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14.1.27 Later Life Letters

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter details the social worker’s responsibility to write a personal account of the child’s history and background. Each child including those in sibling groups must have an individual letter to be read by them at an appropriate time and to be used by the adopters as a tool for them to explain the child’s situation.

RELEVANT LEGISLATION AND GUIDANCE

Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005 (Regulation 35)

Adoption and Children Act 2002 Guidance (2011) Chapter 5

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in January 2016. In Section 2, Procedure - Child Placed with Nottinghamshire Adopters information was added with regards to social workers should use the BAAF Good Practice Guide – Writing A Later Life Letter.


Contents

  1. Policy
  2. Procedure - Child Placed with Nottinghamshire Adopters
  3. Procedure - Child placed with Interagency Adopters
  4. Guidance
  5. Format for Later Life Letter

    Appendix A: Letter and Reply Slip

    Appendix B: Leaflet for Adoptive Parents


1. Policy                                 

1.1

Purpose

  The letter written to the child (later life letter) is distinct from the life story book that will have been prepared with or for the child. It offers a more personal account of the child’s early history, including information about the birth family which is relevant to the child’s experience, from the perspective of the social worker or workers who were involved.
1.2 The later life letter has two purposes: the first is as a letter to be read by the child when deemed appropriate by the adoptive parents; the second is as a tool to be used by the adopters when talking to the child about their background and history. The term “telling” is often used as convenient short-hand for this. It is important to recognise that telling is not a one-off event, but an on-going and incremental process whereby the child is helped to learn about and understand their past.
1.3

All children must have a later life letter and each sibling must have their own individual letter.

Even if a child has limited ability to read and understand the letter for themselves, the adopters may be able to use the letter, or extracts from it, to share information with the child in a way which the child will be able to benefit from. Workers should also consider whether it is possible to make the letter accessible to children with particular needs. For example, a child with visual impairment may be able to read a letter translated into Braille, or it may be possible to communicate parts of the letter by using signs and symbols.

1.4 The letter should be written by the child’s social worker and from that perspective. It should be written once the child is settled into the placement and awaiting the court hearing. It should usually be given to the adopters within 10 working days of the adoption ceremony, i.e. the ceremony to celebrate the making of the adoption order with a covering letter and leaflet (see Appendix A: Letter and Reply Slip and Appendix B: Leaflet for Adoptive Parents) advising the adoptive parent/s of how the letter should be used. The adoptive parent/s will be asked to acknowledge receipt of the letter and undertake in writing to share the contents with the child.
1.5 The letter should be written in a way that is likely to be understood by an average child of junior school age. A social worker who knows the child well may well be able to gauge this more clearly. Adoptive parents are expected to use their discretion about what to share with their child at different times in the child’s life. They may feel it appropriate to use some parts of the letter, but not the whole letter until the child is older and more able to understand the events of his or her early life.


2. Procedure - Child Placed with Nottinghamshire Adopters

2.1

The letter should be prepared in draft at the time of writing the Annex A report. The Team Manager is responsible for ensuring that the letter is appropriate in its content and wording. Workers and managers should also consult with colleagues who have experience of writing later life letters. They may well be able to offer valuable advice about the sort of information that should be included, ways of expressing sensitive information, and so on. Social workers should also use the BAAF Good Practice Guide – Writing A Later Life Letter. This book advises in respect of:

  • What should and should not be included in a later life letter;
  • How to explain difficult or painful issues, such as abuse, death of a birth parent and disruption;
  • The importance of tone and language used;
  • The place of the letter within life story work;
  • Involving the adopters in writing the letter and explaining how best to share it with their child.
The book includes examples of later life letters to help to illustrate and clarify the practise advice.
2.2

Once in draft form, the letter should be shared and discussed with the adopters. It may be useful to carry out a joint visit by the child’s worker and the adoption worker to go through the draft letter with the prospective adopters.

The prime responsibility for sharing the letter with the child will be that of the adoptive parents. As they will be the ones who help the child interpret the information contained in the letter, it is important that they feel from the outset that it is a valuable tool which they will be able to use in a positive way. Adopters often have a natural instinct to protect their child from the harsh realities of their past, and experience has shown that the way in which information is recorded and expressed in the later life letter may be crucial in shaping their intent as to when, how and even if they will share this.
2.3 On the basis of the discussion, the letter should be amended as agreed and the final version produced in time for the making of the adoption order. The child’s worker must sign the letter, print it on County Hall headed paper and send it to the adopters. The child’s worker is responsible for uploading or scanning the final letter onto the child’s file.
2.4 The later life letter should be with the adopters within 10 working days of the adoption ceremony, i.e. the ceremony to celebrate the making of the adoption order. A leaflet and covering letter is sent with a reply slip, seeking confirmation of receipt and agreement to sharing the letter with the child as part of an on going process of enabling the child to talk about and understand their past.
2.5 The reply slip will be returned to the child’s social worker and must be scanned into the adopter’s file as a Document.


3. Procedure - Child placed with Interagency Adopters         

See Inter-Agency Placements Procedure.


4. Guidance

4.1

When writing the Later Life Letter the worker should always bear in mind two crucial factors:

  • It is a letter and not a report;
  • It is to a child and not an adult.
Both factors should influence the style in which the letter is written.
4.2 Adoptive parents should have been prepared to be open about the child’s adoption throughout childhood. The detailed information in the later life letter will be appropriate to show the child when they are mature enough to understand it. This will vary from child to child, depending on the child’s abilities, the adopters’ willingness and capabilities in terms of on going telling, and the complexity of the child’s history.
4.3 A later life letter should be written for every child irrespective of the amount of life story work and counselling the child has received. Life story books can be lost or destroyed and will have been prepared at a level commensurate with the child’s age and understanding at that time. A later life letter can develop the information contained in the life story book and add significantly to the information available to the child as they grow older.
4.4

The letter should honestly reflect the child’s history and accurately reflect the birth family’s circumstances. The narrative should clearly distinguish facts from opinions or supposition. It should offer explanations, but not excuses. Where children have been abused this should be acknowledged, with a clear statement that the abuse was neither the fault nor responsibility of the child. There should be no need to construct a “cover story” about a child’s background.

Adopted adults have access to information from their birth records, so letters to children should be consistent with the information that the child may receive later in life.
4.5 When writing the letter, bear in mind that any identifying information (e.g. specific addresses) may place at risk the stability of the placement by enabling the child to trace birth family members of their own accord. It is preferable to be cautious if details are known and alert to potential risks, although general geographical areas may be included.
4.6 The letter will inevitably include information about the birth parents, their backgrounds, their situation at the time of the child’s birth and the subsequent events and factors which resulted in the child being placed for adoption. Much of this information will be very sensitive and the question arises as to whose information it is. The social worker should exercise judgement, caution and sensitivity about what is recorded and how it is phrased.
4.7 This may be particularly applicable to information about the birth parent’s health. It is legitimate to include information which has a bearing on why the birth parent was unable to care for their child, but unrelated health information should not be included unless there is a good reason to do so. The question should always be asked, “Why does the child need to have this information?” Given the sensitivity of some of the possible health issues (e.g. birth mother’s history of previous terminations) it may be advisable to take advice from the medical adviser and/or the legal adviser about the wider implications of sharing this information with the child.
4.8 Later life letters will probably be quite lengthy if they are to do justice to the information that needs to be shared. It is helpful if they are divided into sections prefaced by a phrase such as “and now I am going to tell you about...” You can also refer forwards and backwards within the letter (i.e. “I will tell you more about this later” and “Do you remember I said earlier...?”)
4.9 Pay close attention to language. The use of social work, medical or other jargon (e.g. schizophrenia, personality disorder or sibling group) should be avoided wherever possible. Where it is necessary to use a complex word or phrase ensure that you give a clear explanation of the meaning. As a general guide, imagine that you are trying to explain something to a 9/10 year old and use those words.
4.10 It is preferable to personalise the letter wherever possible (e.g. “When I first met you...”) and to include any anecdotes of your own or those obtained from foster carers. Positive personal comments help children to feel good about their early life or birth families, and may provide a balance to some of the more negative information.
4.11 If the social worker who is responsible for writing the letter has not known the child long, attempts should be made to contact previous social workers and others involved in the child’s life to seek information from them. Notes made at Life Appreciation Meetings may also provide a useful source of more personal anecdotes or views of the child.
4.12 Letters should be presented as attractively as possible by using a font and font size which can be read easily. The use of borders or clip art is not advisable as this may be inappropriate for the age at which the letter is read by the child.


5. Format for Later Life Letter

5.1

Beginning the Letter

 
  • Begin by introducing yourself, stating the length of your involvement with the birth family and child;
  • If previous significant social workers were involved, give their names, and when and why they were involved;
  • Acknowledge that the child’s adoptive parents are aware of the contents of the letter, and state that if the child does not understand something or has any other questions the adoptive parents will help them.

5.2

Description of Birth Family Members

 

Concentrate on those family members who have had the most significant relationships with the child and therefore most relevance to the child’s experience. Children can be unnecessarily confused and burdened by information about more distant birth relatives who did not play a significant part in their early life. Details of other family members should have been recorded in the Child Permanence Report or in a genogram or family tree. Information may also have been included in the life story book. The letter can refer to this additional information if appropriate.

  • Explain the birth family situation at the time you became involved in the case, including where the children were living, the whereabouts and situations of the birth parents and of any siblings;
  • Describe significant family members:
    • First name;
    • Date and place of birth if known (this can be particularly important for black and minority ethnic children);
    • Age when child was born;
    • Ethnic origin;
    • Physical description, appearance and personality. 
  • Include as much information as possible about birth parents’ background and upbringing, education, work, interests and health (see 4.6) and about their relationship. Include as much information as is available about the putative father, including the source of the information and whether or not he accepts paternity. Use the term birth mother/father, rather than simply mother/father, as this may be confused with the adoptive parents;
  • Where siblings have been placed separately from the child include as much information as possible about their situation (whilst recognising that in some circumstances there will be a need to preserve the confidentiality of the sibling’s placement).

5.3

The Child’s Birth

 

Record details of the child’s birth:

  • Date of birth;
  • Name or hospital/town;
  • Time;
  • Weight;
  • Length and/or head circumference;
  • Physical condition;
  • Circumstances around the birth (ante-natal care, type of delivery, concealed pregnancy, birthing partner/s, etc.);
  • Name given by birth parent/s and reasons for this;
  • Time spent in hospital with birth mother.

5.4

The Department’s Involvement

 
  • There will already be a chronology which may help the worker to structure the events which were key to the child’s past. However, the letter should explain such events in a much more personal way to give an overview of the child’s early life experience. It should explain the process which began at or before the child’s birth, and what was happening to the child whilst events were unfolding (e.g. where the child was living and who was caring for the child);
  • Include all of the child’s moves and changes of care along with information about previous carers and their families which may be significant for the child e.g. names of children, particular holidays they may have enjoyed, names of teachers/schools etc.;
  • Provide clear explanations of when and why crucial decisions were made, including information about the court process and the role of the Children’s Guardian;
  • Although some birth parents may remain firmly opposed to adoption, many reluctantly accept that this is in their child’s best interests. Wherever possible, the letter should explain the birth parents’ attitude to adoption, any responsibility they are able to take for the events which have led to this, and their hopes for the child’s future, assuming these are supportive of adoption and child centred;
  • Where final visits were arranged with birth parents or other birth family members provide an account of who was involved, where the visit/s took place, what happened, positive comments made and any gifts given;
  • Prospective adopters will frequently have a one-off meeting with birth parents before the child is placed. If this occurred, it is important to record the meeting with details of who was involved, when and where it happened, and any positive comments or expressed wishes for the child’s future;
  • This section should not dwell significantly on the time after the child’s placement for adoption unless there are major changes in the birth family situation, as the adoptive parents will be able to convey that information themselves.

5.5

Contact

 

Whilst contact may prove to be a significant aspect of the child’s experience following placement for adoption, there are difficulties in describing arrangements which are proposed at the time the letter is written, but which may have changed considerably by the time it is read. For this reason it is better to deal with contact in a more general way.

For example:

"As your social worker, I felt it would be helpful if (birth mum’s name) and your mum and dad wrote to each other once a year through the Letterbox. It is sometimes difficult for people to do this, but your mum and dad will be able to tell you if this has worked out”.

Or

"Birth mum’s name said she would like to write to you once you were adopted, but I wasn’t sure she would be able to keep this up. She had not always kept her appointments to see you before and although she meant well, couldn’t always do what she said she would do. Because of this I thought it would be better for her not to write to you. When you are older you may want to meet (birth mum’s name) and your mum and dad will help you to arrange this”.

5.6

Ending the Letter

  Convey your best wishes for the child’s future and comment on your own pleasure at being part of the child’s life in a simple and balanced way. As far as possible your final greetings should be consistent with the tone of the letter generally. Terms such as “lots of love” or “have a great life” should be avoided.


Appendix A: Letter and Reply Slip                             

Click here to view Appendix A: Letter and Reply Slip (This can be found On forms on-line).


Appendix B: Leaflet for Adoptive Parents

Later Life Letters

What is a Later Life Letter?

It is your child’s personal link with the social worker who will have played a part in why they are adopted and the events around why they came into care.

Different Children, Different Letters

All letters will be different because all children are different and what they need to be told will be different.

Different social workers, Different Styles

All letters will be different because how every social worker writes a letter will be different. However all letters should contain the information that will be needed to help your child to understand why they came into care and why they were adopted. It should provide answers to the questions that they are likely to be asking you. Realistically it is likely that some questions may still remain unanswered.

So What Do I Do with this Letter?

Please do not file it away and forget about it until your child is eighteen!

You can use it at different times and in different ways:

  • As your child gets older then share with them parts of the letter or anecdotes from it that will help you to explain to them why they came into care and why they were adopted by you;
  • When your child is old enough to read it and understand it, then give them the letter.

How to Use the Letter

When you are given the letter for your child make sure you are familiar with its contents. None of the information should be new to you, but the way it is expressed may be. You will need to keep it somewhere safe so it can be used whenever this is appropriate. 

It is your child’s own letter and a link with the social worker who knew them in the past and made decisions about them. You need to be familiar with its contents so that you can draw information from it whenever appropriate. You will be able to share parts of it with your child as they grow up and need you to help them understand their past. The letter should be one part of all the information and tools that you use with your child as they become older to gain a better understanding of their adoptive status.

You will need to consider how best to do all this with your child. It will be your responsibility to decide what they need to know and when they need to know it as they get older and more able to understand some of the complexities of their background and early experience.

This is quite a responsibility and can be challenging for many adoptive parents who are naturally protective of their child and of the relationship they have built.

What If I Need Some Help?

If you need further assistance or advice contact the Support After Adoption Team on 0115 9787376.

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