I initially felt that I would have nothing to contribute to this conversation as I had managed to gain my records many years ago due to my persistence and a very understanding social worker. Like so many other people who had been through the care system in the 1960s and 1970s, my records were scattered and incomplete. The social worker I mentioned gathered all my paper files together and created for me a timeline of events as there was a lot of confusion about what took place and where. The social worker also photocopied the records for me to keep.
However, even then she was unable to provide me with my early years experiences as the notes on these contained details of my siblings and I was told that my siblings would have to give their permission; something that would have been difficult for me to obtain.
I was eventually given access to this information only three years ago, after asking for it once again. A newly-created file was sent to me and the information it contained gave me an understanding of what my family circumstances were before being placed in care, which upheld the stories that my mother had repeated. We as a sibling group had thought these to be lies as they made no sense.
With information I gained from my mother’s hand-written story of her own harrowing experiences, this new information provided me with a certain relief and ability to lay to rest the doubt carried around for so many decades. This early years information was crucial to my understanding of my past, particularly since as a sibling group we had made up various versions of events which became more elaborate over the years and which only promoted the pain, following our abusive experiences whilst ‘looked after’.
This early years information gave me a great deal of insight into my mother’s reasons for placing her children in the care system. Unfortunately, she died before this information became available to me and therefore I could not talk to her about it. What it did for me was to complete the picture puzzle of my understanding of my journey into care and through the care system and help me to realise that should I wish to apportion blame for my entering into care in the first place then this could equally be placed on the shoulders of a ruling from the British court system about the ethnicity and residence of my older siblings as on the shoulders of others.
Thinking through my own personal story of navigating my ‘looked after’ records has made me realise just how important the drive for improved access to records is and I am thankful to those members of the CLA that have taken the trouble to campaign for this right for all care leavers to be informed of their own personal history.