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What to expect when accessing records about you.
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What to expect when accessing records about you
- Starting the journey
- What to expect when accessing records
- How will I feel when I look at my file?
- Other important records
- What are my rights to access records about me and others?
- Support for care leavers
Starting the journey
If you (or a member of your family) spent time in 'care', there will likely be records that are personal to you, and your story. In Tasmania, the state government and community service organisations are the 'custodians' of these personal records about children in 'care'.
You won't see these records on a website, or in a book, because they are private, personal, and confidential. But if the records are about you, you have the right to ask and to access them.
People seek out their personal records for different reasons – everyone's story is different. It can take a long time to actually make the decision to approach an organisation and ask about your records.
We hope that the information here will assist you on your journey to find out about your time in 'care'. The information is drawn from the exhibition What to expect when accessing records about you on the Find & Connect Victoria website, and from talking to many care leavers about their experience of accessing records.
What to expect when accessing records
Like many older care leavers, I was not even aware that files were kept about me until I was in my mid-fifties [Frank Golding, 'Personal records and the stories they tell'].
People often embark on the journey to locate and access their records expecting to:
- find all the answers to questions about their childhood
- be given access to their records straight away
- find detailed, accurate records about their time in 'care'
But, many of these common expectations will not be met when you locate and retrieve your records.
If you were a state ward, there may be some form of wardship records about you held by the Tasmanian government.
If you were not a ward of the state, there may be records held by the non-government agency that holds the records from your 'care' provider. In some instances, the available records may only be the admission and discharge record.
Past record keeping practices of Government departments and 'care' providers were primarily for administrative purposes rather than to keep an accurate record of all events. Unfortunately, the older records may be superficial, inaccurate, or incomplete, and leave many questions unanswered.
The records kept and the information recorded will vary according to the time period when you were in 'care', what sort of institution you were in, the policies and practices of different 'care' providers, and even the personal habits of different staff members keeping records.
Some people find that their years in 'care' only generated a few lines of writing. Other people are presented with reams of information (although it will not necessarily be an accurate reflection of one's experiences).
How will I feel when I look at my file?
Many people who read their records don't expect it to be such an emotional experience and are not prepared for the significant emotional impact including feelings of anger, and hurt, but also sometimes feelings of confirmation or relief.
Some people find that their files are not just full of bureaucratic facts and figures but contain records that evoke the pain of a child being removed from family. Sometimes the contents of your file will contradict the way you remember the past. It might contain information that was kept from you as a child, or reveal that you were lied to when you were in 'care', e.g. finding letters from family members that were never passed on to you, or letters that you had written.
The process of seeking access to your records can lead to positive experiences. You can find clues and answers to these identity questions by locating and accessing records about your time in 'care'. Records can sometimes help if you have gaps in your own personal history, especially about your childhood. Also, it can lead to reconnecting with friends from your childhood. Some people find it helpful to attend reunions of the home where they lived as children, or get-togethers organised by support groups for 'care' leavers.
Other important records
There are other types of records held by organisations which can help you to fill in the gaps about your time in 'care', e.g. annual reports, minutes of meetings, staff files, superintendents' reports, organisational histories, and photographs. These records give background information about the institution where you lived, and can help you to make sense of the details on your personal file.
What are my rights to access records about me and others?
There is legislation that applies to your right to access records. Different laws relating to privacy and freedom of information apply in each state and territory.
Public records legislation in each state requires the government to keep the personal records of children who were in 'care' permanently. Usually the internal policy of an organisation states that the 'care' provider must also keep its client files permanently. Inquiries like 'Forgotten Australians' and 'Bringing them home' have also stipulated that these records are never to be destroyed.
The organisation that created the records needs to be accountable for its actions as your former guardian, and in many cases will have kept the original copies of the records. In the case of some records on your file (like personal letters, school reports, photographs) you can request the organisation give the original records to you, and keep a copy for its files.
The government or a community service organisation might be the custodian, but you have a right to request access to records if they contain information about you.
You may also be given the opportunity to add information to the files an organisation or government department has about you, as a way of completing the picture, and making sure that your voice is included.
In the case of other people's records, e.g. A sibling, it is possible to access those parts of the file that contain information about you. You might find that your access to some information in the records (yours and other people's files) is restricted, because of the interpretation of privacy or freedom of information legislation. Usually, it is information about 'third parties' which is exempted.
The need to protect third party information is sometimes at odds with the need people have to find out information about family members, and their past.
In the case of government records, there are formal avenues to appeal any information that is exempted from the file and these appeal rights are outlined when records are provided.
Support for care leavers
Before, during and after your search for your records, you may find various types of services helpful. See Support Groups and Services for a list of services available to care leavers including a list of support groups in your state.
There is support available for care leavers searching for family or wanting to meet and share stories with others with whom you were in 'care'. Some support groups also advocate on behalf of 'care' leavers or provide counselling.
- Frank Golding, 'Personal records and the stories they tell' [Return to text]