This lobby group started at the beginning of 2013 following a case I was involved in called Durham County Council v. Dunne  EWCA Civ 1654. In this case, the Court of Appeal decided that if a lawyer was asking for records from a Local Authority in the course of a Court Case (as opposed to before the case went to Court) then they should be provided without any masking out, or "redactions" as they are known.
I was contacted by David Lane - a Social Care Expert who is active in the Social Work Field and a Former Director of Social Services - and suggested that we could use their case as a lever to improve the access of Care Leavers to their records. David introduced me to Darren Coyne of the Care Leavers Association, who had been active in this area, for many years. He frequently experienced difficulties when acting for Care Leavers who had been given "redacted" versions of their records, to such an extent that they were rendered meaningless.
Darren then set about forming a lobbying Group, which consisted of Baroness Lola Young from the House of Lords, who had formerly been in care and had difficulty obtaining her own records, Julia Feast and Leonie Jordan from the British Association of Adoption and Fostering, Trish Scott from Barnado's, and David Lane who shortly thereafter became a member of the Panel to the Northern Ireland Historical Abuse Inquiry.
We met and formed a strategy. It was decided that we would try to influence the government to amend the Children & Families Bill, which, in the summer of 2014, was passing through Parliament. I tabled a proposed amendment, which was converted into guidelines and further amended before being placed before the House of Lords, most capably by Baroness Young.
The result was that there was a lot of support for revised guidelines, which were then adopted by the Department of Education, and published as new guidelines which all Local Authorities should follow. They are described as "statutory guidance for local authorities on helping care leavers aged 16 and 17 prepare for adulthood." To read them in detail go to paragraphs 4.21 to 4.37. Click here
- It emphasises that Care Leavers are entitled to find out about their family history and that the Data Protection Act should not be used as a barrier to hinder that process
- It reminds Local Authorities that Care Records must be retained until the Care Leaver is 75.
- People who request records can be any age, and are not necessarily children.
- There should be a proper policy with information to explain how people can access their records.
- Local Authorities should respond quickly, sensitively, and openly should records be mislaid or lost.
- If records must be redacted then a clear explanation should be given.
- Because a Care Leaver has a right to know about his family background, care should be taken to avoid unnecessary redaction, but if necessary, it should be properly explained.
- The Care leaver should be given help and advice when accessing his/her records by the Local Authority appointing a designated person.
Long term goals are as follows:-
- Developing and promoting innovative approaches to national partnership working with LAC/Care Leavers in the development of services that address their individual needs
- Promoting transparency, openness and accountability of public services to LAC and Care Leavers, in view of the overwhelming impact of public services on their life chances and quality of life
- Providing training and information on the needs of LAC/Care Leavers, their emotional well-being and how this is impacted by the process of accessing their file(s)
- Ensuring user led perspectives are central to policy developments and implementation