Front Line Focus: Care matters in adulthood

It can be easy to assume that the need for services and support for children and young people brought up in care is confined to the time they are in care and shortly afterwards. Experience shows that this is just not the case.

The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 and the recent Care Matters white paper addresses the importance of young people receiving high levels of support into their early adult lives. But the needs of adults who have been in care (“former care adults”) do not disappear at age 21 or 24 – whether those needs relate to support with education, health, relationships with birth family members or finding out information about a childhood or adolescence in the care of the state.

There are many good proposals in Care Matters but little recognition that for many people, the experience of spending their childhood in care will reverberate throughout their life.

Laws and established practice exist to assist adopted people to access the support and services they may need through their life. They can access information about their origins, family background and the circumstances of their adoption. Also, there are services to help them contact birth family members. But the same opportunities and facilities do not extend to former care adults, although they are just as likely to want information about their own personal history and families.

The Data Protection Act 1998 gives former care adults the right to request access to information from records of their childhood held by a council, but this can be very difficult in practice as the act does not take into account the plight of former care adults who want to obtain a family history, including details of their parents and siblings.

Under the act, a person does not have the right to know what is recorded about someone else. The third-party restrictions and the redactions often made to the records mean that some former care adults can end up receiving little information about their early lives.

The work surrounding Care Matters provides a tremendous opportunity to address some of these difficulties. BAAF believes that future legislation should recognise the lifelong needs of people who have been raised in the care system. Without this recognition former care adults will not receive the support and services they deserve when accessing information and contacting family members.

Julia Feast is policy consultant, British Association for Adoption & Fostering

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