Group wants better access to records
FILES HEAVILY REDACTED
A FREMANTLE not-for-profit organisation is demanding better and less restrictive access to personal records for West Australians raised in institutional care.
Tuart Place is a resource service for adults who were in care as children. Director Philippa White said WA was one of the worst in the country for restrictive records release protocols, with personal care records held by the State Government released only under Freedom of Information (FOI).
She said all third party information, including family members and former carers, was removed from the records, making it harder for people who were looking to reconnect with family or other people of significance from childhood.
Some were even leaving the system without any personal documents.
“It costs money to get this kind of information and young care leavers often don’t have extra cash,” she said.
“Since Redress WA, access to records has become increasingly restrictive. Previously care leavers could apply for a complete copy of their file, but now they must request specific documents and the problem is how do you know what’s on your file if you haven’t seen it?”
“Records often arrive very heavily redacted, with not only third party names obscured but whole paragraphs and in some instances entire pages redacted, and this causes huge distress to the recipients and invites conspiracy theories.
“The main question care leavers ask is ‘Why was I put into care?’ but if the answer to this question is recorded in a care leaver’s file, it may be redacted from the documents they receive.”
Dr White said more needed to be done to make these records more accessible. Record holders should allow people to request a copy of their whole file, redact information only that was reasonably likely to cause harm to a third person, never obscure the faces of people who appeared in photos being returned and give a reason why information had been redacted.
“Clearly care leavers’ records are in a different category to other State Government records and FOI, as it currently stands, doesn’t accommodate this difference,” she said.
“We are seeking answers from the government about whether care leavers’ records can be dealt with under a nonFOI framework, as they were prior to 2008.”
Tuart Place collaborated with the Setting the Record Straight for the Rights of the Child initiative to hold a workshop on the issue in Fremantle last week.
Fremantle MLA and Child Protection Minister Simone McGurk, who attended, said good record keeping for children in care was “crucial”.
“It helps to fill important gaps in their family history and understanding their own history is an important part of their identity,” she said.
“Working collaboratively with Young Consultants from the CREATE Foundation in WAa, we have developed a number of resources to provide to young people with a care experience, so that they can access information regarding their records.
“The resources include information on their rights to access information and how to access records, as well as getting support when doing so.”