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.