Letterbox Contact

Post-Box, Post, Mail, Box, Wall, Dry, Stone

Keeping birth family updated on the progress of your child is an important part any adoption journey. Something I totally agree with. So why do I often hear how hard people find it?

Agreeing letterbox contact is something all adoptive parents do. It will either be welcomed by birth families. Or not. It will either be requested and read by birth families. Or not.

I have to say, I still feel a little in the dark about this part of the process. Even seven years on. Very little guidance was initially given, even on the basics of what to include. Generally, we were told – keep it brief, simple, and unidentifiable. Reference where they are against milestones to cover development. Discuss likes and hobbies. Not a huge amount to go on.

I must point out that our contact letters are not read. Well not now anyway. We write once a year and they are put “on file”. We have never had a letter from our children’s birth parents or extended family, and we don’t anticipate this changing – but we can hope.

We always have in mind that one day birth mothers may feel the time is right to read them. But this actually makes it harder for me. If they’ve never had any updates, then one day they sit down and read years worth in one go – I question if they will give the truest reflection of the life we have. The life they helped create.

Do we downplay the indescribable happiness we have so as not to upset them? Or do we over do the good stuff to show them how much we love, cherish and care for the children they gave birth to?

I am not alone in my thoughts. Here is an honest account of how Instagram account @rosie_freckle_bird approaches letterbox contact and the challenges they face:

Letterbox is the hardest part of our lives as adoptive parents. Well, correction, I think it is the hardest part of my parenting life. I can’t do it, so my husband writes all the letters.

We are told by social workers it is imperative for children to have contact from their birth relatives and I think I agree. What I don’t think is expanded on enough though, is how facing up to writing the blooming things, can make you feel and what happens if the relationship with the Letterbox team, breaks down.

At the beginning, before bringing our children home, there were discussions around who in the birth family we would write to and how often. Even back then, I gulped. The pressure was huge.

It was proposed we would write twice a year to birth mum and a half sibling and his carer, and once a year to birth dad. Even then, it seemed we would just be getting over writing one letter, to very quickly be prepping for the next batch.  

Despite knowing it is the right thing to do – and I do believe it is right for our kids – the idea of it, never gets any easier. Four years on, knowing our kids as we now do, (they are nosy little things!), I’m sure they will be keen to read these letters when the time is right.

My husband keeps our letters simple. I think it helps him detach from who we are writing to and about whom. He has a template on our laptop. This is amended each time and saved. He sends pretty much the same letter to each family member and we have a file so the kids can see what we wrote, every year. They can see we tried.

At first, receiving a letter back from the family, was interesting. But I do feel we were falsely led into thinking this was going to be a regular occurrence. I think we’ve received four in total. The reality kicked in when we waited for a reply to a letter a few years ago which just didn’t arrive. We asked a medical question that only birth family would know. It’s hard not to become dispirited. Why should we write so often? Were they even collecting the letters from the Letterbox team? Didn’t they care?

Our children’s sibling’s parents’ have never replied to any of our correspondence. Sadly, we know nothing about the child we are writing to. We did meet our children’s birth mother, so in a way, that letter was a little simpler to write. With their birth dad, we know so few details so it’s hard to visualise him reading it.

We decided to take some action. After making some calls, our curiosity was satisfied. We discovered our letters were always collected by the family from the Local Authority – but still the replies stopped. I often felt they couldn’t be bothered to reply. I’m sure it isn’t like that. That it must be painful for them to pick them up, let alone reply. But I started to feel like it was pointless, and painful.

Around two years into our adoption, our lovely Local Authority (LA) merged with other agencies, but sadly this meant we lost a lot of their excellent customer care. We noticed mishaps starting to appear with Letterbox service. Initially we experienced administrative errors.

Then, we missed a series of letters to the birth family, which was a complete oversight on our part, but the LA didn’t alert us to this, until a whole five months after it was due. Apparently, it was the birth mother who had enquired as to where her letter was. So, of course we wrote.

Next, the one and only letter was received from the children’s birth father – it contained inappropriate content. It stated there were additional siblings (that had not been verified) and this resulted in me making various phone calls to complain. I felt the Letterbox staff were supporting the birth families in their reason for writing, and not always thinking of us. Not considering how some of the letters might make us feel. And ultimately our children.

Despite speaking very openly and honestly to the staff, I didn’t feel respected. Those were tough calls to make, yet I didn’t feel my worries were valued. I was simply told that these letters are ‘nicer than some I’ve seen’ and ‘at least you are getting some letters back for your kids’. I felt like the staff only saw the point of the letters from the birth family perspective, and not in any way ours. What the staff didn’t pick up on was how grieved some of the content made us feel. Especially me.

Letterbox contact has not always been a positive experience, and for now, we have drifted off our original agreement. We have only written once this year, but I guess we can blame Covid for that! But we will still persevere.  At the end of the day, the whole process is not for us, it is for the benefit of our children. And this is more important than anything.

To help, I’ve taken some positive action of my own. I’ve written letters I never grumble about writing. Letters to my children to explain how the Letterbox system hasn’t always worked. I’ve explained we have tried, very hard. I write honestly to my children.  I hope they will understand. These are important letters for me and ones that I think my children – as their mum – need to know.

As you can see from what @rosie_freckle_bird has shared, letterbox contact is not always easy. Not always a positive experience. Local authorities now have letterbox contact teams, but unfortunately, for some, it still doesn’t always go smoothly.

One of the things I hear a lot, is that birth families start sending letters – then stop. Why? Have they run out of enthusiasm? Do they find it incredibly hard? Upsetting. Have they moved on? Accepted. Or have they got a happy family of their own now? I hope it is the latter. Although this may provide little comfort for our children.

Either way, it is a hard situation to manage with our children. To explain why they had some form of contact and then it stopped. Luckily, there is now far more training and support available around this topic, mainly from the likes of @adoptionuk. Check out what they have available or contact your adoption agency.  Appreciate the importance and get help on the best way to approach it.

The key thing about letterbox contact, the thing that strikes me the most, is who we are really doing it for. Of course, it’s to update birth families. But most importantly, it’s for our children.

Despite the challenges, this guest blog is very clear about this. Letterbox contact means that one day we can say to our children we did what we could to keep connections alive. Memories. Their history. And this is a very good feeling.