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Blog 11 – British Journal of Social Work lived experience issue series

6 December 2022

This is part of a series of blogs kindly contributed by the editorial group working on the lived experience edition of the British Journal of Social Work.

Blog eleven is by Dr Frank Golding OAM, an Honorary Research Fellow at Federation University Australia.

Care records often help Care leavers understand their childhood. Some find information about their families they had not known before, or things their parents hadn’t been able to discuss. Some discover their parents tried to get them back.

Hankering to know if the written accounts of their time in the system validate the memories of their experience, Care leavers also want to know what they were like as children, and to get clues as to how their childhood shaped them into the person they are today.

They discover, however, that the records were not designed for those purposes. They were written for adults by other adults reporting actions taken or planned. Children never saw what was written at the time, nor were they invited to write about how they were feeling or what they needed.

It is not surprising then that many Care leavers are deeply dissatisfied with the shallowness of their childhood records, and their problem-saturated content and language. They readily spot the inaccuracies—often careless mistakes that reflect the treatment they received as children, they say. They are disappointed that records rarely mention their talents, positive attributes or achievements as children.

Care leavers in Australia are now giving voice to their own versions of the experiences that have stayed with them throughout their lives, providing their side of the story: a right of reply to these records of their childhood.

They kick back against glib judgements about them and parents. Sue reads a psychiatric report which offers no reason for her childhood depression. She points out the psychiatrist failed to mention the impact of her sister’s death by suicide.

Hettie challenges her mother being labelled ‘a garrulous woman’. She is proud her mother fought for her children. Confronting redactions, Kenny finds another way to reveal what’s been suppressed. Jill is so offended by factual distortions that she revisits several locales of her childhood gaining sworn testimony from contemporary witnesses. She feels vindicated.

By talking back to records written long ago with little regard for their feelings, opinions, and experience, Care leavers are regaining a voice once unheard. The forthcoming issue of the British Journal of Social Work will allow us to hear even more diverse voices that were once muted.  

Dr Frank Golding OAM is an Honorary Research Fellow at Federation University Australia.