Letterbox: a guide to indirect contact

What is letterbox, or indirect contact?  This is simply a means to keep in contact with family members and/or foster carers through letters and correspondence.

How will we know what to do?  An agreement will be made before placement.  It is clear and prescriptive about who you are being asked to write to, when, how often, and what to include.

Who decides this, and when?  Each party should feed into the Contact Plan before placement as part of the matching panel, so make your voice is heard.  Remember, you are making decisions for a child; the detail of the plan should be in their interests.

And the legal lowdown?  Some are informal, and some part of the Placement and/or Adoption Order so legal requirements may vary.  It is, however, expected that you follow the recommendations.

Is it safe?   Protocol removes the exchange of addresses; letters are sent securely via a third party letterbox (hence ‘indirect contact’), and content is checked and then forwarded on.  But mistakes are made.  I’ll be blogging about this elsewhere, as well as the impact the letters have on us.

What do you put into the letters?  We begin by writing updates about the tapestry of life: my hair is long, I like spagetti, I won the football, I stayed in a caravan, I got a new tooth.  As she gets older, we also add in more of her burning questions, opinions, and whatever she wants to get off her chest.

How do you go about writing them?  I always work alongside CHT.  First, I grab her short attention span and note down her swift monologue.   Next I type up and ‘extend’ her words into letter form.  I then read it back, and add or remove as she sees fit.  I adapt the letter for each person we write to (sister, parents, foster carer), and then she signs it off and sometimes adds a message.  The whole process usually takes a few days so she can deal with it in small emotional chunks.

What about the photos?  CHT chooses her favourite photos of the year and we make up a collage and print them off on lovely quality photo paper.  We do take care not to choose any photos that identify or place us – like school uniform or landmarks.  Not because of ‘cloak and dagger secrecy’, but because we believe contact of all kinds should be a planned choice on both sides.

Should we include anything else?  CHT often does a drawing – usually just one – which we copy and put into each envelope.

What about the letters we receive?  You may, or may not, get replies.  Family are often not told the same protocol as you are (crazy I know), so may not be sure what they are supposed to do.  Our experience is that if we do get a letter, it usually comes as a reply in response to ours.  The letterbox checking system isn’t fail safe, so I usually do a quick once over of the letters first; this also helps me prepare for what support CHT might need.  The time delay also means that Christmas/Birthday cards for CHT never arrive on time.

What if the letters have difficult or inappropriate content?  From our experience it is pretty evident that no one gets any support or guidance in how to write these letters.  People can easily make mistakes through just not thinking things through.  If there is a clear problem or issue, then communicate this to your letterbox contact person and ask for your needs to be asserted.

Any other Mumdrah tips?

Send from the heart: I always support CHT to create something that reflects what she feels; it helps to imagine what we would want to receive. I don’t just mean the content, I mean the care and consideration put into them.  For us the letters are like lifelines.

Go easy: When we receive letters, sometimes we read them straight away, sometimes CHT wants to wait a while.  Once we’ve read them and poured over any photos that arrived, I copy them and store the originals – along with the accompanying letter from SS -and CHT keeps the copy to look at at her leisure.  This means that we can always make a copy when I find them tearstained under her pillow, forgotten under her bed, ripped up and thrown from the window, defaced and ruined, or screwed up in the bin.

Remember whose letters they are: I have never for one moment considered archiving her letters ’till she is older’.  They are her letters, and it is not my right to withhold them. That would be my general advice, but of course that would change if the content was threatening (but then i think SS would be dealing with that for you).

Continue the connection: If the letters mention a song or similar, we often go and listen to it afterwards.  I try and find any way to strengthen the connection and bridge the divide through the events and the news that are shared in the letters.

Keep everything that comes through letterbox.

See what BAAF has to say about indirect contact.

Letterbox contact – not as daunting as it feels.

Family ties

In Mumdrah’s world, there is nothing simple about Family. 

Convoluted and complex, the warm care and comfort of our family comes with a deep pain hidden in its folds.  Love – for us – walks hand in hand with a hurt that haunts.

On paper we are just one woman and one girl, but in truth we are Legion.

Around our kitchen table sit people shaped holes. We do not know their smells, their feel, or how they like their tea in the morning because our knowledge of them is more illusion than real.  But they still belong with us, like a backbone.  And we favour giving them a presence in our everyday over the mistaken pretence of leaving them behind.

There is no competition, nor rivalry.

The strength of CHTs feeling for each of us is separate and contained, though it may sometimes chafe or collide, ebb or flow.  Accepting the dynamics of this love – far from alienating or undermining us – builds bridges and bonds us closer. The love she has for her mother presents no threat; for her to feel unfaithful would be the measure of my own deep failure.

This is our family, this is our circumstance.

Why hide?  Embrace and explore family ties with honesty, whatever the consequence; in spite of it.  There is no sanctuary from it’s shape, from its history, from its pain; but there is danger in the exile of any one of its parts.  Challenging though it may be, discovering and questioning the reality of her life story helps find a way through the pain.

Turning away from the truth leaves unanswered secrets.

Longing left unanswered becomes backfilled with fantasy. These children come to us young, but will not always be so.  Questions left unanswered now will return – in a year, ten, twenty – swollen and festered with yet more questions about complicity, deception, and time wasted.  Missed opportunities.

Our family may be formed like no other, but it is real; and we embrace it as it is. 

Family ties – for just two of us, we count in more parents and more siblings than you can shake a stick at. 

Introducing Mumdrah

A need inside has been growing.

Competing with the responsibilities, demands and emergencies that rule and shape my everyday. Finally this desire has won a place in my list of priorities; and a blog is born.

There is so much to tell you, so much ready to spill out of me.  But stories are best shared when gently unfolded; so we will start with some basics of navigation in Mumdrah’s world.

Adoption brings out the best, and the very worst in me.  It involves a daily discovery of raw inner strength and resource i never new existed;  the pure, white love of devotional saints, the blood red claws of a protective lioness.  But i also stumble into the black depths of despair, frustration and anger; a selfish triad who slip their chains to release a screaming banshee that – once calm – is crushed by the horrors of her own lack of humanity.  The yin and yang of adoption.

I see this as a journey of four parts: birth parent, adoptee, adopter, and the poor bewildered collective of friends and family dragged unwilling into the intrepid journey. They say there is no wilderness left to explore, and yet the outback territory that adoption leads me into requires a machete.  There is no compass or map to guide us, no local knowledge to welcome or point to the right path; Debrettes can tell us nothing about the rights and wrongs of charting these rough but rewarding seas.

We hope to navigate our way through, knowing there is no way out.  Trying to find and build as much self love and wholeness during our journeying, while scaling the bitterness and trauma to cut it down to size.

Adoption is the forging fire into which we – all four – are thrown; to be hammered, shaped and changed irrevocably.  A process which causes as much pain and torment as it does triumph and agape.  It builds you up and strips you down, exposes you and isolates you, turns you upside down and inside out.

And i wouldn’t have it any other way.