Frank Golding was in his late 50s when he first read the records of his childhood.
It took 10 years to compile his files from the Department of Health and Human Services and the institutions he lived in, and finally reading them provoked anger.
“There were redactions I found hard to understand and accept… I pushed hard to have the decisions appealed,” Mr Golding said.
“One of the records I got that came through from a state file said one of our foster mothers couldn’t keep us because of our habits. At that stage I was probably two-years-old. I have had to struggle all these years to think about what those habits could have been.”
Mr Golding grew up in out of home care at the Ballarat Orphanage, the Andrew Kerr Memorial Home in Mornington and three foster care placements.
Now 80, he still struggles to comprehend why the department continues to keep his records in their possession.
“I asked them why do you keep a record about me? I am now 80 years of age. Isn’t it mine? ‘No’, they say, ‘it is not’. But they can’t give me a reason why they are keeping it,” Mr Golding said.
Mr Golding, who is vice president of the Care Leavers Australasia Network, spoke alongside Federation University associate professor Jacqueline Wilson and Monash University professor Sue McKemmish at Federation University’s World Human Rights Day forum in Ballarat on Monday.
They are determined to transform the record keeping system for children in out of home care.
“If my right to participate in the creation of my records as a child were denied, do I have a right to those records now I have grown up?,” Mr Golding said on Monday.
Do I have a right to challenge some of the things that were written about me to put the records straight?Frank Golding OAM
“Do I have a right to take full possession of that record and have it removed from the department that currently owns it?”
Mr Golding, Ms Wilson and Ms McKemmish are part the Australia Research Council Discovery Project called ‘Rights in Records by Design’ that is working to enable young people in care to have a greater say in their records and for care-leavers to have more control over their ongoing use.
They aim to create a blueprint for a better record keeping system that encapsulate the inherent rights to quality, participatory record keeping that stem from the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child.
Records are the foundations of identity and memory for children growing up in out of home care, but for so many, their story remains unknown.
Ms Wilson told of her own struggle to access her records at the forum on Monday.
More than 70 per cent of her 150 page file was blacked out.
“I had to agitate to get it. This is a common story,” she said.
“After the royal commission I encouraged my friend to apply for her file to find out why she was in a psychiatric institution with her mother when she was seven-years-old. She got her file which was 17 pages. 16 pages were blacked out. She is left without the hope of substantial compensation because she does not know the contents of her file.”
There is no central repository for records of children in out of home care, which means accessing them takes effort and time working with the Department of Health and Human Services and individual institutions.
The Care Leavers Australasia Network helps individuals seek records from multiple locations.
But Mr Golding said it remains a shock to many care leavers to learn the record of their childhood has been kept, as many thought their records would have been destroyed.
The Rights in Records by Design team discussed the principals of child rights and changes needed at the Setting the Records Straight for the Rights of the Child national summit in May 2017.
The project’s philosophy re-positions children from powerless subjects to participatory agents who have power in deciding records to make and how long to keep them.
Members continue to research existing legislation and rights of children, while working with young people in care and care leavers, to build a strong case for change to present to government and institutions.
Discussion is underway to schedule another Setting the Records Straight for the Rights of the Child national summit in 2020 to present progress and barriers.
“I have hope I will see change. Certainly things are better than they were and finding records is much easier than it was in the past following the senate inquiry in 2004 into Forgotten Australians and the inquiry into child migration and before that the Stolen Generation inquiry. All of those had strong things to say about records,” Mr Golding said.
“Governments over time have put more resources into retrieving records and putting them into some sort of order so searches are quicker and readily done. The time between making an application for your record and getting something in an envelope is much quicker than it used to be.
“We are dealing with people who often didn’t know why they were not able to live with their parents and records are so incredibly important for them to understand that, reconnecting with family where that is still possible and accessing redress for abuse while in care.”
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