Letterbox service

This service allows information to be exchanged between a child’s adoptive family and members of their birth family

[Updated 25 March 2020]

Birth families and adopted children

We are looking closely at how we can support contacts between birth family and their adopted children in these challenging and ever-changing time because we recognise how important it is for the child to have this contact with their birth family.

Letterbox exchanges

At the time of this update (25 March 2020) our main offices for managing these exchanges (Follaton House and Electric House) are closed to the public and the post room is also closed. This means that any letters sent to the letterbox service will remain in the post room and we will be unable to access them until circumstances change. At this time we don’t know when we will be able to access these letters but we can reassure you that the letters are kept in a secure and confidential place.

Our letterbox coordinators are going through all of the forthcoming contacts to assess whether we are able to facilitate the exchange at this time. However, it is extremely likely that there will be a significant delay in the exchanges at this time and unfortunately at the moment we are unable to say how long the delay will be for. We will also be unable to facilitate view-only photos at this time.

To help us facilitate an exchange please email the Adopt South West letterbox, with your name and address to: childsc.adoptsouthwestletterbox-mailbox@devon.gov.uk so that we can confirm your up-to-date email address and as such may be able to facilitate an email exchange.


Information published before March 2020:

The letterbox service is usually a voluntary arrangement where adoptive parents and birth families agree to keep in touch by exchanging news once or twice a year.

The benefits

Research has shown that most adopted children benefit from having information about their birth family as they grow up. It can help children to develop a sense of identity, reassure them about the wellbeing of their birth family and let them know that they haven’t been forgotten.

Adoptive families benefit from knowing more about their child’s birth family origins, family traits, health issues and medical history. They often find that the exchanges of information with birth relatives helps them to talk more openly with their children about their adoption.

Receiving these letters lets birth families know about their child’s progress and development and offers reassurance about the child’s wellbeing.

How it works

Letterbox arrangements are usually drawn up before the child goes to live with their adoptive family. These arrangements set out exactly what will be exchanged and when the exchanges will take place.

Once an agreement is in place, a confirmation letter is sent to both families. Reminder letters will be sent out a few weeks before news is due to be exchanged. If a letter from the birth family doesn’t arrive in the due month, we will send a reminder letter.

Only items which can be easily posted can be exchanged through the letterbox service. Your agreement may include:

  • letters
  • photographs
  • cards
  • drawings
  • gift vouchers.

Exactly what can be sent, when and how often will be agreed between you, your child’s social worker and your child’s adoptive parents.

The letterbox social worker and coordinator can offer advice and ideas to help you write your letter, and can arrange to meet with you if you prefer.

We will photocopy all letters and cards so there is a complete record on the child’s letterbox file in case anything is lost in the future.

The letterbox service has a Freepost address, so there is no need for postage to be paid.

Confidentiality

The news and information that birth relatives receive is for the recipient only and they are responsible for its safekeeping. It should not under any circumstances be posted on the internet, on sites like Facebook, for example.

Contact arrangements

A contact order is sometimes written into an adoption order, making the arrangement legally binding.

However, most contact arrangements are made informally between adoptive and birth families, with the help of their social workers.

The contact plan will be discussed when the child is approved for adoption and again when the child is being placed for adoption. The best interest of the child will always come first when the nature of the contact is being decided.

Will my child see my letter?

The adopters will have to consider:

  • the age of the child – if they are too young to read, the letter may be put away to be read when they are older or they may think it would be better to share the news in conversation with the child
  • how the child will receive the news – if it is felt that hearing news of birth relatives will be distressing or unsettling, the adopters may choose to save a letter until the child is more settled.

Changes to the contact agreement

The child’s welfare is at the centre of any decision made about contact.

The contact plan doesn’t usually form part of the adoption order. The agreement is voluntary and can only succeed if both birth family and adopters are willing to participate. It is very rare for adoptive parents to pull out of an agreement and we will always try to discuss any changes with them.

Sometimes we lose touch with birth relatives because they:

  • forget to tell us they have moved
  • don’t claim their correspondence
  • choose to withdraw because contact is too painful for them.

We would encourage the adopters to continue to write in with their news which we will keep on file for the future and if a birth relative gets in touch with us again, we will have up-to-date news to send on. They may, however, choose to stop writing and contact between the families may be lost.