Letterbox contact: a template letter

The annual letterbox contact letter to your child(ren)’s birth family can be difficult to write. How do you sum up a year in a page or two? How much information do you share, and what do you withhold? And for many, it’s difficult to write cheerily to the people who caused our children so much trauma, especially when you don’t fancy your chances of receiving a reply.


A note before we begin: I’m writing from a UK perspective where most children are adopted via the care system, and am aware that elsewhere (eg open adoptions of relinquished babies in the US) this may not apply in the same way. No offence is intended, but it is important to acknowledge that many birth parents who have had children removed from their care have chaotic lives and are often unable to respond to contact letters. If you’re reading this as a birth parent, you might find this post about letterbox contact from your perspective is more helpful.

The bit I struggle with the most is painting a rosy picture of domestic harmony when the truth is that it is often exceptionally hard and we deal with violent meltdowns from dawn ’til dusk. (You can read a typical day in our family life here.) I don’t want to tell our girls’ birth mum that actually it is horrible to have those weeks/months where I sit and wait for school to phone and ask me to go and retrieve my child because they can’t cope with her violence. I’m fine blogging about it, obviously, so what’s the difference?

I think it’s because I know her perspective is different. She cares about them and wants the best for them, but probably wouldn’t cope well with any negativity. I don’t want her to worry about them. I feel that that’s our job now, and what she needs is just reassurance that all is well and a few appropriate anecdotes. I’d like her to be able to see us as a solution for the children’s problems, and to know that we are coping.

Using questions

This is the format I use: a list of questions that help when I’m faced with the blank page and that ‘I really must write it this week’ feeling.

  • How are they doing at school – what are they enjoying? Do they like their teacher(s)? Is there a nice quote from their school report you can include?
  • How is their health? (I keep this positive and gloss over the trip to A&E!)
  • What are their current hobbies or clubs? Are they enjoying football or Brownies or art after school? Or do they prefer doing Lego at home?
  • Are there any funny stories to tell?
  • What books, TV shows or films have they enjoyed? Is there a particular character they like?
  • Is there a message from the child, or have they drawn a picture?
  • If you send photos, what’s the story behind the picture?

Am example letterbox contact letter

So a typical letter goes something like this:

Dear Tracey

How are you? I hope you had a good summer.

Joanna and Charlotte are doing really well. They’ve just gone back to school and are enjoying being in their new classes. Joanna especially loves reading and won a prize for her reading at school last term. She has read all the Roald Dahl books – her favourite is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Charlotte is enjoying art – she is always bringing home new pictures. They both go to nature club after school and have been growing vegetables in the school garden.

They’re very healthy and growing so fast! Apart from a few colds and a bit of hayfever they don’t ever seem to get ill, which is great. They still wear glasses and love going to the optician to choose new ones.

Joanna has started recorder club after school. She is excited about playing in the school concert at Christmas. Charlotte likes the Lego club she goes to on Saturdays. She likes building shops, castles, and giant slides for the Lego people to use!

In the summer holidays they had swimming lessons and went to a sports club. They both love swimming and being outside, climbing trees and making dens. We went away for a week at the seaside and they swam in the sea, made sandcastles and flew a kite. They really enjoyed being on the beach and jumping in the waves.

The girls both say hello and have drawn you some pictures of our holiday. As you can see from the photo, they were especially keen on the ice creams – especially the crazy flavours like bubblegum with jelly beans in! They’d love to know what ice cream flavour is your favourite.

Love from Hannah, Pete, Joanna and Charlotte

And then I post it off (sometimes with help from the children so they’re involved, sometimes quietly so they don’t dwell on it for weeks, depending on how settled things are for them at the time). And then I breathe a sigh of relief for another year. It’s done.

Writing your own letter

You can download both the list of questions above and the sample letter as an editable template from my resources page. I hope you find it a helpful starting point for writing about your own child(ren). I also have advice for writing to professionals and a template for writing to your child’s new teacher, in case you need those too.

You can download my full bundle of template letters, including updated, easy-to-personalise versions of these and other helpful letters for adopters, from my shop.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please get in touch through the comments or on Twitter or Facebook.

The Adoptive Parents' Self-Care Club



  1. 10 September 2016 / 4:42 pm

    That’s some really good advice. Even though we adopted internationally, we do have some ability to stay in written contact with birth family. It is so hard to figure out what to say, though. Plus, we have to make it Google Translate-able! Thanks for the great tips!

    • 10 September 2016 / 4:45 pm

      Thanks, I’m glad it’s helpful to you. I know I’ve often had the experience of suddenly drawing a complete blank when trying to work out what to say! 🙂

  2. 26 January 2017 / 1:32 pm

    This is great. We’ve recently made contact via a closed Facebook page to share pictures with the bio-family. Their bio-dad looks at all of them and is responsive. Their bio-sisters “like” or “heart” some of the pictures. Bio-mom only looked at about 2, but that’s ok.It’s hard for me to reply to bio-dad sometimes, so this helps.

  3. Tara-Marie Gibson
    31 October 2017 / 7:57 am

    What can the birth family write is my question what are the dos and donts as i dont wanna upset anyone at the same time

    • 31 October 2017 / 9:04 am

      Hi Tara-Marie – that’s a great question. I have a post on letterbox for birth family members coming soon. x

      • 12 April 2018 / 3:35 pm

        That post for birth family members is now available here.

  4. Bumble
    15 November 2017 / 8:33 am

    Thanks for your post. I searched Google for anything helpful on writing to birth parents and found this. It was a great reminder for things to include such as a health update.

    • 15 November 2017 / 9:27 am

      I’m glad it was helpful, and hope it took some of the stress out of the process.

      • 30 July 2018 / 8:11 pm

        I found the template helpfully as I’m birth mum but they said I sign it Samantha which I find bad as my child is 5 n noes who I am n I’m her mum n always will be she just has another mum that takes care of her cos I made wrong choices that was not safe all the time

  5. Pauline
    23 October 2018 / 6:15 pm

    I have a foster child who has two younger siblings who are now adopted. (One year into adoption) this sibling is granted letter box contact (uk) I am aware the siblings names may have changed, but our child will still refer to them in their family names.
    I do want to support our foster child in writing to them at Christmas but don’t want to upset their new relationships.
    Any advice ??

    • 9 November 2018 / 3:58 pm

      Our children changed their names on adoption and have a sibling in long-term foster care. We continue to use the old names for letterbox as the sibling still has direct contact with birth mum and we thought that would avoid any problems. Our girls are fine with that so far. One thing to be aware of though is that if they have direct contact with the siblings later on there will be some explaining to do! We’re planning to deal with that when we get to it. If you have the opportunity to ask the adoptive parent(s) their views via the social workers, that might be a way to check they feel the same way. Hope that helps.

  6. Vicky
    26 June 2019 / 6:21 pm

    Hi i want to write to my sons adoption parents but i dont know where to start it been a very long time

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