We're here to answer your frequently asked questions about accessing your records and provide top tips to support you to do so.
Can I access my records?
Anyone over the age of 18 is able to request the records - that is documents and information - children’s services hold about them. While you are under 18, you may be able to request certain records, if you have the consent of whoever holds parental responsibility for you.
Why would I make a request?
It’s your decision whether you access the records social services have about you. Some people do this because they may have questions about why they went into care, or questions about things that happened whilst they were in care. Some people may access records as a way of making sense of difficult life events, and clarifying information. Some may just feel curious to know what information is held by social services. Whatever the reason, it is your decision whether you want to access these records or not.
What challenges might there be?
Accessing your records may help answer questions, but some people find it can bring up questions too. Very often, information on your records will be blanked out- this is where information is about other people, and social services don’t have consent to share their information with you. This can be frustrating, and sometimes make these records harder to understand.
Accessing records can also bring up difficult emotions, as these can detail upsetting events in your life, that may be difficult to read. In addition, your records may present your life events in a way different to how you would have described it or may not include information on certain events that were important to you, which can feel upsetting or confusing.
Will I get any support doing this?
If you request to access your records whilst you are a care leaver under 25, your local authority should provide services to support your welfare through the process of accessing your records.
It can also be really helpful to have someone you trust, such as a friend, carer or family member with you when you go through your records.
What will they look like?
You have a choice on how you receive your records, this could be in person where you collect them from the local authority or have them delivered by post. When your records arrive, you will notice that a lot of the information has been redacted, this means that black lines will be covering the information so you cannot read it. We know that this can be difficult to see, it is important that you speak with the social worker arranging your files, so you know how much information might be restricted.
How do I make a request?
You can request your records by making a ‘Subject Access Request’. You are usually able to do this online. You can do an online search for ‘Subject Access Request’ and the name of the local authority you were in care with, and this will likely bring up pages giving you information on how and where to make a Subject Access Request.
If you are a care leaver under 25 and have a Personal Advisor, you could tell them you want to access your records through a Subject Access Request, and they should be able to begin this process for you.
If you have any issues finding where to make a Subject Access Request, you can call the Care Advice Line on 0800 023 2033, open Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm.
Once this request is received there is clear guidance from the Department of Education that your request should be acknowledged ‘promptly and in writing, or other appropriate forms of communication if required’. It is also made clear that ‘the care leaver should be informed about the process and procedure, timescales for dealing with such requests and the services that the authority is able to provide.’
According to this guidance, the Local Authority has 10 working days to confirm acknowledgement that the records exist. If the records do not exist, they must tell you immediately.
Under data protection legislation, a local authority then has a statutory duty to respond to a request to access records (i.e. a subject access request) within 40 calendar days, providing the information requested.
If the local authority is not able to meet this time requirement, this should be explained to you with clear reasons and the timescales for when the records will be available.
Top tips from Become
Accessing your records is your decision, and if you want to do this, you should feel able and supported to. If you do access your records, we suggest following these steps:
If possible, and if they are happy to provide it, ask for written consent from other individuals you know will be in your records (for example parents, carers, siblings), to say they are happy to have their information shared with you. This could help to make your records clearer.
Don't feel you need to read your records all in one go. Allow yourself time and space to go over your records, and take breaks when reading these.
This could be someone from the Local Authority, or it may be a friend, carer or family member. If you want to have time on your own to read your records, ask if the person supporting you can be available by phone or to come over and see you if you ask.
Call our friendly Care Advice Line for free on 0800 023 2033
Do you have questions about accessing your records?