The files from the Mission are kept in the local library archives and the only reason I found out they were there was when the library did a 50 year story about Croydon 6 years ago or so and the Mission was included in that project. I was the person who was chosen to tell my story of growing up in care at the Mission and the interviewer managed to find out that my file and many others were kept within the archives.
In order to be able to see the file I had to provide proof of identify, which I felt was a very reasonable request. However, it was very obvious to me that the staff at the archives have no understanding of the emotional impact on the person who is accessing their childhood file in that way.
I was given the file to read in a very public place, the library! They refused to let me take it away to read in private even though I work for the local government and promised faithfully to return it. In the end they agreed to let me photo-copy it. When I was leaving the building I handed in my file to the person manning the desk and she put it on the side and walked off leaving it there. I felt so angry and distressed as it felt like my life with very very personal information had just been put there and anyone could have picked it up.
I did call the manager on the phone when I had calmed down and explained to him how I had felt and made suggestions as to how they might better support other people who come to see their files; like giving them a room where they could read the file in private etc.
Anyway, accessing that file was to be the beginning of a very emotional journey for me in more ways than one. To cut a long story short, I discovered from reading the file that my Mother had had another child in 1963 but the file held no info or clues as to what had happened to the child. I left the library feeling totally shocked, distressed but also hopeful.
Although my Mother is still alive and I do have contact with her she is almost 80 years old and I simply didn’t know how to approach her about it! But after much detective work I managed to find out my Mum was more or less forced into having her child adopted. They said that she already had one child in care and to have two there just wasn’t acceptable!
Using the agency Norcap and by entering into a non-disclosure agreement with social services it took just over 1 year to find my sister Hazel. We met for the first time 3 years ago this July and we get along really really well. I am also an Auntie and sister in law which has brought me a lot of joy and a deep sense of belonging! My sister has had a good life with her adopted family and although she feels bad that my life wasn’t so good we are both delighted to have found each other!
Last year I was able to introduce Mum to her other daughter and after Hazel had left my Mum kissed me and said “thank you for finding my daughter, that was the very best Christmas present I’ve ever had”. It was a very special moment and one I’ll never forget.
In January 2001 I wrote to the director of Croydon Social Services and under the Data Protection Act I requested access to the file they ‘should’ hold on me.
I was placed in care from the age of 2 and experienced many difficulties which finally resulted in my being placed under a care order with Croydon when I was 14 years old. (long story) However, fortunately for me the Mission file held court documentation saying that Croydon were my legal guardians from that age because according to Croydon I simply do not exist!!!
They cannot find any record of me on their central index system or in the archives.I met with them in November 2001 and they allocated me a social worker who also tried to find records on me but to no avail. I have put in a formal complaint and am awaiting an outcome any day now. This situation has now been going on since January 2001 which in my opinion is far too long!
At the meeting with Social Services I explained to all present the importance of being enabled to access files for people like me who have spent their entire life in care. The need to put the jigsaw puzzle pieces together etc How if I hadn’t of gone to see my file from the Mission I would not have known I had a sister and would have been denied the wonderful growing relationship I am enjoying with her and her family.