Pieces of the Puzzle – Accessing Childhood and Time in Care Records

Do they still exist, where are they stored and how do I access them?

If you spent time in the care of an institution or the government as a child (i.e. in an orphanage, a juvenile detention facility, in foster care or on a settlement) there could be records pertaining to your childhood stored and available for you to access.

Everyone has different reasons for wanting to access their childhood records. At Littles Lawyers, one of the first things we will do when investigating a claim for a survivor of childhood abuse is request any records from the individual’s childhood which may still exist. From a claims perspective, these records (although not essential in pursuing a claim, and sometimes not an accurate reflection of the true circumstances) can often provide important information such as confirmation of admission and discharge from institutions, reasons why an individual came into care, placement history, medical information and details of their family circumstances and correspondence like letters and file notes.

The reality of reading records

Records can sometimes be confronting and emotional to read. These records may bring up traumatic and distressing memories, and the contents of the documents can often be upsetting. Sometimes the records may be inaccurate, reflect a completely different series of experiences or circumstances than the individual recalls, or be incomplete. Likewise, the lack of records can be equally as disappointing for some individuals. It is not uncommon that with the passing of time, records are destroyed or lost. However, for some survivors accessing records can be a positive experience and provide answers to questions people have had for many years.

How do I access my records?

Depending on the State or Territory that an individual spent time in as a child, there are a number of different pathways to request childhood or time in care records. Requesting and accessing records are governed by privacy and freedom of information legislation in the relevant State or Territory.

In Queensland, access to information and records is governed by the Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld) and the Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld). Requesting records held by the Queensland Government (i.e. those who were wards of the state, in state-run juvenile detention facilities or in foster care) is usually done by submitting a ‘Right to Information and Information Privacy Access Application’ pursuant to s24 of the Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld) and s43 of the Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld). It is a five page form which requires individuals to fill out their contact details, the agency they require the information from (i.e. the Department of Child Safety or the Department of Youth Justice), the kind of records they are looking for and any information which might assist in locating the records (i.e. the time period or where the documents may be located). Accessing information which pertains only to yourself is usually free (in QLD). If an individual is seeking to access information which relates to someone else, they may be required to pay an access fee.

In New South Wales, access to information or records from an individual’s time in foster care or a state-run juvenile detention centre is governed by the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009. Similar to Queensland, a ‘GIPA’ form can be completed (printed or online) and submitted to the relevant Department (i.e. the Department of Communities and Justice).

In New South Wales, individuals who spent time in foster care or orphanages/children’s homes are referred to as ‘Care Leavers’ and can apply to request their childhood records without having to pay a fee.

Individuals are often required to provide proof of their identification when submitting an application to access their records, such as a certified copy of their ID (i.e. drivers licence, birth certificate or proof of age card).

Will I receive all of my records?

As stated above, sometimes records can be destroyed or lost over time. Therefore, even if records pertaining to someone’s childhood did exist once, it does not mean they are guaranteed to be released or locatable in the present day. Some States and Territories have specific laws about the timeframes they keep records before destroying them. For example, New South Wales school records are often destroyed seven years after departing school or at the age of 25.

Likewise, a number of different laws govern the information which can be released, therefore some records may be redacted or withheld, particularly if they contain third party information (i.e. names of other people like social workers, carers or even siblings and other family members).

What if I wasn't in a government institution?

Records from non-government institutions may still exist and there are a number of different ways these can be requested and/or accessed. Sometimes written requests can be submitted to the institution or agency themselves. There are a number of other services and organisations which can assist individuals to access their childhood records, such as Wattle Place (NSW), Lotus Place (QLD) and Tuart Place (WA).

If an individual pursues a common law claim for damages in Queensland, the governing legislation (Personal Injuries Proceedings Act 2002 Qld) allows individuals to request documents and information relevant to the reasons for or circumstances of the incident (i.e. an individual’s childhood abuse), which may include documents like childhood records or details concerning the institution they were abused in.

Contact Littles Lawyers today for further information regarding accessing your childhood records.

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