Children’s voices largely absent from care records, causing significant distress, study finds

Importance of care records to care leavers not recognised by local authorities, says new research

Photo: lassedesignen/Adobe Stock

Children and young people’s voices are largely absent from their record, causing care leavers significant distress, a study published today has found.

The research also found a lack of recognition on the importance and value of effective record keeping by local authorities and that, when people received their records, they were often heavily redacted, or censored, to remove any ‘third party information’.

The MIRRA (Memory – Identity – Rights in records – Access) study collected interview and focus group data from over 80 social work practitioners, information professionals and care leavers, who discussed their experience of accessing records later in life.

One, John-george, said: “One of the most profound things for me about the file, and it screams the loudest, is my lack of voice… My voice is totally stolen and words are put in your mouth.”

On the issue of redacting information, fellow care leaver  Jackie said:  “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?”

Records vital for identity

Professor Elizabeth Shepherd, who led the study, said social care records were vital for ‘memory-making and identity’ for adults who were in care as children.

“Gaps in someone’s personal narrative can be deeply traumatic, leaving them with feelings of blame and a lack of self-worth.”

MIRRA project findings:

  • Records should be created by all those involved in a child’s care. They should include the voices of children themselves, taking into account their lifelong needs for memory, identity and justice.
  • Best practice guidance for records creation and management should be established for all organisations with safeguarding responsibilities and guardianship of children’s memories.
  • New standards for access to records for all care-experienced persons should be developed that address the rights of care-experienced people and the responsibilities of institutions.

Despite care leavers placing huge significance on their records, the research found that the importance and value of effective recordkeeping was not widely recognised or understood by local authorities, who act as gatekeepers for these records.

Darren, a care leaver and project manager at The Care Leavers’ Association said: “I think we have organisations that just don’t understand why older care leavers come back to access their files, because there’s no culture of recognition of the life experiences of someone in the care system. There’s a cultural deficit.”

Shepherd, who is professor of archives and records management at University College London (UCL), 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.”

The MIRRA project was led by UCL’s department of information studies and carried out with the Care Leaver’s Association and the charity Family Action. For more information, see the project’s blog and this introductory video.

MIRRA project video:

MIRRA blog:

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2 Responses to Children’s voices largely absent from care records, causing significant distress, study finds

  1. Graham October 3, 2019 at 6:54 pm #

    I’m a care leaver and the files in record are nineteen in total, yet I received only seven files of which all of them where filled with blank pages, where information has been blanked out. After speaking to more then the 250 care leavers I can say with certainty, that everyone of have been negatively effected by files being censored. This is is abuse and neglectful by social workers and all who are actively involved with these children. Their lives, their records of their past and it their right to all information in full.

  2. londonboy October 9, 2019 at 11:29 am #

    My son entered Care in his teens. It was heartbreaking and I prepared a book of family photos that I asked be put on his file so all would understand where he came from. He just wanted a blank slate and the social workers refused the book on the basis that there was no space ( either digital or in real space?) to store it. When he went subsequently missing they had no photos of him and we then had to supply one. Truly unbelievable..this is not care.