Group wants bet­ter ac­cess to records

FILES HEAV­ILY REDACTED

Fremantle Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - Jes­sica Nico

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.”

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