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A Paper Childhood: The Social Services Care Files of Former Looked After Children in the UK

By Jim Goddard


This chapter considers the significance of accessing written information on\ud one’s childhood. A written history of one’s childhood is a rare event for most\ud children, but it is routine for those who grew up in care. Between 6,000 and\ud 7,000 young people leave care each year in England. This suggests a\ud conservative estimate of approximately 350,000 adults in the UK as a whole\ud who spent part or all of their childhood in care. Each of them will have had a\ud local authority or voluntary sector file which detailed various aspects of their\ud care. After leaving care, many of these adults attempt to gain access to these\ud files in order to answer questions about their past. This process can be\ud important for a variety of reasons, such as the formation of a coherent adult\ud identity and addressing issues of self-esteem (Stein and Carey, 1986: 142-143;\ud Biehal, Clayden, Stein and Wade, 1995: 108-109; Pugh, 1999; Wheal, 2002).\ud However, research and services in this field lag far behind those in relation to\ud adults who were adopted as children (Kirton et al., 2001; Howe, Feast with\ud Coster, 2000). The Data Protection Act 1998 now provides local authorities\ud with new guidance for the maintenance and accessibility of such records (DoH,\ud 2000), thus making research on this subject particularly timely. This article\ud outlines a British Academy funded research project that represents the first\ud stage in trying to fill the knowledge gap in this field. It reports the early results\ud of the first national survey of all local authorities (and some voluntary\ud providers) in the UK on their access to records practice and procedures with\ud respect to former care adults

Topics: HQ, HV
Publisher: University of Huddersfield
Year: 2006
OAI identifier:

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  2. (2001). After all these years: accessing care records’, doi
  3. (2000). Data Protection Act 1998: Guidance to Social Services, Department of Health,
  4. (1995). I would like to acknowledge the contribution of my colleagues on this project, Julia Feast of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering and Dr Derek Narrative,
  5. (1986). Leaving Care, doi
  6. (2003). Searching Questions: identity, origins and adoption, doi
  7. (2002). The RHP Companion to Leaving Care, Lyme Regis, doi
  8. (1999). Unlocking the Past: the impact of access to Barnardo’s childcare records, doi

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