Access to Records

ISN and Islington Council have agreed a procedure for Islington Survivors to access their childhood care records in a way which respects survivor’s wishes. Working in co-production, ISN and the council continue to review and improve these procedures.

Co-production means working together in partnership to design, deliver and review services

“They are not files. Papers to be just handed over. They are our life stories – we have spent a lot of time trying to forget what happened – it’s a really big step to get the file and takes massive courage to read it. Most of us don’t read it – ISN give us the timeline and talk us through it which makes it bearable and helps us to talk about what really happened.” (ISN survivor)

ISN survivors contributed to this research
How to get your file

ISN can help you to get your childhood care records. The Support Services (Non Recent Abuse Team) sometimes assist ISN in this process because the requirements the council need can be complicated. Also, not everyone has all the ID needed by the council and not everyone has access to a computer.

Islington Survivors who wish to be represented by ISN in getting their files can download the amended council Subject Access Request form here .

Contact ISN if you would like help to download or complete the form.

This form says that you want ISN to represent you and also to collect the file on your behalf. ISN have agreed this supportive process with the council because we recognise that getting hold of your files is not an easy thing to do.

When you contact ISN the file process will be explained to you. ISN has worked hard over 5 years to achieve a process which is safe, sensitive and agreed with you at every step. It now works well.

What happens when ISN has applied for my file?

The Access to Records council staff locate the file and then, to comply with Data Protection law, they must remove information which relates to ‘third parties.’ So if you were with a friend in care and they are named in the records – the friends name would be redacted (obscured). This is because the person named in your file has not given permission and it protects everyone.

If you were in care with your brothers or sisters and wish to apply together, then ISN or the Support Team will help you complete a Family Consent Form to provide permission. They will also need to supply proofs of identity.

How do I collect my file?

When the file is ready to collect, survivors usually ask ISN to collect the file on their behalf from the Non-Recent Abuse Team,  based at 222 Upper Street, where they are sent sealed from the Access to Records team. ISN then contact you to decide how you best want to look through the file. The most important thing for you to remember when you get your file is that you need to feel comfortable with the arrangements and how you want the file collected. ISN will consult with you – the file belongs to you.

This system works well- when ISN first began, Access to Records were posting files to survivors or just handing them over in a large envelope and this caused a great deal of distress. This practice has been stopped unless there is a very good reason to do it at the survivor’s and/or ISN’s request.

Once collected by ISN what happens?

When ISN gets the file you will be contacted and told about what has been found. You might get a couple of pages or many volumes. Much of the file may be missing and some content redacted (obscured). Out of over 100 files accessed with ISN’s involvement, 15 survivors have had no file found for them. Sometimes whole chunks of a file are missing relating to a particular children’s home or foster placement. Sometimes the daily records kept by residential staff are included with the file but most often they are missing. Increasingly ISN is asking for searches to look for these and more are now being found.

If there are copies of important original documents on file then ISN ask that you are given the original not a copy. For example a passport, sports certificate, a letter etc. The council staff are helpful in providing these documents.

Timelines

The files are often disordered and confusing. They are organised by the council into separate folders on themes ( reviews, social work records, medicals, finance etc) which is not helpful as one event can appear split between 5 different folders.

ISN can explain what records are expected to be on a file so that you can consider how complete it is. If needed, Liz Davies will complete a timeline for you from the files. This puts everything that is on the file into a basic chart in date order. You can then add your own comments. There are separate columns for where you were living, social workers names, residential staff names, other children’s names, what the record says and your own comments.

datesourceaddressLA social workersOther staffChildrenIncident/EventSurvivor account
Headings for the timelines

The file and timeline belong to you. Survivors use the timelines for quick checks on facts – dates, places, other children’s or staff names etc. This can help if and when you have a meeting with lawyers, police or therapists but mainly they are for you – you can add to them quite easily and dip in and out of them as you want.

What might I read on my file?

The files often have all kinds of comments about children on them. There are records made by staff who were genuine but also by some who were abusers. You are the only person who really knows what went on and this is often very different from what is written on your file.

However, the records can add weight to your account by proving that you were in a particular place at a particular time even if the record of what went on there is not accurate. In the years from the 60s to the 90s – children were hardly ever included in meetings and rarely consulted about their views. There are very few records that show that a child’s views were heard or that anyone ever even asked for them. Children were commonly seen in the presence of foster carers and residential staff and were silenced. Survivors tell ISN that as children they were threatened by abusers that if they spoke out they would be sent to secure units or punished by being denied visits to their families or holiday outings. There are more often two completely different versions of events – the survivor’s and that which is written in the records.

What if I was in care to other authorities?

The Non Recent Abuse team will help you to get hold of records which are outside of Islington.

The Islington Survivors Trauma Service is available to ISN survivors

Getting a file can bring up all kinds of unexpected feelings. You may read about things you knew nothing about or see yourself described in really negative, unfair ways.

If you find getting your file a difficult time for you then contact ISTS and tell them you would like support. Do not struggle through on your own. These services have been set up by ISN for you.

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What if I want to apply for my files myself and not go through ISN or the Support Service?

If you want to access your childhood care records independently of ISN then the information on how to do this is on the Islington Council website. The form you will need is available from the council website.

Of course you can always Contact ISN if and when you have received your file and you want to ask questions about it.

The Care Leavers Association also has a lot of information on Access to Records