Filling in the gaps – a new vision for creating and accessing childhood care records

Filling in the missing pieces of their childhood and learning why they were in care are often the reasons young care leavers give for wanting to access their records.

“I really wanted to know why I was in care and what was the reason for me being parentless,” said care leaver William – who has recently applied to access his records. 

“For me it was so important to access them [the records] because the more information I know, the better for me, because I didn’t know much as a young child.”

Advocate and researcher Dr Frank Golding OAM, who also has a care experience, is well aware of the importance of their records for care leavers, likening them to a ‘storeroom of hope’. 

“They [young people] hope they will find answers to the many questions they have been asking themselves about why they were separated from their family, how to re-connect with members of the lost family, why their upbringing was the way it was, and whether the critical incidents that made an impact on them while they were in ‘care’ were recorded the way they remember them,” Dr Golding recently wrote in the preface to the Charter. 

It is the importance of providing accurate, child-focused records that drove the new Charter of Lifelong Rights in Childhood Recordkeeping in Out-of-Home Care. Developed by Monash and Federation Universities, including Dr Golding, the Charter looks to create a vision of the future of recordkeeping for young people in care.

“Between the hope and the reality, all too often, comes disillusionment,” Dr Golding wrote. “Even when records have not been destroyed or lost, many documents do not record the critical information central to a childhood story.”

The Charter calls for greater transparency and accountability and recordkeeping systems that support young people to take part in documenting their lives and developing their identities. It also calls for truth-telling for all young Aboriginal people in care, to connect them to their heritage and country. The Charter seeks to shift away from ‘organisation-centric records of control and surveillance, to child- and care leaver-centred recordkeeping frameworks, policies and systems’.

For William, understanding his past through his records was something he has wanted to do ever since he met his biological father at 13. He contacted Relationships Australia, South Australia, Post Care Support Services to help him through the process. 

“They took the time to help me to think about why I wanted to access my records and encouraged me to make the first move. I have an amazing worker named Tristen. He has been so helpful throughout the entire process and made everything possible,” William said.

Another care leaver, Felicity, who also applied to access her records through Relationships Australia, hoped that knowing more about her childhood would bring closure to her past. 

‘I don’t remember anything before I went into care at the age of 6, and not even much from before I was 10,” Felicity said.

“I want to know more about my childhood. When you go through childhood trauma you don’t really remember much, like why I got taken into foster care or what my placements were like when I was younger and why I moved from placement to placement.”

Post Care Support Services Team leader, Namam Salih, said it is extremely important for young people to be able to access their records to know who they are and what their family and cultural connections are. 

“Many people who have experienced care have a loss of family and cultural connections, loss of identity and a lack of information about their family, siblings, extended family and the history of their childhood,” Namam said.

“Accessing their records will assist them in their journey to independence and healing. In our experience as Post Care Support Services, this would give young people some sort of closure and help them develop identity and belonging,” she said.

Both William and Felicity are still waiting to access their records.

“It has been a long journey,” William said. 

“I’m not going to lie I have been on edge about accessing my records since I turned 18 because of all the rumours I have heard, growing up, about my father but at the same time I’m dying to know.”

“I feel like it might be a good closure thing for me,” Felicity said.

“I have so much trauma built up that I need to close. I’m finding it hard to move on from my past and to heal. If I am able to read my files, and learn about my childhood and reasonings, I might be able to heal that cut, the scar of my childhood,” she said.

For Dr Golding, the Charter’s vision will be realised in practice when children in ‘care’ are routinely engaged in a collaborative process of making their personal records and those who have already passed through the system are able to access them, as of right, when the need arises.

As part of the process to implement the new Charter, a range of practical resources have been developed for case managers and social workers which you can find on the Charter’s website.

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