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Letter box contact system outdated and needs modernising to reflect technical advances

Letter box contact between adoptive and birth families is outdated and needs modernising, according to a report by Pause, a charity which works with women whose children have been taken into care.

The charity states that the current system is outdated, complicated and doesn’t always lead to the development of long-lasting, meaningful relationships, where it is in the best interest of the children.

“Letterbox contact is rife with challenges that make developing long-lasting relationships difficult for families. We have explored the experiences of women working with Pause, adoptive parents and professionals working with families and found that, despite adoptive parents and women working with Pause wanting to maintain relationships, this can be challenging when the medium used to communicate is outdated, hard to understand and, in some cases, not informed by the adopted child or children’s needs,” said the report by the charity ‘Time to Deliver’.

“It is also clear that there is often insufficient support available to make letterbox contact work for all parties, and that this can be detrimental to future relationships and the child or children’s view of their identity,” said the report.

Letterbox contact is an indirect form of contact where adoptive and birth families exchange letters, often once a year, through an adoption or fostering agency.

Key findings from the report include: 

•             Over half of professionals who support birth parents and responded to the online survey described the quality of letterbox contact in their area as average, poor or very poor. 

•             Nearly three quarters of adoptive families and women who work with Pause who responded to the survey (70% and 69% respectively) stated their letterbox contact had never been reviewed. 

•             The system is complicated and full of uncertainty. 60% of women who work with Pause who responded said that they were not sure what they can write in their letters. Similarly adoptive parents also talked about challenges with writing letters. 

•             Over 80% of professionals who support birth parents and responded to the survey said that having a designated person support contact would be effective in supporting relationships with children. 

•             Due to the support women on the Pause Programme received, the women experienced significant improvements in their relationships with existing children, both in managing the emotional and practical challenges of family time arrangements and in coming to terms with complex forms of loss and their maternal identities.

•             The system needs modernising. Letterbox contact has remained the typical plan over the last 20 years, despite technological advances offering new forms of communications.

“Where it is safe and in the best interest of the child(ren), these can be beneficial to family time arrangements, allowing adopted children to communicate in ways that are more familiar and interactive than a letter,” the report added.

Pause recommends increased support for birth parents and adoptive families post-adoption, to enable them to take part in letterbox contact. Letterbox contact arrangements should be reviewed after a specific amount of time, while the option of digitally mediated post-adoption letterbox contact service should be investigated.

The report calls for all local areas to have a letterbox coordinator or team and urges communication and understanding about letterbox contact to improve.

“Clear and regular communication is crucial to ensure children, birth parents, adoptive parents and other carers can understand the letterbox process. Specialist support must be offered to support families with letter reading and writing, and any written communication around letterbox contact must be in plain English. There must be assurance that everyone involved understands any changes happening before they are put in place,” said the report.

“We want letterbox contact to be considered in the wider approach to family time arrangements and to be carefully planned to suit the needs of the child or children as they progress in their lives,” the report concluded.

Time to Deliver

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