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How The Letterbox Service works

The Letterbox Service allows adoptive parents and members of an adopted child's birth family to contact each other and share letters and photographs without names and addresses being exchanged.

How it helps

In the past an Adoption Order meant that all links between the birth families and the adopted child were severed. It was believed that a 'clean break' would help everybody put the past behind them and make a fresh start. 

We’ve learned that the lives of those involved in adoption are bound up with each other. Birth parents, irrespective of how their lives turn out in later years, never forget the pain of parting from their children. 

If you're a birth relative, taking part in the letterbox can help you to:

  • maintain links with your child
  • find out current information about your child, their health and progress
  • inform the child about changes in your life
  • prepare for the possibility of direct contact, if this is what the child chooses when they’re an adult

If you are an adoptive parent, taking part in the letterbox can help you to:

  • give answers to your child's questions, based on more recent information
  • help your child achieve a more complete identity
  • find out information unavailable at the time of adoption (for example regarding a medical condition that’s occurred after the adoption, and which may be hereditary)

Who can use the letterbox service 

The service extends to:

  • all children placed for adoption by the Children’s Service
  • their birth relatives
  • the adoptive families

The term 'birth relatives' usually means a child's birth mother or father. It might also include brothers, sisters, grandparents or other close relatives (if they have been a significant person in the child's life prior to adoption). 

All arrangements are made between the adoptive parents, the Children’s Service and Adult Birth Relatives. Some adopted children may want to write to their birth family themselves, with the agreement of their adoptive parents. 

Setting up individual letterbox arrangements

The arrangements for when contact should be exchanged and what form the contact should take, are agreed before the Adoption Order is made. This is done through the child’s Social Worker who liaises with the Letterbox Co-ordinator at the Children’s Service. All involved in the exchange sign agreements to signify their intentions to take part in the indirect contact.

Sending contact information 

Arrangements are made before the adoption order that best meet the needs of everyone involved. How often contact is sent varies from case to case. It’s usually once or twice a year. It’s best to avoid birthdays or significant religious festivals, for example Christmas. 

If the arrangement no longer appears to be appropriate, contact the Letterbox Co-ordinator. They'll liaise with the other parties involved and try and reach an agreement for change.

Writing the letter

This is a matter of  personal choice but it can be helpful to think about who is going to read the letter. If the child is still young, it’ll be the adoptive parents. 

A young child will not have the concentration to listen to a long letter. It’s more appropriate to write the letter to the adopters and the child together, for example Dear John, Jane and Peter. As the time passes and the child grows older, it may be appropriate to reconsider this. 

Many adopters wonder if they should write a chatty, newsy contact letter or whether this would be too painful for the birth relative to read. It can be painful to hear some of the little details of family life but most birth relatives appreciate adopters’ personal letters and find chatty letters very reassuring that the child is loved and valued in their home. 

You may like to send news about: 

  • your child's health and development
  • their progress at school
  • their hobbies, interests and what they’re good at
  • their looks and personality
  • how they get on with friends and family
  • a recent incident from family life, for example something that happened on holiday
  • any changes in your family, for example, new brothers and sisters

Your letter might include a photo or a drawing. 

Deciding on the content of the letter

You may like to send news about: 

  • major events (such as birth of brothers or sisters, marriages, divorce, illness and deaths, emigration etc)
  • the news of the last year in your family
  • people, places or even pets your child knew before adoption
  • things that may have worried the child at the time of adoption (for example your own situation, health etc)
  • your child's roots and family background, including your culture and religious beliefs
  • yourself, your relationships, interests, jobs and health
  • any important family medical information

Signing the letter 

If your child has been adopted, it can be very painful recognising that they have another Mother, Father, Grandmother or Grandfather. 

Most people feel the situation is best handled by signing the card with your first name, for example Anne, or a combination such as Mummy Anne. In most cases, if the contact comes signed 'Mum', 'Dad' etc, we’ll return the letter to you and ask you to send it in again with different wording.

Address and telephone number 

The letterbox exists to enable birth families and adopters to write to each other without having to exchange names and addresses. 

We can't forward letters with addresses or telephone numbers. We’ll return the letter or remove the information if this is possible. 

Once your adoptee reaches 18 years old it’s their decision to continue use the letterbox or to write directly.

Sealing the envelope 

We ask that you leave your  envelopes open as we check  letters for addresses and telephone numbers. We also photocopy the information so we have a complete record.

Put the first names of the adopted child and the adopters, and the full names of the birth family, on the envelope. 

All contact should have a note explaining who the contact is from and who it’s for. 

Length of letterbox arrangement

The arrangement is reviewed when the young person is 18 years old, or before this if it’s  requested. It can continue beyond 18 if this is requested by the young person (adoptee).

The agreements are not legal documents but they are an indication of each person's intentions at the time they were signed.  

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