The CLA believes that all social care organisations should work in an open and honest way with care leavers.
To help you with the process of accessing your care files the CLA has created a free guide for care leavers, which provides information on how to access childhood care files.
We have also created an example and template suggested letter you can send to your Local Authority when requesting your care file.
If you have any issues in accessing your care files please contact the project lead Darren Coyne on firstname.lastname@example.org
or you can contact the office on 0161 236 5665
Why do social services and others need to keep files?
Generally speaking, files are kept so that information that you, your family and others have given can be used to plan and provide services. It is important that some record of what has happened in the past is kept so that new workers know what has been going on and are not constantly ‘reinventing the wheel’. For young people who have been in care, the records will consist of such things as regular case notes – a bit like a diary (perhaps by residential workers) or more official notes from 6-monthly reviews. However, there can also be a lot of other information in there, such as letters between schools, social workers, therapists, parents and so on.
These records may include sensitive information about you, e.g. your health, sexual life, parents and family. You have the right to know if any of these are recorded and if so, why .
Nowadays, all records have to meet the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998. The principles of the Data Protection Act can be found below
Who can have access to my file?
Generally, if social work has taken place with your whole family, all the information will be available to the whole family. If social work has only been undertaken with you, information can only be seen by you unless you agree to others seeing it. For care leavers, this sometimes means that you may not be able to see parts of your file that have information about work done with other family members unless you have the permission of those family members.
Those working with you would not usually have had access to files held by other agencies unless:
- You gave your permission.
- There were concerns about your safety or that of someone else connected to you.
- Information needed to be shared to prevent or detect a crime.
- It was used for statistical purposes (in this case you would not be identified).
How do I go about seeing my file?
Within the above limitations, you are able to see your records and receive copies at any time by applying to the organisation who holds your file. They should make the information available within a maximum of 40 days from you making your application. Having received your request, someone will arrange for you to look through your file. It is not compulsory to see someone beforehand and a care leaver can decline to see someone, such as a social worker, even if this is offered. However, it can be helpful to have someone there to explain any points and note any changes that you think should be made to the records.
May any part of the file be withheld from me?
It is possible that information from someone (e.g. a Doctor) which is written in confidence would not be shared. In such circumstances, the organisation would need to obtain the agreement of the person providing the information. Sometimes, if they believe that it will cause you serious harm to see certain information, the organisation is allowed to refuse to show that part of the file. However, if they want to refuse they can only do so if they can provided evidence that showing you would imperil ongoing social work with you or with a third party (such as another family member).
It is very unlikely that this would be the case, and in any event, voluntary sector data controllers (Barnardo’s, The Children’s Society, NCH, and the other charities) are not permitted to use this exemption. Most organisations have to apply for this right to withhold information, but most social care organisations (which do not include Barnardo’s, The Children’s Society, NCH, and the other charities) would already have this power. It might apply to care leavers with significant mental health problems, but only if they are undergoing social work, or a health professional’s opinion is obtained. It is hard to see how it would apply in any other case. Even for those with significant mental health problems, whether such information would be harmful in the short term but beneficial in the long term, or distressing but not necessarily harmful, would clearly in many cases be a difficult judgement call, and one that should be made by a health professional, not a social worker.
You can read more about how data protection may your access to your files here
Will I have a copy of anything written about me?
Nowadays, when a letter or report is written on your behalf (if you are still in care or a young care leaver), good practice requires that it should be discussed with you. However, every organisation will have their own ways of doing this. Obviously, for most older care leavers this will not have been the case. Therefore much of the information in the file may be material or information you have never seen before.
Below you can read further about sensitive personal data and how it will be processed.
What happens to files when work comes to and end?
The file will have been closed when you left care but will be retained for a minimum period. This will vary but for those working with children it would normally be for some years after contact ended. Nowadays (since the late 1980s), the records of looked after children have to be retained for 75 years from birth or 15 years after a child under the of 18 dies. Throughout this time, you continue to have the right to see the information kept on you. After that time, the file and contents will be destroyed.The archived case files of the charities can be kept forever and, once the subject of a file is deceased, the file may be made public (over the Web, for example), or may be sold to a university for research purposes.
What can I do if I am not satisfied?
If you do not see your file within 40 days of asking to do so or have any other complaints about the information kept on you, you have the right to raise this with the Information Commissioner for Data Protection:
Cheshire. SK9 5AF
Telephone:01625 545 700
Facsimile: 01625 524510