Later Life Letters

1. Why Write Them?

Later in life letters, explaining to a child the circumstances of their placement for adoption or with a Special guardian, are a tool for the adoptive parents and special guardians to use in their continuing and developing dialogue with the child about who s/he is and where s/he came from. They are not “optional extras” but together with Life Story Books contain vital information for the child, which will be accessed in different ways at different times throughout his or her childhood. We cannot blame adopters for not talking about adoption with children if we do not provide them with the tools to do so!

Later in life letters tell a young person that their early experiences, however painful, can be faced and acknowledged and they are not too difficult for you as a social worker to write about. It helps to remember that the child has already lived through the events that you are writing about and will already have knowledge of them, even though this may be at a subconscious level. Giving shape and meaning to what is already half-known about their personal stories may be of immeasurable help to children. Many adopted children are aware of feeling different and of not quite “belonging” – having information about the family of origin can help. Finally the letters tell the young person the truth about their past and that there are no appalling secrets.

2. General Points

Introduce yourself at the beginning of the letter and be clear at what stage in the child’s life you are writing the letter and what involvement you have had with the child.

The information in the letter is ultimately for the child when he or she is considered mature enough. In the meantime, it will be used by the family in helping the child know and understand their family background. You should therefore be writing for a teenaged child who will have the cognitive ability to understand what is involved in adoption.

The letter must be factual and detailed and should aim to answer any questions a child and/or his adopters may ask now and in the future. Parts of the letter may need to be worded carefully and thoughtfully and care should be taken to protect the child and his new family from unnecessary worry or distress. When deciding whether or not to include difficult facts, consider whether detailed knowledge of these facts is necessary to a child in order that he may make sense of his or her past and check with your supervisor. You can always ring the Adoption Support Service for advice. Remember that if a young person wants more information they can ask for access to their birth records after the age of eighteen. Try not to "colour" what you write with your own thoughts and feelings about the child’s history. If you do feel that you have to comment on some aspect of the child’s experience, own the comment as yours by writing something like "writing this I feel sad that you had so many moves in such a short space of time and I wonder if you had any idea of what was happening to you and why."

If you are writing about abuse put in the detail without comment. Adopted people want to know what happened to them. e.g. "You were found to have bruises on your buttocks and back that the doctors said had been made by jabbing with fingers. You had a spiral fracture of your right arm" "Your mother took you to hospital and you were found to have lacerations to your vulva and genital area. Your mother said that she had left a glass on the side of bath and that it had fallen in the bath and broken causing the damage".

There are rules about confidentiality:

  1. You should include the full names of all social workers for the child and the names and addresses of their foster carers or residential establishments;
  2. You should include the first names and an initial for extended family members who played a significant role in the child’s life, but addresses should be more general i.e. “On the xxxx estate” or “in area of London”;
  3. You can use the full names of other people professionally involved with the child, but not those of significant others;
  4. You must be careful what information you pass on about siblings. For instance it is not acceptable to write to a child about the abuse suffered by a sibling, even if that abuse may have led to the child being removed from the family. The details are private information to the abused child.

3. Information Which Should be Included in Later in Life Letters

The Child's birth details

Give details of the date, place and exact time of birth and who was present; the child’s weight and length at birth, and whether the pregnancy was full-term or the child was born prematurely; length of labour, if known and whether it was a natural, forceps or caesarean delivery; any significant facts concerning the birth or immediately after and whether there were any complications; was the child breast or bottle fed? (The child’s neonatal BAAF Form B will have this information.)

The Child’s original name

Give all the names which the child’s parent(s) gave him/her and any reasons for the choice of name. If a child has been baptised give details of where and when and the baptismal names. (NB a copy of the child’s original birth certificate should go with her/him.)

The Child’s Family History

It is important to include here all the facts that relate to:

  1. All the places where the child lived – names of caretakers, addresses and dates and descriptions of caretakers, their homes and families. Give reasons for each move. (No need to go into details here about the birth parents as this comes later);
  2. Names and description of each school the child attended and the reasons for each move;
  3. Child’s particular characteristics, sayings, activities and interests at various stages;
  4. Developmental milestones, e.g. when said first word, first tooth, first steps, learnt to read etc. – LAC forms will be useful here;
  5. Special friends and pet;
  6. Names of schoolteachers, school friends and progress at school (previous school reports should accompany him/her).

The Child’s Birth Mother

Names – give all her names, including her maiden name, married name and any name(s) she is known by:

  1. Date and place of birth;
  2. Her ethnicity and that of her parents;
  3. Her nationality and that of her parents;
  4. Her religion and whether a practising member of that faith. Any changes in her religion;
  5. A description of her including her height, physique, colouring and the sorts of clothes that she wears. Also include her personality, attitudes, any mannerisms and her intelligence;
  6. Family background – give details of as many members of her family of origin as possible with names, ages, descriptions, occupations and whereabouts. If you know about them, give some indication of relationships between family members. E.G. “Your mum told me that she had a difficult relationship with her mother and was always jealous of her brothers as they seemed to get more attention than she did”. State whether the relatives knew of the child’s existence and the adoption plan;
  7. Previous history – give details of her childhood, education, previous occupations, marriages and cohabitations, any children born to her. It is very important for adopted children that they have information about any siblings or half-siblings;
  8. Occupation;
  9. Skills, talents, interests and special aptitudes - sometimes special aptitudes emerge for physical activities, looking after animals, maths, cooking, gardening or sports etc. It can help a child to know who they take after.

The Child’s Birth Father

As for birth mother above.

If we do not know who the child’s father is, or there is doubt, this should be stated. Any gaps in our knowledge should also be stated. If information about the father is indirect (e.g. from the mother) make this clear. Also make clear the legal status of the father in relation to the child; was he married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth?

Relationship between the Child’s Birth Parents

  1. When and how they met;
  2. Date and place of marriage and or when they began to live together;
  3. Where they lived and details of moves.

Children born of the marriage/relationship

Give names, dates of birth, description, brief history, present whereabouts and whether they know about the child you are writing to:

  1. Relationship between the parents – if there were problems try and give reasons, e.g. practical pressures, emotional vulnerability - and avoid making value judgements;
  2. End of the relationship – if relevant. Say how the relationship ended and why. Where did each parent go and what happened to the child/ren. Date of divorce if any.

Why the Child’s parents could no longer care for him or her

If the child was being looked after by the local authority:

  1. Under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 – give the reasons and circumstances in which parents requested accommodation. What were their plans?
  2. Care Order – give grounds and reasons. If parents appealed say so;
  3. Child’s contact with parents while being looked after;
  4. If a freeing order was applied for and granted;
  5. Give reasons why the parent(s) and/or the Department decided that the child should be placed for adoption (or adopted by his current foster carers). This must be thoughtfully worded (see general notes above) If the Department made the decision the parent’s views at the time must be carefully stated.

Contact issues

Outline arrangements for contact with any birth family members, both direct and indirect at the time leading up to the adoption order. Explain that any contact agreement would be subject to review. If the child has siblings and there is no form of contact whether direct or indirect, explain the reasons for this.

How the new family was chosen

Outline what we did to choose the adoptive family and the reasons for the choice. Give some details concerning the family – names, ages, address, and existing children. (We cannot assume that the child will always remain with the present family – adoptive families like any other are subject to death, divorce or disruption.)

Describe the child’s introduction to this family and how long it took and include some comment on the foster carer’s sadness over losing the child. Include dates of “goodbye” visits from natural parents if these took place and the date the child moved into the new family.

4. If You Need Help

If you have any difficulties writing a later in life letter, discuss it in Supervision, and contact the Adoption worker who was family finder for the child or contact the Adoption Support Service.


Appendix 1: Points to Remember

Later Life Letters - Some points to remember

  1. The child has already lived through the events you are writing about and will already have knowledge of them at some level, even though s/he may not be able to access that easily. This is also true of events that happened when the child was pre-verbal;
  2. Aim the letter at a seventeen/eighteen year old. Younger children do not have the cognitive abilities to understand the processes and feelings. The adopters can judge if the child is ready, and it is easier to simplify a letter for an older child than it is to beef up a letter aimed at young child;
  3. It should be factual and detailed. Try not to colour it with your own thoughts and feelings and if you do, own them. Eg. I find it hard to write about this period of your life as I find the events so difficult and hard to explain. (However, some detail can be left for the young person to discover when they and if they come to read their files. You can consider writing something like “if you want more detailed information about these events after the age of eighteen you have the right to read your adoption file. If you wish to do so you should contact the Adoption Support Service in xxx.”);
  4. Try to find positive things to write about the birth parents. The child or young person will have many identity issues and it helps to have some positive material for them to work with. Descriptive pen pictures are very helpful for adopted people;
  5. Introduce yourself in the letter and be clear at what stage in the child’s life you are writing the letter and what involvement you have had directly with the child.
  6. Remember rules about not giving third party information:
    1. You should include the full names of all social workers for the child and the names and addresses of their foster carers or residential establishments;
    2. You should include the first names and an initial for extended family members who played a significant role in the child’s life, but addresses should be more general ie “On the x x estate” or “in y area of London”;
    3. You can use the full names of other people professionally involved with the child, but not those of significant others;
    4. You must be careful what information you pass on about siblings. For instance, it is not ok to write to a child about the abuse suffered by a
    sibling, even if that abuse may have led to the child being removed from the family. The details are private information to the abused child;
  7. If you are writing about abuse put in the detail without comment. Adopted people want to know what happened to them. “You were found to have bruises on your buttocks and back that the doctors said had been made by jabbing with fingers. You had a spiral fracture of your right arm” “Your mother took you to hospital and you were found to have lacerations to your vulva and genital area. Your mother said that she had left a glass on the side of bath and that it had fallen in the bath and broken causing the damage.”;
  8. Adopted adults always want to know about siblings, why decisions were made to place them separately and the thinking behind contact arrangements or lack of them. Obviously, you have no control over what actually happens after the adoption order is made and you can address that. “This is what we thought best at the time, we know that circumstances do change and the contact that we planned for you may not have happened. Your parents will have done what they think is right for you as you have been growing up”;
  9. The later life letter is not an optional extra, - it is an essential tool for the adopters and contains vital information for the young person. Adopters who do not have a later life letter may find it difficult to discuss the circumstances of the adoption with the children over the years. Later life letters
    1. Tell the young people that their early experiences can be faced and acknowledged – that however difficult and painful they were, they are not too difficult for you to write about;
    2. Give the young person a sense of worth and that their early experiences are valued;
    3. That nothing is being hidden from the young person and there are no secrets.

Appendix 2: Later in Life Letter Example

Dear John,

I am writing this letter to you, from Wandsworth Children’s Services Department, following your Adoption on 6th July 2013. This was such an important day for you, and an exciting time for us, as we had helped to find your new Mum and Dad and had helped you to be happy and settled in your life. I will give a copy of this letter to your Mum and Dad and a copy of this letter will also be kept safe in our Adoption archives, so that if you wish to come and look at your adoption file when you are 18years old, you will be able to understand some of the circumstances of your early life.

I am Jennifer Jones and I am the social worker who worked with you and your birth family from April 2012 up to the time of your adoption.

I do not expect you to remember me as you were so young but in your life story book is a photo and you will also find in there some more information about the events I am writing about here. It may help to make sense of this letter by looking at your life story work alongside this letter. I was personally involved from April 2012 to July 2013 through all the court hearings and I wrote reports to help the judge to make her decisions. The final decision that you should be adopted was made in October 2012. This was when the Judge made the decision that it was important for you to live with a new family. I remember you as being a very bubbly and happy baby and everyone who met you, enjoyed meeting you.

You were born on, 12th March 2012 at St George’s Hospital in London. You weighed 7lbs or 3175 grams and you were 45cms long. You were 2 weeks late and were delivered naturally. You stayed in hospital for 2 days and your birth mum stayed with you and she fed you with bottle milk. Your full birth name is John Andrew Smith. Your birth Mum is Julie Smith – her maiden name was Gordon, and she was born on 2nd January 1980. At the time of your early life she lived in a maisonette in Putney in London. We know very little about your birth Dad. You were born from a very brief relationship between your birth Mum and your Dad, Mr Brown. Children’s Services were never given any details of Mr Brown and Julie did not allow us to contact him. Your birth Mum told us that he was not interested when she told him she was expecting you and he did not keep in touch. Julie was clear that she at least wanted him to know about you, as he had a right to know that he had a son. Sadly, I cannot give you any further information. Your birth mum’s ethnicity and identity are white and her mother was Irish and her father English so this means you have some English and Irish identity. Your mum was asked whether she wanted you to follow a particular religion and she said that she would want you to choose when you are old enough.

You have five older half-brothers and a half-sister. Your half-sister, Jackie was born on 4/3/2008 and brothers, Jason 22/1/2006, William 18/8/2004, Jimmy 4/9/2002, Raymond, 10/2/2001, Adam 24/9/1999. Adam was also born from a brief relationship and his father is Jackson H. Raymond, Jimmy and William share the same father, who is William Smith. Your birth Mum spent more years living with William Smith, although sadly this was an unhappy relationship. Jackie and Jason share the same father who is Michael Mason. I will now explain a little of what happened for you and your half brothers and sister.

Your birth Mum was a loving mother, who cared desperately about all of her children. She herself had a very difficult early life, as her own mother, Angela Gordon, had three failed marriages, causing confusion and unhappiness about the stability and commitment of the adults who were supposed to look after her. Julie’s relationship with her mother became very difficult in 1995. By 1996, Julie was attempting to care for herself at the early age of 16years, so you will understand how difficult that must have been for her. She was an only child and her father was Henry Smith who left Angela soon after Julie was born.

Julie is a slight young woman, 5foot 3 inches tall or 1.6metres with brown hair, brown eyes.

Very sadly, her life style became very difficult. She began to use drugs and alcohol as a way of helping her to manage. By year 2000, your Mum had begun a relationship with William Smith, who was not always a kind man and was often violent towards her. She found it very difficult to cope.

After, Raymond and Jimmy were born, Julie suffered with some mental ill health and was admitted into the Hospital, for brief spells. It is believed that your birth Mum has suffered for much of her life, with an undiagnosed personality disorder. This means that her mind becomes a bit muddled and confused. This clearly has caused some of her difficulties. On the positive side, Julie has battled very hard against these difficulties over many years and undoubtedly has a lot of strength and courage.

All of this resulted in her life becoming very chaotic between 2001 and 2003, and she neglected herself and her children. Julie found it increasingly difficult to look after her children. Children’s Services were so worried about her care of Adam, Raymond and Jimmy that in January 2003, they went to Court to explain the poor circumstances to a Judge. On 9th July 2003 Section 31 Care Orders were granted to Children’s Services for Adam, Raymond and Jimmy. This means that the Children’s Services took over parental responsibility for the children, in order to keep them safe.

Adam was able to go to live with Jackson’s aunt, Raymond and Jimmy went to live with long-term foster carers who were later able to adopt them, Adoption Orders being made in the High Court on 6th September 2006.

Care Proceedings were also commenced for Jason and William when they were born because Julie continued to have poor health and she was not able to care for them either. A Residence Order was granted for Jason who was able to live with his Maternal Great Grandmother, Theresa. I am sure that she would have liked to look after all of her great grandchildren, but sadly she was not able to undertake such a commitment. William went to live with his paternal aunt, who went on to adopt him.

When your half-sister, Jackie was born, Children’s Services were again concerned about whether it was safe for her to remain with Julie. It was agreed that Julie could take Jackie home to her maisonette and that everyone involved with the family, would carry out an assessment with Julie and Jackie living in the community. Sadly, this did not work well. Jackie spent only 2 months with Julie before being placed with foster carers. Jackie was adopted on 1st December 2009 by a couple who had an older adopted daughter.

Then on 12th March 2012, you were born. Because Children’s Services were again very worried about how well your birth Mum could care for you, they went to the High Court, before a Judge, and applied for an Emergency Protection Order, to keep you safe. This Order was granted, and you were placed with foster carers, Mary and Harry George on 14th March 2012. You lived with them at 4, Acacia Drive Putney London SW28 9XY initially for 1 month, and then later for 7 months, and they loved you very much. They have written a letter to you which I put in your life story book which tells you all about your development while you were with them, your favourite toys and food and how your personality changed and developed. They also took a lot of the photos you have.

Your Mum was desperate to care for you, even though her life style continued to be not favourable for caring for a small baby. Although Julie had her maisonette, she often did not stay there, but drifted around staying with friends. Her maisonette was very neglected, with all the rooms, including the kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms being completely uninhabitable. Julie did not agree with us, believing that it was possible for her to live in her home and bring up her baby. She believed that her maisonette was a suitable home and seemed unable to understand our worries.

John, it may be very difficult for you to understand these circumstances and you may be wondering why people could not help to make her home suitable and support her in her parenting. You will need to understand that everything that could possibly be done to help your mum was done. It was not just the social workers helping to make the right decision for you. When we went to high court to ask for a Care Order, a special worker called a Children’s Guardian was appointed to work especially for you. Her name is Joyce Walton and Joyce had been the Guardian for Jackie and Jason and, so she knew your birth family very, very well.

Joyce worked very hard to ensure that Julie was given every opportunity possible to keep you with her. Your birth Mum also had a worker called a Community Psychiatric Nurse, whose job it was to help with her Mental Health problems. She was called Miriam Johnson and she also cared about your birth Mum and worked hard to sort out some of the difficulties.

In order for us all to support Julie with your care, when you were 1 month old, you went with your birth Mum to live in Falcon Grove Centre. The Centre is a residential home, where professional workers help to support and assess many different parents to look after and care for their children. The workers, agreed to work with Julie over a period of three months. They also felt very hopeful that Julie would manage.

Julie worked very hard in the Centre and looked after you very well. She gave you good care and she showed how much she truly loved you and wanted to be your Mum. Sadly, despite this progress, Julie continued to disagree with Social Services and the Guardian, over the issue of her home and life style. Her home continued to be totally uninhabitable and little was done by Julie to change this. Workers from the Centre visited the maisonette with Julie and tried to help her to clear it up. The Community Psychiatric Nurse, Miriam, worked closely with her and offered to bring in specialist workers, to help to thoroughly clean the maisonette. Julie continued to deny the importance of this work and made excuses as to why she could not achieve a clean, safe and secure maisonette. It was concluded that she found it impossible to change the state of her home. It was also felt that she continued to suffer from the undiagnosed Personality Disorder, which caused her to be unable to change.

It was finally agreed in court that you would be physically and developmentally at risk if you returned to your birth Mum’s care. You returned to live with foster carers, Mary and George, on 30th June 2012. From June to September, we continued to attempt to help your birth Mum sort out her home. It was hoped that Julie might find it easier to do some of the work on her home, whilst she did not have the full time care of you. Sadly, there was no progress on this. We continued to consider what was the best plan for you and there was an Independent Reviewing Officer, called Jean Abingdon, who also considered this and heard everyone’s views including your mother’s and her family and considered what was the best plan. The Final Care Order was made on 30th October 2012 and Adoption was agreed as being in your best interest.

I had helped to ensure your safe return to the foster home and helped to present the Care Plan to court. You will not be surprised to hear that your birth Mum found all this very, very sad. She did allow you to return to the foster carers but found it very hard to say goodbye. I think your Mum knew deep in her heart that she could not care for you herself. She wanted you to know that she loved you very much and she opposed our plans for you so that you would know that she did fight to keep you. I know that she kept a little blue jacket that you had worn, as something she could treasure - as a memory of your time with her.

You may also wonder why you were called ‘John’. Your Mum told the court that she really liked the name and, when she was a child, she had been very fond of an uncle who was called John.

Although it was difficult for you to be moved from your birth mum to your foster carer, back to your mum and then back to your foster carer, your stay with your birth Mum and your return to Mary and George happened within a matter of a few months. This meant that you were not too emotionally upset by what had happened and were able to settle back fairly well.

I then worked very hard to find an adoptive family for you working with another Team, called a Family Finding Team. We searched and searched and considered the families who came forward to adopt you. Your photo was placed in some local newspapers. We did also consider whether you could join any of your brothers and sisters. The problems were that there was a large age difference between you and your older brothers and because you had a different father from Adam his great aunt did not think it was right for her to look after you. Jimmy and Raymond’s adoptive parents said that were too old now to care for a baby but wanted to keep in touch with you.

William’s aunt also thought it was not right for her to look after you for the same reasons as Adam’s aunt. As I have said your maternal great grandmother very much wanted to look after you, but she decided she was too old to care for a baby. She did want to keep in touch though and thought it important for Jason to know about you and for you both to exchange cards for birthdays and Christmas with a view to meeting up when you were both older. Jackie’s adoptive parents were unfortunately not able to adopt another child as they viewed their family as complete.

Your mother wanted to know how you are getting on in the future and we set up an arrangement for your parents to write to her once a year and for her to write to you through this office. These arrangements may have changed as the years went on.

I was very pleased when I heard from Derek and Beatrice. They had seen your photograph and some details about you in ‘Be My Parent’ which is a paper which goes out to families who have been approved to adopt. They immediately wanted you as their son for reasons they found difficult to explain, they said ‘we just knew you were waiting for us and we for you’ we felt very quickly that they would be a loving and caring family for you. We were pleased to visit them and felt very quickly, that this was the right family for you. We had some very serious discussions with everyone who knew you and we all felt that this was the right home for you. After much planning you moved to live permanently with Derek and Beatrice and their son, Nick. You were 11 months old. You settled very well from the beginning.

I hope that this letter gives you a little idea of your early years and answers some of the questions you might have about why you were adopted. I hope too that you have had a really happy and fulfilling time with your new Mum and Dad and that life has been really exciting for you.

If, when you reach 18 years you feel you would like to know more about some of the things in this letter, you are very welcome to approach Wandsworth’s Post Permanence Team and they will be able to assist you. Indeed, you may be reading this letter as part of your Adoption File and will see the other related reports kept for you on this file.

I wish you every happiness in your life,

Yours sincerely,

Jennifer Jones