Coram-i has undertaken an innovative area of work supporting a local authority to complete Historical Letters for looked after children in permanent foster placements, similar to Later Life Letters in Adoption.
Historical Letters in Fostering give older children access to the reasons why they were taken into care and factual insight into professionals’ thinking behind decisions made. At 18, or when social workers/foster carers deem individuals are emotionally ready, young adults could access their letter and see the factual narrative of their care story.
Securing permanence for children unable to live with their birth family is crucial to ensure security, well-being, attachments and educational opportunities. It is therefore important that permanency planning gives due consideration to each child so they fully understand their background, as is standard within adoption.
Parity of service
Later Life Letters in Adoption are a statutory requirement in England as part of the Adoption Agency Regulations 2005. The regulations note the essential importance of life story work and letters contain considerably more detail. There is much guidance around the completion of letters but this does not exist for the fostering sector yet. However local authorities are starting to align services provided to children placed in adoption and in permanent foster care arrangements, which is a positive move towards parity of service for every child.
Coram social work consultants experienced in adoption and fostering completed 30 historical letters for children aged between 10 and 14 years of age. They spent considerable time retrieving information from care records relating to the child’s entry to care, family history, birth details and facts pertaining to decision making meetings, court proceedings and long term panel decisions.
Letters averaging 1,500 to 2,000 words were drafted and the child’s social worker checked accuracy, emphasis and tone of the letters. Letters will remain on the child’s case file until their social worker/foster carer considers the young adult is ready to access the information.
- Completion of letters in fostering helps:
- To inform and structure life story work.
- To provide a useful document to be kept up to date on an ongoing basis, which is particularly helpful should a case transfer to a different worker, team or agency.
- Provide a means of independent scrutiny and audit in relation to case recording, identifying themes for improvement as well as good practice to be shared.
- Every child will see the letter at a different age but it is likely to be during adolescent years therefore the letter needs to be written using appropriate language for the young person.
- The challenge for social workers is to write historical letters to the adult that the child will become. Current social workers need to take responsibility for reviewing, familiarising themselves with content and updating information. The content needs to be accurate and give a balanced and realistic account of their past even though children may have on-going contact with birth family members.
- Writing these letters is a complex task requiring experience, understanding and skill. In an ideal world it would be the child’s social worker who has known the child for many years who completes the letter in a detailed, sensitive and sufficiently detailed way. However, in times of increasing movement in children’s services, the reality is that children often have more than one case holder. Similarly, reliance on agency staff means a lack of capacity to focus on retrieving and writing these letters with the level of detail required. Where this is the case a social worker who has sufficient time to read complex care histories, court reports, permanency planning minutes and LAC reviews will have to do.
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