In early 2007, the Care Leavers’ Association (CLA) surveyed around 150 local authorities, using the Freedom of Information Act, to find out more about how they were dealing with access to records requests.
The results revealed a very varied picture throughout England and Wales. Some local authorities reported receiving no requests for childhood care files during the period 2000-2004, whereas one reported over 800. The number of requests was not necessarily related to the size of the authority. For example, some smaller authorities reported a high number of access to records enquiries.
The results also revealed some gaps in practice. Around one quarter of local authorities had no monitoring system in place to record how many requests were received and how they were dealt with. Another quarter admitted that they did not publicise the fact that care leavers’ could access these records in anyway, despite it being a right.
There were also examples of good practice. Some local authorities genuinely recognised the importance of these files to post-care adults in enabling them to make sense of their past. Others, were prompted to make changes to their current practice by the survey itself.
Out of this research, the CLA launched the campaign, ‘It’s Our History, It’s Our Right: Reclaiming Our Past’, which has the following three aims:
- Promote awareness of care leavers’ rights to access their files
- Promote awareness of the importance of these personal records to care leavers
- Promote best practice on accessing these vital documents amongst professionals working in this area.
We have taken this campaign around the UK, visiting London, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, Birmingham and Glasgow and speaking to care leavers, but also to the professionals who work in this area.
From the gaps in practice that we spotted through our research and from talking to care leavers across the UK about their experiences accessing their records, we put together the requirements for the quality mark. These are based on care leavers views about what the basics of a good access to records service should include.