Children's voices are being omitted from their care records, according to research.
A collaborative research project led by UCL with the Care Leaver’s Association and the charity Family Action found that the voices of the children and young people who lived in social care were often entirely missing from their own records.
Furthermore, this caused the care leavers significant distress and upset.
Professor Elizabeth Shepherd from UCL who led the study said: “Social care records are a vital resource for memory-making and identity for adults who were in care as children.
“For many they contain the answers to critical questions about what happened to them and why.
“Gaps in someone’s personal narrative can be deeply traumatic, leaving them with feelings of blame and a lack of self-worth," she added.
The report also found that, for many care leavers, assessing their records is a rite of passage, marking an important stage in their lives.
Yet despite care leavers placing huge significance on their records, the importance and value of effective record-keeping was not widely recognised or understood by local authorities, who act as gate-keepers for these records.
The report makes a number of recommendations for local authorities, information and data professionals, and social workers. It says records should be co-created by all those involved in a child’s care and should include the voices of children themselves, taking into account their life-long needs for memory, identity and justice.
All organisations with safeguarding responsibilities and guardianship of children’s memories should establish best practice guidance for records creation and management. New standards for access to records for all care-experienced persons should be developed. The standards should address the rights of care-experienced people and the responsibilities of institutions.
Professor Shepherd said: “We must ensure care records put the experiences of the child at the heart of them, from what is written down in the first place, to how records are kept and stored, to how decisions are made about access.”
Gina, who was in foster care in the 1970s and 1980s’s, said: “There came a point where I wanted to know where I’d been, I wanted to know who’d fostered me, because there was little chunks of my life missing, like where I’d gone to school? Did I have any friends? How long was I there?”
However, the research found that when care leavers are able to access their records, they have often been heavily redacted, or censored to remove any ‘third party information’.
Jackie, a care leaver, said this can be deeply troubling, making people feel powerless, rejected and de-humanised. “There’s other pieces of paper that are just blacked out. And there’s absolutely nothing on them and you just look and think ‘why have you given me that piece of paper?’ What’s it actually telling me?
“And then there’s other pieces of paper where there’s just a sentence in there. And I’m looking at it … and all it’s showing me is I’ve been rejected again," she added.
Family Action is set to launch a new website with resources to help care leavers access their records, and signpost support groups and counselling services.
David Holmes CBE, Chief Executive, Family Action said: “Family Action welcomes this important research and it’s equally important recommendations. A good care record, co-created with the child, can help to tell the story of a child’s life. These records are so precious and can make such a difference in later life. Facilitating access by care leavers to these records and ensuring high standards of record-keeping needs to be viewed as a national priority. Later this year, Family Action will be launching a free new website, Family Connect, which will provide information and resources for Care Leavers, as well as people who are adopted, on how to go about accessing their records and what that journey might involve.”
The MIRRA (Memory – Identity – Rights in Records – Access) research was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.