A campaign group has won a government promise to review the rules on care leavers’ access to their family details with the aim of providing them with comprehensive information. The new government commitment has been given to Baroness Young of Hornsey, working with the Access to Records Campaign Group (ACRCG), which says the present system is inadequate.
The group came together to ensure that adults who grew up in the care of the State (Care Leavers) are able to receive comprehensive information about their family background and personal history, whether they have spent all or part of their childhood and/or adolescence in the care system. They believe the current approach to gaining access to social care files is inadequate and inconsistent.
At the moment, Care Leavers apply under the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) for access to personal information held in care records but unfortunately the DPA is often misinterpreted by Local Authorities (LAs) with some organisations severely restricting the information made available. There are too many examples of care leavers receiving such incomplete and heavily redacted records that their case histories are rendered meaningless. Furthermore, the service given by LAs is erratic and inconsistent – some are enabling and supportive while others are bureaucratic and obstructive. Sadly, we know that some LAs are so concerned about negligence claims, media headlines and a public perception that people in care have been failed by the system, that their position is defensive from the start.
The Access to Care Records Campaign Group (ACRCG) have already submitted some suggestions on how to improve the statutory guidance that currently exists and the Government have committed to continue to work with them on further actions to strengthen the guide lines in the New Year.
Baroness Young said:
“The process shouldn’t be as difficult as it is for so many people. For a start, everyone who has been in care should be informed that they have a right to access as full an account of their past as possible and to receive support if they choose to do so. Of course there may be issues around privacy, but full disclosure should be assumed and if there are such issues that legitimately prevent this, then these should be subject to negotiation.”
Projects and development manager at The CLA, Darren Coyne said:
“To have the needs of care leavers, seeking access to their social care files is a significant step forward for care leavers. It is important to recognise the life course as many care leavers who seek access to their files do so in our experience once they arrive at the their 30s and above. This statutory guidance, if implemented with the voice of care leavers central to it will see major changes to the way care leavers are received and supported by local authorities and voluntary organisations when applying for access to their social care files. The guidance must put the care leaver at the heart of the service provided, as opposed to the current situation where local authorities put themselves and their own concerns first. Applying for files is much more than a bureaucratic exercise, it is a request for access to one’s identity, to one’s history and it is only right that this is recognised in statute. As one care leaver said to me having received their files “it’s like looking g back at your life through the lens of a camera”, an experience this care leaver and thousands of others find is integral in the journey through life.”
Alison Worsley, Deputy Director of Strategy, Barnardo’s said:
“Every young person has the right to know who they are and where they come from, but children leaving care often lack a family network to answer basic questions they may have.
That is why it is essential that Government ensures children leaving care are able to access personal information about their history, their time in care and the decisions made on their behalf.
Local authorities and voluntary organisations across the country need to give consistent support to adults who have been in care when they are given access to their records”.
Peter Garsden, President of Association of Child Abuse Laywers (ACAL) Said:
“I am delighted that obvious issues with the system of disclosure of social care records to Care Leavers, have been recognised by government, who have agreed to substantially revise statutory guidance given to Data Protection Departments. In my professional life, I come across situations where anger provoked during the process of disclosure of records, arising from the loss of, or withholding of information by Local Authorities has resulted in civil litigation through the Courts. Careful handling of the disclosure of records, and care leavers, can hopefully avoid unnecessary suffering and save wasted resources on the part of cash strapped local government.”
The Access to Records Campaign Group (ACRCG) are calling for:
- Clear, effective guidance to ensure that local authorities comply with the present statutory framework [DPA98] to enable care leavers to access their personal information; the guidance should reiterate the duties on care agencies to properly record and securely hold records about an individual’s time in care ensuring that local authorities are able to provide them with an account of their origins and their time in care and the decisions made about them;
Care leavers to have the opportunity to access advice and support from the agency and/or intermediary services, as they read and make sense of their care records and to help locate and contact relatives and friends if they so wish: an opportunity which is available to those who’ve been adopted but not those who have been in care.