The letterbox contact system between adopted children and their birth families is outdated, complicated and prioritises administration over building relationships. It is a system that is not delivering. The latest report from national charity Pause explores families’ experiences of letterbox contact, reveals the failures of the system and argues it’s time to deliver on letterbox contact.
Letterbox contact is an indirect form of contact where adoptive and birth families exchange letters, often once a year, usually through an adoption agency or social services. It is the usual form of post-adoption contact in most of the UK and has remained so for 40 years. The changing nature of communication and legislation during this time has led to little change in the system.
Pause’s Time to Deliver report, which includes views from birth mothers, adoptive families and professionals who support them, finds that:
- Over half of professionals who support birth parents and responded to Pause’s online survey thought the quality of letterbox contact in their area was average, poor or very poor (52% combined). Surely, we want a family time system that is more than that?
- Nearly three quarters of adoptive families and women who work with Pause who responded to the online 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 and responded to the survey said that they were not sure what they can write in their letters.
Jules Hillier, CEO of Pause, says:
“We know that good quality contact arrangements between children and their birth families can be vital to children’s wellbeing. However, for children who have been adopted, and for their birth families the current letterbox system all too often fails in this aim. The system is badly administered, lacking support and communication and is beset by confusion, delays and poor organisation. This only serves to frustrate and disappoint birth parents and adoptive families. That must change – that’s why we’re saying it’s time to deliver on letterbox contact and to put an end to the misery caused by the current system”.
’Catherine’ (not her real name) is a woman who is on the Pause Programme and has letterbox contact with her children, who have been adopted. She said:
“[It] made me feel disconnected. I might write and receive letters twice a year, but this does not make me feel closer to them. This just makes me feel sad because I cannot physically see my children are okay. I cannot hear my children say they’re okay, it’s just a few words on a piece of paper that someone else wrote on my children’s behalf. My eldest is 10 next year, yet no letters are written by her”.
Pause makes the following recommendations for change to make letterbox contact fit for purpose:
- Increased support for birth parents and adoptive families post-adoption, to enable them to take part in letterbox contact;
- Regular reviews of letterbox contact arrangements;
- Investigation of alternative, digital post-adoption contact systems;
- A designated letterbox coordinator or team for all local areas;
- Improved communication and understanding about letterbox contact.
Notes to Editors
Pause is a national charity that works with women who have experienced or are at risk of having children removed from their care. We offer an intensive, trauma-informed model of support to women, so the removal of a child should never have to happen more than once. Since 2013 we have reached around 2,300 women who have had over 7,000 children removed from their care. Find out more at www.pause.org.uk.
To read the Time to Deliver report and find out more about the campaign, please visit www.pause.org.uk/letterbox-contact/ We are incredibly grateful to all those who took part in the research and made this report possible.
Further questions about the report or about Pause’s work, or to arrange an interview please call 07825 113283 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.