The government has revised the guidance about how local authorities should respond when a person who has grown up in care asks to see their care file. The Guidance is statutory guidance: local authorities are required to follow this unless there is a good reason not to. This guidance is in Volume 3 of government guidance called Planning Transition to Adulthood for Care Leavers.
It states that care leavers have a fundamental right to access information held on their care records. [Para 4.28]
It makes it very clear that the principles and standards for good practice apply to all care leavers regardless of their age. [Para 4.27]
What must the LA do when a care leaver asks to see their care records?
The key duties on the local authority are:
- The request must be dealt with under the Data Protection Act 1998 which should not be used by the local authority as a barrier preventing the care leaver from seeing their case record. This means that the local authority must provide to the care leaver their personal information within 40 working days.
- The LA is expected to respond promptly and offer support from a case worker if the care leaver wants this.
- The case worker should be part of a team of skilled and properly supervised staff to support the person who wants to see their care file.
- If the LA knows that files are missing or no longer in existence the care leaver should be told without delay and the Local Authority is responsible for helping to find other records which may go some way to fill gaps.
And there is an important reminder to the local authority that it should not withhold information about people in the care leaver’s family if the care leaver already knows or has this information.
Will this help care leavers to access to their care records?
The request is under the Data Protection Act. The guidance reminds local authorities not to use this Act as a legal barrier to prevent a care leaver from seeing their own care records. It also states that the principles apply to all care leavers: older care leavers must not be treated differently from a younger person who may have left care recently. A care leaver can ask for support if they wish to help them make sense of the information in their file and the local authority must have skilled support staff to assist the care leaver. If a care leaver does not want support, this should not be used as a reason to prevent them from having information on their care record.
The local authority still has duties in relation to a third party’s personal information and cannot release this without that person giving consent but if this information is already known to the care leaver, it should not become a reason for blocking out or ‘redacting’ parts of the care records.
Because there are now clear duties on the local authority this will help a care leaver to negotiate getting care files more promptly o, if there are problems, a better basis for making a complaint about the local authority’s failure to comply with the government guidance.
Access to Care Records Campaign