There’s a common expectation among Care Leavers that individual files were created containing all their relevant records. However, documented information about a person is most often spread across interconnected sets of records, and a person’s ‘file’ comprises extracts brought together from a number of different records.
Case files and admission and discharge registers are key records for Care Leavers, containing vital information about the child, their family, how they came into ‘care’, and hopefully information about their experiences in ‘care’. Photographs (and not just of people) are also records of great interest and significance to Care Leavers.
However, other types of records can contain significant and relevant information, and possibly contain the answers to the questions Care Leavers want answered. It is often the case that this significant information is to be found in ‘administrative’ records, which might seem not to be relevant to Care Leavers.
In the first round of Records Access Documentation grants (2012), one organisation used the funds to document minutes of meetings and matrons’ reports. In these records, the organisation further identified and indexed information about individual children (including incidents, health issues, court appearances, medical and dental treatment received). The organisation realised that this was the “type of information that is highly sought after by Care Leavers wanting to know more about their childhood”. As well, health records can be extremely relevant for later-life issues faced by Care Leavers.
As another example, financial records such as receipts for maintenance payments or reimbursements can be crucial evidence for Care Leavers – sometimes providing the only recorded proof that they were in ‘care’ at a given date (particularly when other records have been destroyed or lost). Information in seemingly peripheral records can be incredibly valuable!
We encourage organisations to do an archival survey of all records in their custody, and to create basic, high level documentation about the records. The survey will give you a grasp of the extent and nature of all material in your custody, and help identify where targeted project work will have the most benefit.
It’s important to know that not all information related to Care Leavers is found in registers and case files, and to take a holistic view of the records in a collection. When organisations learn more about and document all of the records in a collection, Care Leavers seeking access to information important to them can have better outcomes. An understanding of the records, the processes that led to their creation, and the way they have been managed (or not) over time, can help organisations better understand where information about a child may have been recorded.
We give this explanation before providing these broad descriptions of the kinds of records that are likely to be significant to Care Leavers. When thinking about ‘significance’, it’s important to have an open mind about what records Care Leavers are interested in, and where crucial information might be found.
Records of significance include: