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What adoption means

Adoption is a way of providing a new permanent family for a child who cannot be brought up by their first family. The first family is also known as birth family. It means the permanent transfer of parental responsibility for your child to their adoptive parents, meaning that you will no longer have legal rights for them.

The decision for a child to be adopted is not made by One Adoption or by the local council, but by the court, unless a birth parent requests adoption for their child. The law requires adoption agencies and the courts to make sure they put the child’s long-term welfare first when they make decisions about adoption. Once an Adoption Order has been made, the child will become a full member of their adoptive family.

What is post adoption contact?

If your child or relative has been adopted, it is likely that there will be some form of contact or keeping in touch arrangement in place. This could be direct contact (face-to-face or over the telephone) or indirect (via a letter or email), which is often called ‘letterbox contact’.

At the moment there is no legal requirement for adoptive families to maintain contact of any kind with their child’s birth family after the adoption order has gone through. However, research shows that contact can have major long term benefits for people who have been adopted, therefore we encourage people who have adopted through One Adoption to actively participate in contact agreements. The contact arrangements are discussed before the child’s adoption and a voluntary agreement between the two families will normally be arranged.

The extent and form of contact will be determined by what is in the best interests of the child. If anyone involved wishes to change the terms of the contact agreement, they can ask for it to be reviewed.

Why is contact important?

When contact works well it can help adopted children to develop a good understanding about their birth relatives, help with feelings of loss and to know their whole identity is respected and valued – their birth identity and their identity as an adopted child. Research has shown that when adopted children are helped to understand their history and value their birth identity, they are more likely to feel accepted and thrive.

Adoptive parents value the exchange of letters as a way of reducing the child’s sense of loss, answering their questions and keeping up to date with changes in the birth family. Successful post adoption contact can help to prepare everybody involved for future meetings during childhood or in adulthood.

Here are some leaflets which explain more about contact after adoption: 

What is letterbox contact?

Letterbox contact is where the adoptive and birth family exchange a letter, email or card, and sometimes photographs, every year. It provides a confidential, indirect way for adopted children to receive information about their birth family and for birth relatives to receive up-to-date information about the adopted child. 

Adoptive families will normally send details of the child’s achievements and milestones, physical health and progress at school, while birth relatives will tend to write about events in their lives. This is an adult-to-adult correspondence – adopters will be expected to share letters received with the child at a time when the child is old enough or emotionally ready.

Writing to a stranger is difficult for anyone, so support with letter writing is one of the services available to birth families through PAC-UK.

Here are some examples of letters to give you an idea of what to include: 

Letterbox FAQs

What sort of news should I send?

Your letter should be a sharing of information so you can hear about what day-to-day life is like, share important news and get to know each other better. You may want to write about interests, hobbies, holidays, work, health and other family members. It is important to think about the possible impact of the information you share. How would you feel reading this letter?

What should I do if it’s not working?

If you have any worries about your letterbox arrangement please contact us. We will do everything we can to help.

What if the news I receive is distressing or difficult?

There may be times when you receive information that is difficult to hear or you may have news to share that you think may be upsetting. If this happens please contact us for advice and support.

What if I don’t send any letters?

It can be hard to continue to write letters, particularly if you don’t receive any in return. However, it will help your child to know that you understood the importance of keeping the link between both of their families open. You can start writing letters at any time. So even if you haven’t sent letters for a few years, when you feel able to start writing, please contact us for support with this.

What if I do not receive any letters?

We know it can be difficult or disappointing when you do not receive a letter as agreed, but it could be for one of many reasons and does not necessarily mean something is wrong. We will try to make contact with the adopters to offer support. We would ask you to continue to send your letters and it may be that, in the future, you start to get letters again.

What if I cannot send my letter in time?

We understand that sometimes life becomes busy. If you think you are going to be late sending your news, please let us know so that we can contact the adopters to let them know. We ask adopters to do the same if their letter to you will be late so we can let you know and stop you from worrying.

What can I send?

This will be agreed at the start of the arrangement. If you later feel this needs to change please contact us and we can discuss your concerns. Unfortunately we are not be able to forward on any parcels.

Can I get help with reading or writing letters?

Yes. Please let us know if you need some help with this.

What happens if I don’t confirm my address or contact details?

We do not want your information to go to the wrong person, therefore we will not send out any letters until you confirm your address with us. We will hold onto it until we hear from you.

What about confidentiality?

We treat all information received carefully. We will not disclose your information to the other party. We will keep a basic record about the exchange. It is your responsibility not to place photographs or other information received via the letterbox service onto social media.

What support is available to birth families?

A specialist organisation called PAC-UK provides support services for birth parents and relatives separate to One Adoption or the Local Authority.

PAC-UK's specialist birth parent and relative support services includes: an advice line; a First Family Service; face-to-face and telephone counselling; private intermediary services (for birth relatives of adults adopted as children); and support groups.

The Advice Line, 0113 230 2100 is open Monday, Thursday and Friday 10.00am-1.00pm, Tuesday and Wednesday 4.00pm-7.00pm (excluding bank holidays).

You can also email advice@pac-uk.org to request a call back. 

First Family Service

If your child no longer lives with you or there is a chance this may happen, PAC-UK offer free advice and support for birth mothers, fathers and relatives.

The First Family Service can:

  • Listen to your story and how you are feeling about your child’s adoption.
  • Explain the often confusing process of adoption and what that means for you and your child – now and in the future.
  • Help write a letterbox letter. Most people find the first one particularly difficult.
  • Help you to write a letter for your child for when they are older explaining what happened and how you feel about it.
  • Let you know how other parents like yourself feel. We run friendly support groups in some areas.
  • Look at the reasons your child was removed and what you can do to keep a future child if you want to.
  • Meet with you in a convenient place and discuss what is most helpful to you. What you say is confidential.

The First Family Service has its own Action Line that you can call and leave a message requesting a call back or text on 07975 846 249, alternatively, you can email firstfamily@pac-uk.org 

PAC-UK also provides counselling, tracing and intermediary services to support everyone affected by adoption. If you have lost someone to adoption they can:

  • Trace the adopted adult and make the first contact on your behalf.
  • Support both parties through the initial stages of reunion.
  • Offer specialist guidance throughout.