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8.20 Later Life Letter


Life Story Books Guidance


In April 2017, this chapter was extensively updated and should be read in its entirety.


  1. Introduction
  2. Purpose of the Later Life Letter
  3. What is important? Everything!
  4. What Information Should be Included?
  5. How? Write it to the Child
  6. Examples of Later Life Letter's for an Adopted Child

1. Introduction

The later life letter is written from the child’s social worker to the child, for them to read when they are considered old enough by their adoptive parent(s). It follows a narrative and is an expanded version of the Life Story Book and gives more detail of the child’s history and the decision making process.

Although the Later Life Letter should contain more detailed information than the Life Story Book, if it contains more than basic identifying information, (i.e. names and dates of birth), of relatives their permission should be sought. Permission should also be gained to include names and identifying details of foster carers or teachers etc.

The letter should be jargon and acronym free, and explain who people are. Terms like ‘neglect’ or ‘threshold’ should be explained, so that a clear rationale is provided for the adoption.

It is handed to the adoptive parents in an open envelope, within 10 working days of the adoption ceremony, i.e. the ceremony to celebrate the making of the adoption order. The precise timing of the passing of the letter to the child will be considered at the placement planning stage and at subsequent Adoption Review s for them to keep for when the child is old enough to hear the full details of their background history.

A copy of the letter must be provided to Barnardo’s CAFIS on the contact file, another to the Adoption Support and Special Guardianship Team (ASGST) and another is put on the child’s adoption file to be archived, so that, should the adoptive family lose their copy, it will still be available for the child in future.

When the child or young adolescent is ready to be given the full Later Life Letter will depend on their personal circumstances, and on the nature of the details contained in the letter. Adoptive parents are left to be the judges of when this should happen, but in the intervening years they may well refer to the information contained within it to be able to honestly answer the child’s questions.

2. Purpose of the Later Life Letter

The letter is provided not only to help adopters bring up the child but also to the child him/herself. When the child has read this letter s/he should be clear about their history and why they were adopted. Prospective adopters need to be reminded of the importance of the child’s need for information, over the years, about his/her birth family.

The Later Life Letter should accompany every child placed for adoption regardless of how much work (which should include the preparation of a Life Story Book) has been done with the child.

The information in the letter will ultimately be for the child, when (s)he is considered mature enough. In the meantime, it will be used by the family in helping the child to know about and understand his/her background. Should the child’s placement disrupt, this information should accompany the child back into a foster home.

This letter must be full, detailed and truthful and should aim to provide answers to all the questions which the child and his/her adopters may ask about the adoption, now and in the future.

The child is the focus of the letter and it must be remembered when writing the letter that the child has a need to know why he/she was placed for adoption. This is important information and it must be a true account of the process.

Remember that every child will see the letter at a different age, and so the letter, whilst being truthful, may have to be written so that a child can understand it.

An expectation would be that the child sees the letter around the ages of 10-12 years, but the decision on timing would be at the discretion of the adoptive parents. In very difficult situations (e.g. incest, mental health problems, abuse) it may be better to write two letters. The second one for when the child is in mid-teens, and more able to understand about his/her history.

The letter is in addition to the child's Life Story Book and should never be a substitute for the book - see Life Story Books Guidance. The letter can refer to the Life Story Book and explain that as the child is now older, they are ready to receive more information.

3. What is important? Everything!

The information may be lost if not gathered together from the time the child is first known to Children’s Social Services. When ‘Words & Pictures’ stories and other forms of direct work have been done with the child, they can form a strong foundation for the life story book.

Explanations can be given of the worries that professionals and other family members had about the care, why adoption remained the plan, using any safety plans that were developed at the time.

Experience shows that adult adoptees are eager for information collected at this time, even if it is painful.

The letter can be personalised by the social worker who knew the birth parents and the child at the time of the placement, and before, giving context to the birth and early years of the child.

Be confident - don't be intimidated by the task. It is difficult but not impossible.

You have all the information you need. Think of yourself as an adopted person, what information would you want, what questions would you ask your birth parents? Bear in mind the type of information that is passed on from generation to generation in families where the child’s history is known.

It is a good idea to write the letter in sections, for instance the legal situation could be separate from the more personal information. Initially adopters and the adopted child will need a simple explanation to share with the family and friends; this can then be built up in to the full and true story of events. As stated earlier, in very difficult telling situations it is a good idea to have two letters.

4. What Information Should be Included?

Birth parents - as much information as possible should be included. Information should also be given about the extended family (i.e. grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles). Sometimes information on the birth father is limited. Whatever is available should be provided. If the identity of the birth father is not confirmed by him, only non-identifying information about him should be included. If information is given about birth relatives by others this should be made clear.

Include a clear family tree, so that all the relatives and connections named can be understood. Ensure half siblings are shown. Explain who people are in relation to the child, their importance, and carefully record how the child referred to them at the time (even if this was not the actual relationship e.g. ‘mummy’s friend that you called Aunty’.

Try and give a descriptive picture of the birth parents. This should include details about their first names, ages, physical characteristics, their personality, academic and employment history, health, their interests and skills. Also with whom they were living at the time of placement. If the child has brothers and sisters, similar information should be given. Are they adopted? If they live with birth parents, explain why. The child needs to know what happened to their brothers and sisters, who cares for them, and if relevant, why there is no contact. Be careful to give only first names for all birth relatives and do not use addresses or other identifying information.

If birth parents were involved in the choice of adoptive parents, the letter should include reasons why they chose their child's adoptive parents. This may seem simplistic - e.g. "they live in the country"- but it needs to be stated (in contested situations this information may not be available). If the child's birth parent expressed any wishes about the choice of adoptive parents these should be included, e.g. would like him/her to have a sibling.

Information needs to be given about the child's birth, time, day, and date etc, which hospital, who was present, what happened next? Who cared for the child after his/her birth?

Include comments by the social worker on any contact between the child and his or her birth parents and any information about any events that relate to the child around this time. Do not include the child's original first name and surnames.

Parts of the information may need to be very carefully and thoughtfully worded. Equally alluding to problems is unhelpful if the adopters or child will not understand what is being said.

Talk to the adopters about the letter(s). When telling the story, try to be positive as well as negative. You need to acknowledge that possible negative issues around the events leading up to a child's birth and subsequent placement are not necessarily the adopters' views of the situation. The adopters have to tell this story, and there needs to be a balance of views. We rely on the adopters passing on this information, so involve them. Ask if you can talk about their hopes, fears and feelings at the time of the introductory meetings and placements. Can you include the reason why they wanted to adopt?

Give details of how any agreed contact was decided - whether it is "face to face" or Letter Box. The child needs to know that birth parents and other relatives want to hear about their progress, and that the adoptive parents agreed to the contact arrangements prior to placement.

When you have drafted the letter(s) in consultation with the adopters' social worker you should show it/them to the adopters; they may have extra information that needs to be added. They may also wish to ask for some amendments/different wording. They need to feel comfortable with the content as this will be reflected in the way they help their child later with its contents.

In the letters the birth parents should be called by their first names, and the adopters described as "your parents".

5. How? Write it to the Child

Have a look at the examples, and then be creative and imaginative.

When you have finished test the letter out on a colleague who does not know the case well, and see if it is readily understandable.

You can write a letter or letters.

It could be a book.

It could be a loose leaf folder.

Sometimes there should be two letters or if you use a loose leaf binder, sections could be geared to different ages.

It could be a combination of all the above or anything else you feel is appropriate.

Remember the age at which you want the child to get this information and write it to the child at that age. Keep the language simple and non-judgemental. Don’t be tempted to cut and paste from formal reports.

Clarify by using 'At the time...'. Switching tenses is confusing!

If the placement situation was difficult - e.g. there were legal problems, incest, rape, abuse, they could be in a separate section to be seen later in the child's life. These events need to be truthfully detailed.

Remain factual, and don’t try to tell the child how they will feel about the information.

The basic information needs to be given to the child as early as possible, and this should include the true reason for the adoptive placement.

Brothers and sisters must have separate letters even when placed together, and this includes twins.

You should also give the date the Adoption Order was granted, the name of the court, and the names and office bases of all the social workers and family placement/adoption social workers involved prior to and after the placement.

Date and sign the letter. Keep a copy on file and send the letter to the adopters' social worker who will give it to the adopters and explain their responsibilities in sharing the information with the child at a later date, i.e. that the information should be made available to the child at a time the adopters consider is appropriate, but no later than the child's 18th birthday.

The adopters should be asked for written confirmation of receipt of the letter and intention to share the information with the child.

6. Examples of Later Life Letter's for an Adopted Child

Example 1: Later Life Letter 2017

Example 2: Straightforward placement of child whose birth parents requested adoption

Example 3: Letter where birth mother chose not to tell birth father about the child, the birth mother continued to care for two older children

Example 4: Difficult and complicated birth family history - letter has been written in sections to facilitate giving information to the child at different times