Uncovering a care past: Ariel Bruce

Independent social worker Ariel Bruce tells Lauren Revans about her role in helping people uncover their past.

Cutting Edge: The Homecoming tracks journalist Rachel Roberts in her quest to find other children from the care home where she lived as a child. Her successes are largely thanks to the behind-the-scenes work of independent social worker Ariel Bruce.

Bruce was a local authority children and families social worker but for the past 20 years has specialised in tracing missing people. Much of her time is taken up with post adoption work, and she runs registered Adoption Support Agency (ASA).

Most of Bruce’s clients are people who left care or were adopted many years earlier and pay for her services privately, although she is sometimes hired by a local authority on behalf of a child in care or care leaver. But Bruce does not just play detective. Her social work qualifications and experience mean that she is able to support her clients as she uncovers information and people from their past.

Part of Bruce’s work involves delving into old social services files. She says that much of the information she is looking for is factual and “will tend to be reasonably in place”.

But she adds that what is more difficult to find in children’s files is descriptions of emotional realities and, particularly in older files, comments about children’s physical and behavioural development.

Bruce insists the decision to dig up the past is a personal one that is right for some people and not for others. For her, the important thing is that they have the choice.

“People who have been bought up in their own families have family historians all around them in their parents and siblings. But for people in care, that isn’t the case. They can be alone with their memories or interpretations of the facts. To have someone to reflect back on an event is important. To that extent, access to files might help. Can that be disturbing and difficult? Of course. Most people are not in the care system unless there has been some sort of family schism.”

Despite often having to deliver painful news, Bruce believes that – data protection and privacy laws permitted – honesty is normally the best policy. “For the people who go looking, I think every opportunity to know should be made available. I err towards the view that, if you are searching there’s an unease. I am of the view that the information belongs to them.”

Bruce is pleased with the fruit of her labours, working with Roberts and the others for the Cutting Edge programme. She says: “For several people involved, it has been a beneficial experience.”

But she adds that the programme is, yet again, “an indictment of the way in which being in care did not materially enhance people’s outcomes”.  In this respect, she believes, sadly, little has changed.

● Cutting Edge: The Homecoming, Channel 4, Thursday 14 May, 9pm, www.channel4.com/programmes/the-homecoming

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