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Is it beneficial to try to access old social work records?

(21 Posts)
privacynolink Sun 29-Oct-17 20:50:40

I had a childhood involving lots of intervention from social services. I was only very wee, services stopped largely when I was 12.

I have lots of odd and upsetting memories and things I don't understand. I don't think about it much now but sometimes want to know why certain things happened or didn't.

My mum doesn't remember my childhood due to medical treatment that caused some brain damage , as well as psychological illness. My sister was only a baby. No other relatives involved. It's my memories alone .. things were very unstable for a few years and SS left me to cope as a wee girl with things beyond me. I was left from age 5 to care for my mum and younger sister, alone. I used to sit up at night waiting for problems - I didn't sleep. Nobody intervened. My father knew but said I was quite capable , if I 'wanted' help I knew where to get it but I was 5 . I wasn't capable and I was frightened all the time. I've grown into a very anxious/agoraphobic adult. Have had lots of mental health help. Just sometimes I wish someone had helped when I was younger.

I know people knew because we had a social worker, paid carers (until I was 5 and a half), childminders until I started school. Foster carers a few times (only ever overnight). One 'carer' I watched physically abuse my mum. They were as well not being there really. If I didn't have a couple of birthday cards from 1 I would have said it was my imagination. A teacher said to me once , I was 18 on work experience at my old school, they knew there were problems and they didn't want to intervene.

A GP who I talked to when I was 19 helped me read my medical notes once but said in those days (early 90s) doctors wouldn't have had much involvement with SS and what we would see now as problems, might have been accepted some years ago as being relatively OK. As it was there was very little in my medical notes.

She said going into social records might be pointless as might be equally lacking or might be upsetting, and what's happened years ago happened and nothing we can do about it, can only change the present. Encouraged me to write my memories down and then try to move on.

I had a seminar for CPD training the other day about spotting child abuse and this was sort of brought up - giving children responsibilities they are too young for , allowing a situation like that to continue with no support. That can sometimes constitute abuse or at the very least a situation in which all need extra help. It has brought it all back in my head. Suddenly it clicked that some of this was not OK and I felt almost anger.. I don't know who or what at. The person leading the seminar said occasionally these lectures/talks do trigger things off (as much as I dont like that phrase) and to ask her for signnposting if needed.

I don't know if trying to access more records is the answer to understand, or if I should just try to forget again, or if I should talk it over in real life. It's a difficult one. I'm sorry, it's a boring topic .

FenceSitter01 Sun 29-Oct-17 20:58:03

I think if it explains things to you or brings you closure, then ask for access. I wouldn't know how your would deal with further questions your records might bring up though.

Have you got RL support to see you through this? Partner or good friend?

I also ask for school pastoral records - they have to keep those for 10 years after you leave.

incywincybitofa Sun 29-Oct-17 20:59:05

I think you can't forget, and that is OK to want to know, but the GP may be right that nothing was recorded or very little was. It may be that much of the information about what you went through is on a file of your mum's and you wont be able to view that.

steppemum Sun 29-Oct-17 21:02:29

I don't want to read and run, as your story is so moving.
I have no idea about records, but it strikes me that if you are just realising for the first time how wrong it all was, then there is still a lot of processing to do.

Learning about these things as an adult does often trigger things from the past, things that it would help us to talk about, get some understanding from and adult perspective, and in the process try and find some resolution.

I woudl go back to your lecturer, and ask her for some signposting to suitable counsellor. I think you woudl find it very helpful.

and it is fine to be angry on behalf of your younger self - a little tiny girl with too much responsibility sad

Changerofname987654321 Sun 29-Oct-17 21:03:34

I think it is very reasonable to want to see your file but I think you need to have counselling before you do with someone who can help you make the decision if you want to and support you through how you feel about what you find out.

Jenala Sun 29-Oct-17 21:12:59

It's likely that records in the past might be shoddy. I've seen some shockers when looking over old files (I'm a social worker). That being said, there is a lot of emphasis now on written records being a child's 'story' that they may request access to as an adult. I for one try to always bear that in mind and make sure my recording is thorough, understandable, dated and follows the narrative if that makes sense - avoiding gaps and making it clear why decisions were made. So if the workers in your case also valued that they may be more detailed.

So you could get some shitty handwritten notes or you could get something detailed that really helps. I agree you may need therapy alongside it and to have someone you trust to support you through what might be difficult reading. Remember the professionals in your life will have only seen snapshots and they may be insightful and have understood or they may have completely minimised/misunderstood your experience, which could be upsetting to read.

I personally would want to see them, especially if I was struggling to process my past.

Find your local authority's children's services webpage and they should have instructions on how to request access. You will likely need to send copies of ID etc. You may need to make separate requests for paper and electronic files depending on how long ago it was/how your local authority records.

Good luck and sorry you had a tough time flowers

Birdsgottafly Sun 29-Oct-17 21:13:38

I have had relatives (on my then DH side) in Foster Care and have had contact with a lot of children in the CP system.

I've seen more damage done by try to ignore the questions/reality of their childhoods, than reading through the records.

The situations that I have dealt with, the people involved have all had discussions/counselling beforehand, sometimes that is from the SW that have known the case.

The issue would be that your records won't tell you much and it's were you go from there. Either that, or it affects you deeply, so you need support in place.

You need appropriate counselling. Your GP may be able to help, or the leader of the Course.

Anger is an appropriate response, for a lost childhood.

Almostthere15 Sun 29-Oct-17 21:36:40

I'm sorry. That sounds really hard and you're right that hearing it will have put into context just how bad it was.

I don't think I'd go straight to the files, it feels as if you may need some time to process things. So perhaps start with the lecturer or go back to your gp and ask for a referral to counselling.

It's ok to feel sad and angry for the little girl that you were. It doesn't sound as if you had nearly enough help.

privacynolink Mon 30-Oct-17 20:34:53

I thought maybe I was wrong to feel angry so I'm relieved you all think it's a normal response. I don't know who or what I'm angry at. Not my mum , not even my dad really.

I was so small and I was coping with things that even at my age now I'd be overwhelmed by. I didn't have anyone to tell , it was a 'secret'. I didn't sleep at night. I never fully relax and when I do I feel guilty. I feel like my role in life is to be there to care for family and it's wrong to not do that. I worry something awful will happen to me or them .

I haven't got a GP I can trust to speak to at the moment . New practice and struggling as they spend the whole consultation staring at the computer , barely saying two words.

I could talk to the lecturer but maybe she will tell me to talk to someone else? If I could trust GP surgery I'd talk to them but I just find that they aren't interested at all.

I'll see what social work have. We used to go to a special nursery run in DSS building, it had a register and bars on the windows .. then at 10 I went to a summer scheme run by the same people, I remember finding that scary as everyone else (all kids aged 10-18) smoked ! There must have been referals in place for these things.

I do have some memories of kind people. One a social worker (I think) who used to take me in her car. I think I named my doll after her.

I didn't talk properly to someone (professional) until I was 18. Still have contact with her regularly but not professionally any more. Can't offload onto her really, wouldn't be appropriate now.

SugarNyx Mon 30-Oct-17 21:00:39

I spent the majority of my childhood in and out of foster homes and children’s homes. I asked for access to my files and found a lot of shit that I really just wish I didn’t know and ultimately there were no answers or closure, just more questions and trauma. If you are having trouble with the stuff you do remember, chances are your just going to add to that burden. If I could make the choice again, I would have let sleeping docs lie and got therapy for the stuff I did remember.

DJBaggySmalls Mon 30-Oct-17 21:09:03

I accessed my records. I decided it was better to read them, see what was there and accept them for what they were, than to try to forget it.
I was told they had been lost or destroyed and received an apology.
I pretty much got over that and I moved on. But it is something to bear in mind, if you have fixed ideas about what you'll find you may be disappointed.
I think if you do, try to have some support in place. And remember whatever is in there, reading it is not as bad as going through it in the first place.

privacynolink Mon 30-Oct-17 21:45:47

Sugar that's what I wonder if I am better not knowing. My GP (the one I trusted before) said maybe peoplr wouldn't have been very complimentary about my mum and that would be hard to accept.

I don't know what benefit it would give me to know more except to fill in the missing pieces. I'd like to know the names of the people who fostered me out of sheer curiosity. One couple lived in Redditch , my home was hundreds of miles away. We were on holiday at the time. Once it was a social work student who took sister and I in an emergency to her flat. I'd love to know what she was called. I doubt anyone recorded stuff like that.

I wrote it all down once. Think its stored in my medical records, not very sure!

I had psychotherapy, but they wanted me to try and not think about it. We didn't talk about the past only the present. Said talking over the past could only upset me. Not sure how true that is. I've had a session of hypnotherapy to try and learn how to fully relax. Have another on Thursday.

I'm sorry others have been in this position too sad

IamtheDevilsAvocado Mon 30-Oct-17 22:42:14

Poor you!

I've been involved with careleavers reading their social work records as adults....

Mostly positive, but was incredibly frustrating with some records which jus the weren't very well recorded...

They all found it useful though, that they were able to piece together the blanks in their history... Also be able to validate the distress they felt as kids.

However with ALL these folk, they were supported by professionals... We went through the record in advance of them seeing it, and Sat with them to try and conceptualiae the stuff written

Also to really think through the reasons for access - both positive and negative and how some of the info may stir stuff up. Especially when they found negative information about relatives they thought up to then to be OK. Recall one woman realising that several aunts and uncles had all refused to care for her and siblings, relinquishing them to a life in the care system.

Is there anyone who has a professional background that can help you OP?

Tealdeal747 Mon 30-Oct-17 22:56:18

Electronic records are deleted 10 years after case closure.

Hard copies won't have all the details.

Efnisien Mon 30-Oct-17 22:57:13

I sent off for mine and discovered my mother had punched me in the face when I was very small and I was severely neglected.I don't remember the punch but remember the neglect and feeling hungry all the time.After the punch I was in hospital where concerns were raised.This was in the 1970's.I'm sort of glad I read them but quite sad about some of the stuff.Can't comprehend how a mother could be so cruel.My father was no better.

privacynolink Tue 31-Oct-17 08:25:12

Efnisien sad that must have been hard to read, I'm sorry flowersflowers

Was 1991 I was born - 1993/4 when childminders and 'carers' started. Ended abruptly 3 or 4 years later when my dad told me he didn't love my mum and he was going (he couldn't tell her , for whatever reason he told me instead). SW stopped then and didn't get reinvolved with my mum anyway until I was 18. By then I had been diagnosed with major depression, generalised anxiety disorder and missed out on a lot of social development if that makes sense - no close friends, no boyfriends , no sort of 'normal' teenage stuff.

I imagine as you're saying the records are probably long gone now even if any were actually kept. I have a teddy I know I was given from SW nursery to stop me crying once. Perhaps I can somehow get to accepting that I can't find out all the answers.

GP said to me if things happened (one concern once was I'd been sexually abused , because I always had thrush and UTIs and other stuff) , it happened and all we can do is try to accept and carry on with life now. Hard to do that when you don't know but maybe knowing can't help me.

Jenala Tue 31-Oct-17 09:26:59

My local authority keeps records until the anniversary of the child's 25th birthday.

steppemum Tue 31-Oct-17 19:16:16

It is totally normal to be angry, but to not know who to be angry at.
Because you have sympathy with your mum's situation, you don't blame her, but you are still angry. That is normal and OK.

You are angry at the loss of childhood, at the fear you had to experience, at the the lack of care. It doesn't need to be angry AT anyone, the anger is still there.

Ask your lecturer. She will probably have the names of counsellors, or of charities who can help with counselling, or of organisations she can refer you to. If she says GP, you can say that won't work is there anyone else?

If you do open your records, you really need support. But SS themselves may provide that when you request the records. My friend wanted ot contact his adopted mum and SS gave hime the suport and counselling he needed.

Notevilstepmother Tue 31-Oct-17 19:21:33

At your age the records should be reasonably complete, but there is no guarantee.

It's perfectly understandable to be angry, you were let down, someone should have looked after you.

I think you need to find a suitable therapist and decide from there if you want to see your records.

AnchorDownDeepBreath Tue 31-Oct-17 19:21:50

I’m with sugar. I have a traumatic past too and requested mine for similar reasons to you. There’s a lot of distressing stuff and a lot of blacked out things; and it just lead to more questions than answers.

Cakeandmarshmallows Tue 31-Oct-17 19:33:08

I think that you are very brave and i understand you wanting to see your records, but like others have said please be prepared for them to bring up more or difficult memories etc and also that they might not hold all the information that you hope for, records and the way that they are kept have changed a good deal and also relied on the people making those records being accurate, truthful etc. I would also like others urge you to get some support in doing this, reading your records like this can be very difficult and you may need support with this. I think others have said - contact your local children's services/social services and ask to speak with or email the 'access to files' officer or similar. They will need time to prepare the documents as anything that relates to a third party - even if siblings or other relatives may well be blacked out/not given due to confidentiality.

Only you can truly know if its better for not for you to access the information and best of luck with whatever you decide.

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