In episode four I shared that, as far back as 2007, Social Services were quietly freaking out about how technology was enabling children and their birth families to connect without the buffering presence of social workers. Yet I was struck by how ineffectually reactive they were to the problem. We looked ahead and saw a tech tsunami about to crash down upon us but, when we looked around, all we could see was Social Services playing whack-a-mole on the beach.
To continue the metaphor, producing photographs in miniature to send to first families via Letterbox was like building sandcastle defences. The tsunami was still coming. The way we looked at it, the choice was to wait with our head in the sand for the wave to break, or catch it and ride it. Besides, people posting photographs on the internet wasn’t even the biggest issue. As far as we could work out, the bigger concern was direct contact without emotional and practical support to ensure it was a positive experience. Again, Social Services appeared to be playing whack-a-mole, dealing with individual problems as they arose without thinking holistically about post-adoption contact in the age of the internet and social media.
If children are searching for their first families it’s because they have a need, they have an itch to scratch. Rather than stick a plaster on a bloodied scratch and hope it doesn’t get infected, how about we work on soothing the itch. What information do our children need and how can we provide it, and provide it in a timely way?
Clearly, Letterbox is not fit for purpose. Adopters and first families often exist across a generational divide as well as a technological divide. Writing letters, on paper, snail-mailing them and waiting months or even a year for a reply is, frankly, bonkers. New technologies, such as telegrams and faxes, have come and gone yet we’re still asked to dip our quills.
In episode six I shared how we provided Laura with an email address so that we had direct communication, and that we did this without sharing our intention with social workers. There was a good reason for this subterfuge. Having thought about the problem more holistically, I found an organisation that provided a mediated email service; the equivalent of an email letterbox system. The appeal was that first families and adoptive families could build relationships better if communicating was quicker and easier. As it was a mediated service, emails and attachments could still be checked and, rather than being censuring overlords, mediators could serve as facilitators and guides.
When I found this organisation, it was at a critical point in its development and was appealing for more clients to ensure financial viability, otherwise it would fold. I emailed our social worker’s manager (the one who had written the threatening, cease-and-desist letter to Laura about uploading photos onto social media) outlining a plan to create a consortium of four local authorities to engage this service. Beyond the inherent benefits of a modernised letterbox service, I reasoned that such a consortium would provide the necessary economy of scale to meet the financial needs of both local authorities and the mediating organisation. I was excited at the idea of embracing technology to solve a problem created by technology. This was how to catch and ride the tsumani.
Sadly, I never even received a reply from this manager. On reflection, I had made a critical error by emailing this proposal to a technophobe … perhaps things would have been different if only I had dipped my quill.