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5.22 Letterbox System

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

The Letterbox System allows screened communications between the birth side and the adoptive side of an adoption. This chapter provides an overview of the Letterbox System, as well as containing more detailed procedures covering the process for requesting and sharing correspondence with birth and adoptive families.

This chapter was added to the Procedures Manual in December 2015.


Contents

  1. Purpose of the System
  2. Key Risks (Accidental or Deliberate)
  3. Roles and Responsibilities
  4. Training
  5. Monitoring
  6. Record Retention
  7. Access
  8. Detailed Procedures


1. Purpose of the System

The Letterbox System is designed to allow screened communications between the birth side and the adoptive side of an adoption based on a voluntary agreement between the two parties.

It assists a young person to have access to current information about their birth family.

The system protects the adopted child’s and adopted parent’s safety by:

  • Ensuring that the address and any other details alluding to their location or communication details (telephone numbers, email addresses, social media account details etc.) are not disclosed to the birth parents or relatives;
  • To ensure any changes to the child’s name are not communicated to birth relatives.

The system also ensures that birth parent’s contact details are not shared with adopters.


2. Key Risks (Accidental or Deliberate)

Risks

  • Disclosure to birth parents/relatives of adoptive parents/child’s communication information and vice versa;
  • Disclosure to birth parents/relatives of any name change of adopted child;
  • Inappropriate Destruction or loss of communications. Letters/photographs etc.;
  • Potential impact of Any Breach.

Service Users:

  • Any release of information (names and addresses) that protect the user’s anonymity could have serious consequences for the service user. Including potential harm/kidnap of the adoptive parents and adopted child or the adopted child prematurely contacting birth relatives;
  • Loss of communications. 

Staff:

  • Fines for breaching the Data Protection Act;
  • Disciplinary action;
  • Disciplinary action from relevant professional body.

Business Risk

  • Reputational Damage;
  • Fines for breaching the Data Protection Act;
  • Civil action resulting in damages.


3. Roles and Responsibilities

Information Asset Owner - Adoption Team Manager

  • Ultimately, responsible for the safe custody and management of information held on/within the system;
  • Ensuring that the procedures in respect of the system are operating as approved.

Social Worker

  • Liaison with the individual parties and completion of:
    • Post Adoption contact File Front sheet;
    • Post Adoption Contract Arrangement.
  • Provide advice to the Letterbox coordinator if/where required. e.g. where communications are borderline in terms of suitability etc.

Letterbox Co-ordinator

  • Day-to day operation of the system.

NB: No substitute officer is permitted in respect of this post except where the individual has completed appropriate Data Protection training and this is approved by the Information Asset Owner.

Duty Social worker

  • Checking communications (including any enclosures) sent to birth relatives are correctly addressed prior to sending out and contain no content that may divulge adoptive parents/child’s communication information or names/addresses of any change of name in respect of the adopted child; 
  • Checking communications (including any enclosures) sent to adoptive parents are correctly addressed prior to sending out and contain no content that may divulge birth relatives communication information;
  • Provide advice to the Letterbox coordinator if/where required. e.g. where communications are borderline in terms of suitability etc.


4. Training

Staff will undertake the annual corporate Information Security Training to ensure that they have a baseline appreciation of securing data/information and are aware of the most recent trends in data/information breach.

Staff will be trained specifically in respect of compliance with the Data Protection Act and at appropriate intervals as determined by the Information Asset Owner.


5. Monitoring

The Adoption Team Manager will periodically (annually) monitor administration of the scheme to ensure that the system is working as approved and to consider improvements to the letterbox scheme itself in conjunction with the Letterbox Coordinator. If the substantive post worker is absent for an extended period of time the Adoption team manager will monitor monthly.


6. Record Retention

Files will be retained in compliance with the Data Protection Act, Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005 and Minimum Adoption Standards.

Letterbox files will be reviewed once the child reaches the age of 18. Once the letterbox arrangement is concluded the file will be centrally archived for 100 years.

Paper records will be archived in the Council’s Paper record archive.

A destruction date will be identified for each archived record in order that it can be destroyed at an appropriate time.

A record of destruction will be retained for any files deleted/destroyed.


7. Access

Access to adoption records whether electronic or paper will be restricted to staff within the adoption team.

If a business need for access to the records is identified beyond the adoption team this will be considered after a formal request in writing to the Adoption Team Manager.


8. Detailed Procedures

See below for the procedure to followed in terms of use/management of the Letterbox system:

8.1 Setting Up a New Contact Agreement

Setting up the initial Contact Arrangements

The child’s Social Worker will contact the Letterbox Co-ordinator (LBC) to facilitate the setting up of a letterbox exchange as part of the adoption placement planning.

The LBC will:

  • Add the child’s birth name to the index spreadsheet and allocate the next continuous LB number (e.g.LB0157). This file is located at: T:/Adoption/letterbox/20120412/letterbox - numerical order - with address;
  • Create a new sub-folder for the child in the following folder: T:/ Adoption/letterbox/cases;
  • Send the following to Social Worker by email (unless paper copies are requested):
    • Post Adoption Contact File Frontsheet
      Located at: T:/Letterbox/letter templates 2015/templates 2015/BLANK frontsheet template;
    • Post Adoption Contact Arrangement
      Located at: T:/Letterbox/letter templates 2015/templates 2015/BLANK Post Adoption Contact Agreement;
    • The Letterbox (LB) number.

The Social Worker will discuss with the adopter which month the exchange will take place, and what will be exchanged. 

The Social Worker will complete a Post Adoption Contract Arrangement (PAC) with the following information: letterbox number, name of child, date of birth, all parties to be included in exchange, month of exchange (to avoid birthdays, Christmas and other special events), contents to be exchanged and frequency i.e. once per year.

The Social Worker will provide two copies of the PAC to each member of birth family to sign, one for them to keep and one to return to Letterbox Co-ordinator or Social Worker. The Social Worker will also supply the adopters with two copies of the PAC to sign, one to keep and one to return.

**THE SOCIAL WORKER MUST TAKE CARE TO ENSURE THAT THE BIRTH PARENTS DO NOT RECEIVE ANY AGREEMENT/DOCUMENT WHICH INCLUDES THE ADOPTER’S NAMES**.

8.2. Setting Up the Contact File

Once the front sheet and PACs have been returned the LBC will prepare the manual contact file as follows:

The front of the file will be complete the front of the file with the following information:

  • Childs Birth Name, date of birth, Letterbox number. Month of Exchange sticker. Class of File sticker. CASS number if known.

The LBC will prepare a manual file as follows which will be replicated on the relevant LB01** file on the T: drive.

Manual files need to be retained for 1 way exchanges to enable adopted person to receive original letters from birth family.

File Contents:

Letterbox - File Contents Sheet -Same (or similar replicated in electronic folder).

Seven dividers:

1. Frontsheet

  • First sheet printed on green paper should only contain birth name of child, date of birth, adopters full contact details;
  • Second sheet printed on should contain full contact details of all members of birth family involved in exchange.

**STAFF MUST TAKE CARE NEVER TO DIVULGE ADOPTERS DETAILS OR ANY CHANGE OF CHILDS NAME TO BIRTH FAMILY**.

2. Signed PAC Agreements

3. Record of Exchange

This paper version is now being phased out from file and stored on:

Adoption/letterbox/cases/LB01** name of child

4. Case Notes

Daily Records:

This paper version is now being phased out from file and stored on:

Adoption/letterbox/cases/LB01** name of child – as above.

5. Correspondence

This is for copy letters sent from LBC to adopters and birth parents and  covering letters from adopters and birth parents although this paper version is now being phased out and stored on LB0** as above.

6. Information

This section was historically used for all photocopied documents sent from adopters to birth family, and birth family to adopters. This includes letters & photographs. This is now being phased out as all items are now scanned to LB01** as above. This is because for instance if an exchange with photos are lost in the post the quality of photos is much  better if printed from a scan than if you photocopy a photocopy of a photograph.

If an exchange letter or photograph is not posted out for any reason i.e. birth parents move without informing us the original exchange all original  items will remain in this section until such time as they inform us of their new address.

7. Excluded From Access

This includes 3rd party information or information which has been discussed  following a risk assessment but which may be discussed at a later stage.

8.3 The Letterbox Exchange Process

NB: Each process must be recorded on record of exchange including required checks by the Duty Social Worker. The Duty Social Worker must in it al the Record of Exchange as proof of checking.

Screening and Forwarding of Communications From Adopters

Reminder to Adopters

The LBC will send a reminder letter/email to adopters approximately 1 month before the exchange is due to take place.

An office address sticker will be included for the adopters to attach to the front of their envelope, this includes address of LBC and the LB0*** number for ease of identification.

Screening

Once a letter/photo has been received from the adopters. Scan then shred any accompanying correspondence addressed to the LBC. Scan all other items to relevant letterbox file e.g. LB0*** in relevant section.

The LBC will check the letter content thoroughly for suitability, and anything identifying the whereabouts of adopters or school/clubs attended by children or the adopted child’s new name if changed. Photographs will also be checked for place names/school uniform/club badges especially for addresses, location or adopted names.

If anything identifies the placement etc. the LBC will obtain advice from Duty Social Worker or contact the adopter to discuss and give them the opportunity to re-write and re-send as appropriate. If the communication is re-sent the checking procedures will be repeated on the new communication.

Address Check

The LBC will contact the birth family either by letter or telephone or email to establish current contact details, including address, mobile number and email address.

NB: For safety, details of any other contact details on file not required for the communication must not be quoted in this communication.

Where a letter is sent to a birth family the name and address will be double checked by the Duty Social Worker and initial the record of exchange as proof of checking. A combination of the correct address but incorrect name could divulge the name of the adopted family. It is important that the right letter is sent to the right person at the right address.

The LBC will prepare correspondence to the birth family to accompany exchange with offer to help with their reply and include leaflets/example letter if a first time exchange.

Checking and Forwarding of Correspondence

All documents sent to either parties will be checked by the Duty Social Worker to ensure there is nothing in the contents to disclose the adopters or birth families whereabouts and the information is being sent to the correct address confirmed on file. The Duty Social Worker must initial the Record of Exchange as proof of checking.

The correspondence will be posted out to the Birth Parents. Recorded delivery will be used when the exchange involves original photographs.

8.4 Screening and Forwarding of Communications From Birth Parents

Screening

The LBC will check letter for suitability i.e: not too emotional, no communication details e.g. address, telephone number or social media account details on letter etc. In addition the envelope will be checked for the same if it is being forwarded i.e. birthday card. If address or telephone number is included the original will be photocopied blanking out the details and sent copy to adopters. The original communication will be retained on file. The letter will be scanned to Scan the relevant LB0*** folder. The LBC will include leaflets on the Letterbox scheme and example letters if required or if a first time exchange.

Address Check

The LBC will telephone the adopters to confirm that their address remains the same if there is a time delay to the birth parents sending their information in.

Checking and Forwarding of Correspondence

The LBC will prepare an accompanying letter double checking the address on front sheet, and save this to the appropriate LB0*** folder.

All documents will be checked by the Duty Social Worker to ensure nothing in contents to disclose the birth parents whereabouts and the information is being sent to the address confirmed on file. The Duty Social Worker must initial the Record of Exchange as proof of checking.

The LBC will post the communication recorded delivery if the letter contains original photos.

Record all processes on Record of Exchange including LBC name and name of Duty Worker who has checked items match with addresses shown on front sheets this should be initialled by the Duty Social Worker.

End