Barnardo’s has one of the largest collections of archives and records about children in the world, dating from the 1870s to the present day. This archive holds thousands of files and photographs of children and young people who were looked after by the charity, either in children’s homes or foster care.

In 1995, Barnardo’s established a service which is dedicated to supporting care leavers and adopted adults who are wanting to access their records. The archive receives a significant number of requests every year, many of which go beyond ‘subject access’. The service also provides people with one-to-one support as they go through their files or use the tracing service. The latter connecting birth family and former carers alongside the opportunity to record a family history for descendants.

The principle of the work undertaken is that it ‘…acknowledges the unique and emotional relationship that care leavers have with their records, as well as the impact of remembering and revisiting childhood trauma.’

What did the research on the importance of foster children’s case records find?

The project was led by Elizabeth Shepherd (Professor of Archives and Records Management at University College London) and focussed on interviews and focus groups comprising 80 social work practitioners, information professionals (those working in the field of Data Protection) and care leavers.

The research gave a voice to those who had been denied the right to say how they felt about the decisions that others made about their lives. One young woman, faced with a heavily redacted file, said

‘There’s other pieces of paper that are just blacked out…there’s absolutely nothing. What’s it (the file) actually telling me?’

Professor Shepherd stated that social care records were vital for ‘memory making and identity’. These ‘gaps in someone’s personal narrative can be deeply traumatic, leaving them with feelings of blame and a lack of self-worth’. The conclusion of the project was that:

  • Records should include those who are involved in the care of children and the young people themselves
  • Best practice guidance is essential when creating records
  • There should be new standards for access to records for all care-experienced persons.

Darren, who works with care leavers and is a project manager with the Care Leavers’ Association, noted that ‘…there’s no culture of recognition of the life experiences of someone in the care system. There’s a cultural deficit.’ The research ‘found that the importance and value of effective recordkeeping was not widely recognised or understood by local authorities, who act as gatekeepers for these records.’

This study focussed on the Local Authority case records and evidenced the limited information available to those who want to create a cohesive back story. What it also demonstrates is the importance of records kept by others, such as social workers and foster carers, who have the opportunity to record young people’s history in such a way as to give them a scaffold on which to hang their past.

Why are case records so vital?

On top of the importance of case records for helping foster children to establish a sense of self and of their own personal histories, there are a number of practical reasons why keeping comprehensive case records is so essential for foster carers.

As The Fostering Network point out, keeping good records is vital for review meetings, care assessments, and long-term care planning. It’s vital to have records of behaviour as well as any discussions that have been had. It’s also essential to record both positive and negative events and attitudes – case records aren’t just there to record bad behaviour!

The Fostering Network also describe an increase in the cases of foster carers being asked to attend court or case conferences, and also participating in children’s statutory reviews etc. Having comprehensive, accurate notes makes producing written support for these meetings a far easier process.

Accurate case records are also a protection for foster carers themselves. Although rare, there are incidents of allegations of abuse against foster carers being made, and having proper notes can aid in recall and remembrance in these situations, helping foster carers quickly provide accurate information.

Case records best practices

AFA have a comprehensive policy for recording the case records of foster children. We provide full training for all of our carers on this policy, and see it as a vital part of the foster carer’s work. We have provided some brief guidance on best practices below:

  • Record both positive and negative events
  • Be accurate and factual
  • Ensure confidentially is followed – case records need to follow data sharing best practices
  • Be concise but ensure all relevant information is recorded
  • Ensure records are always kept up to date

You can also view our full policy document on case records.