This week I’m sharing our experience of contact and life story work. I’ve written a few articles over the last few years about our life story journey which you can read here.
Introduce yourself and your family
I’m Suzy. I live with my husband and our two daughters who are full birth siblings.
How often do you have contact with birth family?
We do annual indirect contact every summer. We usually get any replies a few months after we’ve sent ours.
How does this happen?
It happens via a written update. I write it electronically at the moment and send it to the post adoption team at our agency. They then forward it to birth family and sibling’s families.
We had asked for direct contact with the sibling born in between our two. We had been asked if we wanted to be considered for him, but decided it wasn’t the right thing at that time for our family. We asked if direct contact could be considered but it was completely overlooked by the local authority. As was indirect contact at the start and we had to push for this to be set up.
Eldest has met one of her older sisters. We had a few years where we attended an adoption event set up by our agency. Our social worker knew a sibling would be attending with her parents, so we were introduced to the parents. At the event the second year, eldest was actually sat beside her sister as they got their faces painted.
I found that really emotional because the sibling’s family hadn’t told their daughter about her younger sister. We had to respect their decision, but it made me really sad, because that would have been the perfect way for them to start to get to know each other. They live less than five miles away, so direct contact would have been very easy.
We didn’t go the last year the event was held because eldest had been looking at her life story book a lot and would have recognised her sister from her photo.
What kind of things do you include in the letters? Do you send anything else like photos or pictures drawn by your children?
I find the updates quite hard to write because I want to share how wonderful the girls are, but I don’t want to be insensitive. I can’t imagine what it’s like for birth mum to get an update about how two of her daughters are doing. I want her to happy to read the content, but I don’t want her to think I’m showing off at how well they’re doing.
It tends to be likes, dislikes, sharing their personality and how they get on together. I know that birth mum was very pleased when she was told they were going to be placed together, so I write quite a bit on their relationship. I tend not to write specifics in terms of holiday locations and focus on activities like going to the beach or a train ride.
This year eldest is six and so has a much better understanding of her birth history. She’s currently talking a lot about her brothers and has asked if she can draw them a picture, so we’ll include that this year.
Do you write the letters or does your child / children get involved too?
I currently write the updates, but I hope that as the children get older, they’ll want to be involved more. It would be nice if they wrote their siblings letters and hopefully get replies. It’s a great way to start to develop their relationship so that there’s something to build on easily when they’re ready to meet.
Have you requested any help and support in connection with contact from your agency? If so, what sort of help did you receive? Did it do what you needed it to?
We haven’t asked for any help yet. I’ve found blogs and articles in the magazine really helpful. This article written by Dr John Simmonds, Director of Policy, Research and Development at CoramBAAF is really helpful if you’re just starting out with life story work and contact.
I am going to ask for some advice this year about photographs. Our contact agreement is just for letters, but eldest has asked to see up to date photos of her siblings and she’s like them to have more photos of her and her sister. I also think direct contact may be something they both want to have with the siblings who live close to us, in the not too distant future. That will have to be done initially through post adoption support, but I really hope if the children want it to happen, it’s something that is supported by everyone.
Do you get any replies from birth family or siblings?
Initially we got replies from one sibling and then the sibling in between our two. Unfortunately, last year, we didn’t get any replies at all which is really sad. Our agency became part of a regional agency so I’m hoping the replies are there, but have just not been forwarded to us. I’ll chase it up when we send out letter this year.
Unfortunately, we’ve never had anything from birth family. I’m really sad for our children about that because I think it would help them as they get older and understand things more, to be able to read a letter from their birth mum.
If you get replies, do you read them to your child?
The last time we got replies from siblings, eldest was too young to understand. As we explore life story work more, we’ll read them to her. If we get replies this year and going forward, we’ll read them to the children as and when we get them.
When your child came home, did they have any memory of their birth family?
No, eldest was nine months old and youngest was six months. They didn’t live with their birth family and had very little contact with them when they were in foster care.
If no, what age were they when you started life story work?
Eldest was about two and a half when we started introducing the concept of her growing in birth mum’s tummy and our hearts. I think she was about three when we started going through her book. I was terrified about how she’d react to knowing she had siblings, but she coped with it really well. You can read more about our experience here of how it went the first time we showed her the book.
Eldest has always asked questions whenever she’s wanted to about her birth family. Questions tend to focus on her siblings, her brothers in particular. She’s recently been asking if she can go and see them when the virus is gone so she can give them a hug. I really hope they know about her and her sister and they’re asking about them. But at the moment, we’ve got no way of knowing if that is the case or not.
The only thing that eldest has struggled to process has been the fact that she didn’t grow in my tummy. When we first started doing life story work, she got very upset when I said she didn’t grow in my tummy. That broke my heart. When she looks through her book, she doesn’t ask any questions about her birth parents, but always asks about her siblings. Hopefully, as she gets older she’ll be curious about them too.
Youngest has just turned two so we’ll start introducing things to her soon. Hopefully it will be easier because eldest can help too. One of the reasons we wanted to be assessed for youngest was so that they can support each other as they grow up and learn more about their birth history together.
What kinds of things did you use to support life story work (e.g life story book, later life letter, photos)
Both children have a book created for them by their foster family, and they have an “official” life story book. Eldest doesn’t have a later life letter, but the one done for youngest will be used for both of them because the circumstances were more of less the same. Eldest’s social worker left the agency just after placement, and despite lots of promises, the later life letter was never done by anyone else. We agreed with youngest’s social worker, that one letter would be used for both of them.
A later life letter is a letter written by your child’s social worker, explaining why their birth family couldn’t look after them. I think it’s something the children will read when they’re much older – I found it an emotional thing to read.
Eldest has access to her life story book and will look at it when she wants to. She knows all of her sibling’s names and loves to look at their photos. We haven’t read through the words with her because she’s still too young to understand, but we will as she gets older. We’ve found books like “The Family Fairies” by Rosemary Lucas and “Blanket Bears” by Samuel Langley-Swain really helpful in terms of explaining the roles of social workers and foster families.
Both children were with the same foster family and it helped eldest understand their role a bit more when we met them again for introductions with youngest. Eldest had no memory of them, but knew them from their photos in her books. Foster family were over the moon to see eldest again and it made introductions so much easier. We keep in contact with their via email and I send regular updates and photos.
Have you accessed any type of help or support with life story work?
No we haven’t.
How has your child reacted to life story work?
At the moment, eldest is taking everything in her stride. She asks questions when she wants to, and we do our best to answer them honestly, in an age appropriate way. I expect that things will get more difficult for them to deal with as they understand more about their birth family and their history. I hope that they will always feel they can talk to us about it and that they know we’ll support them 100%.
I hope that one day, they’ll understand how we’ve all played different roles in their lives, but we’re all their family who love them very much.