Growing up in care means childhood memories
are kept on files – and are difficult to obtain, writes Anna
So now we have a Freedom of Information Act.
That’s all right then. But, as far as I am concerned, it promises
no more freedom of information than there has been.
My past and future are tied up in documents in
a filing cabinet. If you are like 90 per cent of people, you can
find out about your childhood just by asking your mother, your
grandfather, even your great aunt. They may link you up with other
relatives or friends of the family from years back who will paint
in your early background.
Not me. All the information that families take
for granted is only available to me if I can obtain files from a
national charity. And you know what happens to files. The local
ones are sent to the region, the region sends them to the national
head office, and the national head office cannot store them so it
sends them to a storage place.
The charity is responsible for all those
little glimpses of childhood that help to establish the personality
of the adult. The prosaic words of a local authority fostering
officer are not as original as the memories of a grandmother but
they are all I have. For someone with family it is hard to imagine
what it is like to live without a mother, a father, a sister, a
brother – no sense of self, no sense of belonging, no sense of
Since the charity has been my guardian from
the day I was born, I had nowhere else to turn. It has been
difficult to obtain the facts. I can have access to some of their
records, which means sitting down with a great many files and
reading them with another person in the room. I cannot copy them
and some files are kept from me.
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 gives the
government the power to decide whether certain information is too
sensitive to release. According to the charity, it can be just as
selective over information about me – and the other 10,000-15,000
children who were in care with me in the 1960s and 1970s.
Do you remember when you were eight years old
getting into a tantrum or later when you were 11 staying out all
night just to frighten the poor woman who was trying to look after
you? Everyone has such tales to trot out at family reunions or when
the chatter around the dinner table gets nostalgic. Such events are
dismissed with a throwaway line such as “we were all young once.”
But not if you were in care as I was. Episodes such as those I have
mentioned were written down in a dossier and then reviewed by
succeeding care managers. Ordinary childhood actions were sometimes
seen as good reasons for repressive responses, even long
I have now read through a large number of
records of my life. Perusing these records of every alleged
misdemeanour leaves me quivering with rage. Hard times might just
be rotten luck for some people from more conventional backgrounds.
But in my case, it seems to me, they were the result of misguided
decisions and wild assumptions made on the basis of notes that
recorded the passing episodes of my early life.
Anna Young was born with cerebral
palsy and grew up in care. She is a freelance journalist and is
also studying for a degree.