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8.2.17 Later Life Letters

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

The later life letter is written by child's social worker, and will be given to child when they are considered old enough by their adoptive parent(s). It is an expanded version of the Life Story Book (see Life Story Books Guidance) and gives more detail of the child's history and the decision making process.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was fully reviewed in December 2018


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Purpose of the Later Life Letter
  3. What Information Should be Included?


1. Introduction

Later Life Letters are written by the child's social worker to a child who is being adopted, with the aim of helping the child understand their past, increase their self esteem and strengthen their resilience. The letter is given to the prospective adopters at an appropriate time after the Adoption Order is made - usually within 10 working days of the adoption ceremony, i.e. the ceremony to celebrate the making of the adoption order. The adopters should then give the letter to the child at an appropriate time in the future.


2. Purpose of the Later Life Letter

The Later Life Letter should explain the child’s history from birth and provide an explanation of why they were adopted, including the reasons why they could not live with their birth family.

The child is the focus of the letter and it must be remembered when writing the letter that the child has a need to know why they were placed for adoption. The letter should be able to give the child a personal sense of their own history and a sense of their value and worth, something that a court report or the Child’s Permanence Report (CPR) cannot provide. The letter should, whenever possible, include the views of all the people involved in the adoption process, including the birth family.

Remember that every child will see the letter at a different age, and so the letter, whilst being truthful, must be written so that a child can understand it.

Our expectation would be that the child sees the letter when they are around 10-12 years, but the final decision on timing is at the discretion of the adoptive parents. In very difficult situations (e.g. incest, mental health problems, abuse) it may be better to write two letters. The second one for when the child is in their mid-teens, and better able to understand their history.

The letter is in addition to the child's Life Story Book and should never be a substitute for the book - see Life Story Books Guidance. The main difference between the Later Life Letter and the Life Story Book lies in the depth of the detail being shared with the child. Thus, more detailed and sensitive information should be included in the Later Life letter as the letter will be shared with the child at a later age when they are emotionally able to understand and deal with the information.

You have all the information you need. Think of yourself as an adopted person, what information would you want, what questions would you ask your birth parents?


3. What Information Should be Included?

3.1 Beginning the letter

  • Begin by introducing yourself;
  • Acknowledge that some time will have passed before the letter is read and that the child may not remember you;
  • Talk about your role in relation to the child, the length of your involvement, and the reason for writing the letter;
  • Mention other previous significant social workers who were involved (if that is the case) - give their names, and when and why they were involved;
  • Acknowledge that it might be difficult for the young person to read the letter and that they can ask of help from their adoptive parents while reading it.

3.2 Write about the mother’s pregnancy and the child’s birth

It is important to include as much information possible about the mother's pregnancy and the child's birth. This is often the information that children would like to know.

Include:

  • Date and time of birth;
  • Name of the hospital;
  • Weight;
  • Experience of pregnancy;
  • Length of labour;
  • Type of delivery;
  • Time spent in the hospital with birth mother;
  • Who was present;
  • What happened next?
  • Who cared for the child after their birth?

3.3 Include Information about the Child’s Life Before and After Care

It is important to include all facts related to:

  • Where the child lived – include names of caregivers, addresses, dates, description of caregivers and their family and talk about why they had to move;
  • Names and descriptions of any nurseries or schools attended;
  • The child's development milestones – such as when they said their first words, had their first tooth, took their first steps, learned to read;
  • The child's particular characteristics, sayings, activities, interests at various stages;
  • Details of any child's friends and pets.

3.4 Describe the Birth Family Members

It is important to focus on those family members who have had the most significant relationships with the child and had an influence on the child's experience. Details of other family members who were not significant to the child's experience could be found in the CPR or in the genogram and the letter can refer to these additional sources if necessary.

What to focus on:

  • The birth family's situation at the time you became involved in the case – where the children were living (mention the house, surroundings, etc) and the situation of the birth parents and siblings;
  • Describe the family members:
    • First name;
    • Date and place of birth if known;
    • Their age when the child was born;
    • Ethnic origin;
    • Physical description, appearance and personality.
  • Include as much information possible about birth parents:
    • Their background and upbringing;
    • Academic and employment history;
    • Interests;
    • Health;
    • The parents relationship;
    • Use the term 'birth mother/father' to avoid confusion with adoptive parents.
  • Include information about siblings if they were not placed together. Are they adopted? If they live with birth parents, explain why. The child needs to know what happened to their brothers and sisters, who cares for them, and if relevant, why there is no contact. Be careful to give only first names for all birth relatives and do not use addresses or other identifying information. Be mindful about the amount of information you include, it should be long enough for the child to know what happened to their siblings, but remember that the child is the focus of the letter.

3.5 Talk about reasons for adoption

There will already be enough information to help describe the events that led to the child being placed for adoption. However the key thing about the later life letter is that it gives the opportunity to explain these events in a more personal way.

The following explanations are found to be the most common for why the birth parents could not care for their children:

  • Their parents were struggling with problems or troubles of their own;
  • Their parents have never learnt how to look after and care for others;
  • Their parents might be too ill;
  • Their parents may have been shown the wrong way to look after their children.

It is important to include clear explanations of when and why the big decisions were made, and who made them. The child needs to know the reason behind these decisions and need to have a confirmation that the decision was in their interest and the best option for them.

The letter should also include, wherever possible the birth parent's attitude to the adoption and their hope for the child's future.

3.6 Explain how the family was chosen

Write about:

  • Some details of the adoptive family, including the process of choosing and the reasons for choosing the current family;
  • The child's introduction to the adoptive family – the process of introductions, reactions, etc;.
  • Date of moving to the new family;
  • Final visits with birth parents or other birth family members – mention who was involved, where the visit/s took place, what happened, positive comments made and any gifts given.

Talk to the adopters about the letter(s). When telling the child’s story, it is important to be positive as well as negative. We rely on the adopters passing on this information, so involve them. Ask if you can talk about their hopes, fears and feelings at the time of the introductory meetings and placements. Can you include the reason why they wanted to adopt?

Give details of how any agreed contact was decided - whether it is "face to face" or Letter Box. The child needs to know that birth parents and other relatives want to hear about their progress, and that the adoptive parents agreed to the contact arrangements prior to placement.

In the letters the birth parents should be called by their first names, and the adopters described as "your parents".

End