- Introduction: starting the journey
- Where do I start?
- Why are there files about me?
- How will I feel when I look at files about me?
- What is on the file about me?
- Where else can I go for information about me?
- Who can access records about me?
- Can I access other people's files?
- Have recordkeepers learned anything from the past?
- Getting help to find records about you
- Records Services
What to expect when accessing records about you
Why are there files about me?
Like many older care leavers, I was not even aware that files were kept about me until I was in my mid-fifties.
It can be difficult to accept that several years of a life can be recorded by no more than some one-line entries in a register.
In the past, those who looked after children in out of home 'care' never dreamed that these children would one day come back as adults and want to see their files.
Government departments and 'care' providers created and kept records about you for their own administrative purposes. For example:
- The Children's Welfare Department created a 'ward file' on every child committed to state 'care', recording all of a child's placements and incidents the department found significant.
- Children's homes recorded information mainly to comply with laws, regulations and the requirements of their superiors. For example, an orphanage might be required to maintain a register of children coming in (admissions) and children leaving (discharges), with only basic details about the children in its 'care'.
- Babies' homes tended to keep detailed records about the feeding schedules and bowel movements of infants.
If there were letters to or from parents, or transfers from one home to another, these documents were probably put in your file. But what people recorded varied a lot and not everything that happened to a child was written down and kept.
Therefore, you should understand that the information that is important and meaningful to you may well not have been recorded on your files. Until very recently, 'care' providers did not keep records to document the milestones in the lives of individual children. As already mentioned, people in charge of you were not thinking about the possibility that you would come back, years down the track, to read your records, and seek information about your time in 'care'.
We now know that these records from government departments and 'care' providers are very important to people who have been in 'care'. Unfortunately, these records can be superficial, inaccurate, or incomplete, and leave many questions unanswered.
People often embark on the journey to locate and access their records with expectations about what they'll find.
- You may expect to find all the answers to your questions about your childhood
- You may expect to be given access to your records straight away
- You may expect to find detailed, accurate records about your time in 'care'
- You may expect to find eerything you want to know in one convenient place
- You may expect to find precious items from your childhood – birth certificates, school reports, letters, photographs
- You may expect to be allowed to access everything on your file
But, many of these common expectations won't be met when you locate and access your records.
The records might be about you, but the records weren't created for you
The administrative purposes for which records were created means that:
There may be minimal information on your file
After 18 years as a 'Ward of the State' and some 32 years later, I finally get enough nerve to have the audacity to ask the system for whatever relevant details they may or may not have on me during my childhood … I get two sheets of paper with about 9 or 12 lines on it, I look at these two sheets and I am devastated, 18 years of my life on two sheets of paper. I ponder and wonder this can't be all of my 18 years on two sheets of paper.
There may be inaccurate information on your file
There are a lot of stories in the files that have been written about me from when I was in different stations working … And the bad things they said about me in the past from the settlement wasn't true. There are a lot of untrue things about me on the files. I have cried about the lies on those files. Things that are lies about me, things I was never told about, are on those files.
There may be derogatory or insulting language about you and your family in your file
I found out a lot from that file - more than I really wanted to know. That's how I found out that I was classified as being 'high grade mental defective' and sent to 'homes' for mentally retarded boys.
There might not be any record at all about events that were momentous to you
No one can find any records about me … Our lives were changed forever by this action and I have never been given or it seems now that I will never have any context for this life changing action. Why is this? Why have I never been told as an adult why the government came and took us?