Young People's Zone
CAN I READ MY CHILDREN’S SERVICES FILE?
Children’s Services are required to record everything they do with both you and your family. Your file will include records of meetings, reports for court, letters, notes taken about any work your social worker did on your case, etc. If you have been involved with Children’s Services for a long time, your file might be very, very large. Children’s Services have to keep these files for 75 years and the law says you have the right to see the information the files contain (the part of the law that says this is Section 7 Data Protection Act, 1998).
It’s quite normal for you to want to know what is in your Children’s Services file. But it is also a big decision. For this reason, there is a very clear procedure that needs to be followed to make sure that everything is done properly.
Normally, you will have to put the request to see your file in writing. You can do this by writing a simple letter or sometimes there is a special form that you have to fill in (you can normally find this on your Children’s Services website in a section called “Access to Records”). You will normally be asked to provide proof of who you are (maybe a copy of your passport or birth certificate) and they do have a right to charge £10 to prepare the file. If you are in care or are a care leaver, you can ask for them to “waive” the fee (this just means asking them not to charge you), and sometimes some authorities may just waive the fee for any young person.
Once Children’s Services receive your request, they have 40 working days (that means Monday-Friday, not including Saturdays and Sundays) to “prepare” your file. When they do this they will remove any 'third party' information from the file – this means removing information about other people like your brothers, sisters, other young people or family members unless they agree to the information being in there. Normally this means that when you receive the file, it will have some sections blanked out with black marker or some documents will have been removed. This is done to protect everyone’s privacy – only you can see information about you and this is the same for other people.
Children’s Services also have to think about how reading the file might affect you. If you have been in care, it probably means that there were problems at home and reading about this can be really upsetting. You may not even be aware of everything that happened when you were younger and finding this out for the first time can be a shock. Children’s Services shouldn’t refuse to let you see the file but they might want to meet with you to discuss what is in it first. Children’s Services may also offer for someone to sit with you (maybe your social worker or PA) while you read the file or you might want to choose someone that you trust to sit with you.
What can I do?
Asking to read your file is a big decision. Even if it is something you have wanted to do for a long time, it can be upsetting to read about the things that have happened to you in the past. It is important to make sure that you have support through this process. It can help to discuss it with the people closest to you first and you may want to ask someone to be with you while you read the file just for support.
Talk to People
You don’t actually have to talk to your social worker or Personal Advisor (PA) before requesting your files, but it might be a good idea to do so anyway. There can be many things in your file that you don’t understand (for example, decisions from the court or legal papers) and your social worker/PA can help explain these. Also, you may want to ask questions about what happened and why certain decisions were taken about you – your social worker/PA can help answer these questions.
When you are ready to request access to your file, you can do this through your social worker/PA or you can request the file directly from the Access to Records department within your Children’s Services. The request will need to be in writing (the law requires this) but you can always call up to check what you need to do and someone should explain the process to you. Type “Access to Records” into the website for your Children’s Services and this should give you the contact details.
Making a Complaint
If Children’s Services refuse to let you see your file or they take longer than 40 days to make this happen, you have the right to make a complaint about this. Please click here for more information about how to make a complaint. You can find your local complaints team by clicking here.
Get Some Help
If you still feel that no-one is listening, you can contact your local advocacy service to help you try and get this resolved. You can find your local advocacy service by clicking here.