A FREMANTLE not-for-profit organisation is demanding better and less restrictive access to personal records for West Australians raised in institutional care.
A resource service for adults who were in care as children, Tuart Place 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 only released under Freedom of Information (FOI).
She said all third party information, including family members and former carers, were removed from the records, making it harder for people who were looking to reconnect with family or other people of significance from their childhood.
Some were even leaving the system without any personal documents, not even a birth certificate.
“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, and said record holders should allow people to request a copy of their whole file, only redact information that was reasonably likely to cause harm to a third person, never obscure the faces of people who appear in photos being returned and for a reason to be given as to why information has 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 Government about whether care leavers records can be dealt with under a non-FOI 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.