why would we want to paint your family as monsters?” To us it is painfully obvious from the way we were all abused before, throughout and since the court dates. Or is that just the way they do it in the Home Counties?

Our hopes for the future were dashed as a result of malicious and inhumane dealings with social services. How much of the denial of photographs or other items such as cards was a spiteful recommendation of Social Services we will never know. I have been in a caring profession for almost 40 years. Not in my wildest dreams did I think that there were people who also are supposed to care but are like the ones we have dealt with. Heartless and spiteful and for all we know that includes the adoptive mother we have no term of reference. All we have is bad experiences.

As an RGN I have a code of conduct, duty of candour and care. To have made all this up is an offence. I also made the police and hospital aware of my concerns they did nothing. A critical incident happened while in care of the Local Authority and nothing was done. I brought that to everyone’s attention and it was covered up Their internal inquiry gave enough for the SCR.

All I wanted was for my Grand daughter to be kept safe and given good care while in Local Authority care. They did neither. Two Social Workers should have been disciplined for their inactions. They were not. Yet with all the information I gave them to point them in the direction of problems it was me that was the problem to be eliminated from my grand daughter’s life. Yet all I get is letterbox. I have wondered if they think I would tell my son where any contact happened. That is against my code of conduct!

I appreciate not all experiences will be the same. I think my professional status and knowledge did not help any party most of all us. I can see the Social Services viewpoint but if the SGO had worked we would have walked the line and my son would not have jeopardised the arrangement  as they all said he would. Too late now. Our son lost a daughter but saved from maintenance payments  and same situation of no access at mercy of her mum. So adoption not the worst outcome for father or daughter. ‘Silver lining ‘ perhaps.

Issues of contact

Another guest post today from an adoptive parent, sharing experiences of direct contact…
Depending on the age, relationship and what type of contact is implemented, my views sibling contactare that if contact between siblings, birthparents or birth family take place then every effort should be taken to ensure the quality and frequency of contact is in the best interest of the child.
I have six adopted children all of whom have many birth siblings and all my children are now young adults. Physical or written contact should be accompanied by discussions between the carers and the adopted child to sustain a relationship outside of the actual contact meetings.
For example I adopted a child when she was three and her elder birth brother many years later. They had very little contact with each other prior to joining my family and it became apparent after they were placed with us that not enough work had been carried out to look at the real value and depth of their birth sibling relationships.
 
My son found it extremely difficult to form the attachments that many children develop naturally with their birth siblings and who are raised in the same family environment.
The lack of attachment and/or quality or regular meetings lead to; inappropriate expectations, behaviours and problems with boundaries. Because the relationship between the siblings was not sustained or had not been in place at an earlier time the attachment issues, boundaries etc was only identified when the two children came to live in the same family. These issues and others like loyalty and guilt all played a crucial role in the development of my children’s relationships with each other as well as their other birth siblings who had been placed in individual families.
 
I think I’m saying it’s simply not enough to go through the motions of sibling contact once or twice a year, or for example to write at Christmas or other times. We need to be mindful how children worry or fantasize, about their siblings and family when they are away from them and the distress or impact this will have on young or even older children as well as on the way we parent.
From a personal perspective nearly all my adopted children who when adults sought out their birth siblings or families; experienced episodes of further rejection, disappointment and further loss after contact attempts failed through a variety of reasons. In hindsight a robust plan/attitude to contact could have consolidated relationships much earlier.  And a transparent and proactive approach to ‘good’ contact avoids some of the painful or added trauma in their lives.
 
I can draw upon another example where one of my eldest adopted children was so desperate to find his birth parents and his racial identity that he ignored requests for professional support and found his birth parents anyway. Managing this became a nightmare as he had shared his intention to contact the birth family despite his younger siblings were under 18 at that time and the parents continued to undermine our parenting and relationship with all our sons.  The level of aggression and resentment the birth parents levied towards us, as parents became so untenable I had to consider the involvement of the police. Again the divided loyalty my children felt towards both the birth parents and us as adopted parents exacerbated many of the problems the children/young adults had already experienced or had to cope with.
It’s been in our experience that a great deal of adopted parents feel very personally threatened about contact and therefore over protective of their adopted children and family. Our attitude to ‘good’ contact has always been positive but our son’s contact with their birth parents have continued to be so negative and difficult that slowly our sons are withdrawing from their relationships with their birth parents, more specifically their birth mother who is unwell. It is sad that things have come to this and in an idea world ‘everyone’ would get on! 
 
Because my children are only able to deal with one set of parents at a time, we have had to take the adult decision to ‘stand back’. This has been one of the most difficult challenges as watching the parents harmful interaction with my son’s their erosion of all the work we’ve done with them and our inability to continue to protect them from the negative side of the relationship with their birth parents has been one of the hardest challenges of raising my family. 
 
There are many successful and positives in contact between children, parents, siblings and their families.  Contact can when managed well and the children and families are prepared and supported can be so beneficial and a win, win for all concerned
 
There are many who would share very positive experiences based on the benefits of successful contact between children, siblings, birth parents, families and even previous foster carers and their families.  After all they were all part of the child’s life experiences.  Our experiences of contact are not in isolation and by sharing some of the ‘problems’ can give us; more knowledge and opportunities to look at ways of how we can improve the whole issue of contact.

Adoption Sore Point – Contact

We are going to do it all again and this time we want to talk about CONTACT.

sorepoint

 

 

 

 

Maintaining contact with an adopted child’s birth parents can be very difficult for many families. Some find it too difficult to agree to contact right at the very start of their adoption journey, others find the momentum to continue with contact, difficult to sustain over many years. It can be a tricky topic to discuss because families feel protective of the lives they have created for their adopted family, contact can seem to threaten this.

Today, social media can also bring unsolicited contact, complicating family life, sometimes with a devastating effect. For others well managed contact has added depth and meaning to an adopted child’s life story and brought them a greater sense of identity.

So what are your views and experiences of contact?

Do you think maintaining contact is important?

How could contact be better facilitated?

What are your concerns and worries around contact?

Has maintaining contact been a positive experience for you?

We want to hear everyone’s opinion on this. We already have some contributing pieces from adopters, an adoptee and an adoption social worker but, we would be interested in hearing from anyone one else who would like to contribute. You can email us at theadoptionsocial@gmail.com.

Our Sore Point week will commence on Monday 13th July. 

We will have posts each day related to the topic of contact and will hope to offer a diverse set of opinions and experiences.

We will have a #TASchat, twitter chat, on Thursday 16th July 9pm GMT on the subject of contact.

We will have a special contact themed #WASO on Friday 17th July.

We will be using the hashtag #Sorepoint during the week.

We would also like to include a list of resources, so if you know of anything which would be helpful to others, around the topic of contact, please let us know.

And as we said before, if you would like to contribute or even have an idea for something to include in the week, please contact us at theadoptionsocial@gmail.com

 

Letterbox contact from a birth family perspective

Today’s The Blog post is from an anonymous contributor, and looks at Letterbox from a perspective that we’ve not had on The Adoption Social before. We’d love to see more posts from a wide range of people who have been affected by or are involved with adoption, do contact us if you’d like to contribute.

When I was nineteen, I met a girl my age called Emily.
Emily was warm, bubbly and hilarious. She was the single parent to her six week old daughter, Ella. Emily and I became the best of friends. I love children, and spending time with Ella was the highlight of every day. I was going through a pretty tough time myself, and spending time with Emily and Ella was precious.
I was aware that Emily had a history of mental health problems, but saw little evidence of this in my interactions with her. Emily was an attentive mother to her daughter – Ella was always well dressed and had all the latest toys and baby gear. 

first birthdayThings started to change just after Ella’s first birthday.

Emily became withdrawn and sulky, and professionals commented that they were concerned about the about of stimulation that baby Ella was receiving. It’s a long and tragic story, but suffice to say, Emily’s mental health continued to deteriorate.
At the age of two, Ella went into foster care, and at the age of four she was adopted. Emily has been in inpatient psychiatric care since the week that Ella was taken away. 

I think to bystanders, normal members of the public, adoption is often seen as a good guy, bad guy, clear-cut scenario. The well-educated, financially stable, middle class adopter takes in the child of the person who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do the right thing by their children.

As a direct result of my relationship with Emily and Ella, I decided to return to education, and I am currently a trainee Social Worker.  I find myself in a strange situation, having letterbox contact with Ella, while also training to support mums like Emily.
When writing to the adoptive family, I feel inferior and inadequate. As if somehow I should have stopped Ella from being hurt, as if I could have done something more to help. I feel like I have hurt Ella, or at least not done enough to help her. Logically I know that’s not true.
Part of the reason for these feelings, I suppose, is the (completely necessary) secrecy that surrounds the adoption and contact process. All I know is the adopters’ first names. I don’t know which town Ella is living in, I don’t know her surname or where she goes to school. I completely understand why this needs to be the case, but it has the effect of making me feel the bad guy. As if, if I knew where she was, I might go and try and see her. As if I’m untrustworthy. As if I would ever do anything to harm that family, who have looked after Ella when Emily, and I, couldn’t. 

letterboxLetterbox contact involves writing to the adopter, it is down to their discretion whether they show the child any letters or pictures that are sent, and at what age. For me, I’m not fussed about whether Ella is seeing the letters I send- I have no doubt that she will have no idea who I am now, she wouldn’t recognise me if she passed me in street. But I do hope that they are being kept. When Ella grows up, she will have a lot of questions, and I never want her to think that it was a clear-cut situation- that she was not wanted or loved.  Its funny because I work with families every day who are in very similar situations to Emily and Ella and don’t bat an eyelid. Yet when the time comes to write the annual letter I cry like a baby myself.

There has been nothing clear-cut about this process. It was necessary for baby Ella to be cared for by someone who could meet all of her needs, I have no doubt about that. But Ella missed every day. Letterbox contact is a lifeline, but it isn’t any easier for the birth family than the adoptive one. 

Secrets

Today’s The Blog post come from Kat, whom you’ll find more about on our Contributors page.

The locked doorWhen our children came home, we always said, there’ll be no secrets in this house. If they ask a question they’ll be given an (age-appropriate) answer. Our daughter has memories of her life pre-adoption and she’s been very matter-of-fact about it and we talk openly and honestly. Our son, removed at birth, has very different experiences, but since he came home at 7.5 months, if our daughter has been looking at her Life Story Book, we’ll get his out too and we’ll compare pictures, talk about their birth family and who fits in where; she tells him all about it and he ignores her and tries to eat the book – it’s all very ‘normal’ in our house, so hopefully it will become just another part of his life too in time.

 

Doesn’t all this openness sound simply fabby?

There is however, a rather large elephant in the room and it’s called Letterbox.

We haven’t told her that we write to members of her birth family or to her brother’s birth parents. She has the vocabulary to express how she feels about anything and everything, but not necessarily the understanding.

She has just come out of a phase of being absolutely afraid that her birth family will find her, so the fact that we are in contact at all will completely freak her out. We just don’t feel she could cope with knowing at the moment.

At the same time, I feel very hypocritical. I am proud that we are open, that nothing is off limits but at the same time we are hiding the fact that we correspond with members of their birth family (although it’s one way traffic at the moment). A Twitter friend suggests that next year when Letterbox comes round again I could ask her how she would feel if I wrote to them and gauge it from there and I think that’s a good plan to have in mind.

If I’m totally honest, I fear for her answer. I fear she’ll feel angry, afraid, betrayed and not trust me when she finds out I’ve written at all.

In the past, she has said that she wants certain birth family members to say sorry to her. She also says that she doesn’t want to see them ever as she has (in her words) ‘a happy time now’. I know this will probably change, but I doubt her desire for privacy ever will.

Our daughter kind of instinctively ‘knows’ what she can talk about outside of the home, whilst inside the home anything goes. I don’t know if it’s something to do with her absolute watchfulness that barely slips, or whether her nature is that she separates the different areas of her life. Maybe we’ll never know.

Since the age of 3, she has said, “People are always talking about me. I want them to stop. I don’t like it at all,” And yes, that’s all she’s ever known since Social Services became involved when she was 6 months old; whispers, talking, medicals, more whispers. So how will she feel when she discovers I’ve been writing about her to the family she was removed from?

All of this is a little bit raw since I have literally just posted the last letter for this year. Maybe it will get easier. Maybe it won’t.

Either way, one day I’m going to have to bite the bullet when I feel she’s ready, put my feelings aside and tell her.

What are your thoughts on Letterbox? Do your children know you write or like Kat, is it something you’ve refrained from sharing with them?