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Ask the expert: Record Keeping

As General Manager of the MacKillop Family Services Heritage and Information Service, Jenny Glare knows the impact record keeping can have when adults return to piece together their history.

Jenny and her team at the Heritage and Information Service hold the records of children who grew up in the orphanages of our founding agencies: the Sisters of St Joseph, the Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers.

The process of supported record release that Jenny has established has been recognised as international best practice and she is frequently called upon to advise government and non-government agencies all over the world.

The importance of record keeping has also been recognised by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse with one volume of 17 focused solely on recordkeeping and information sharing.

“Many of the people who told their story to the Royal Commission approached the organisation that held their childhood records seeking confirmation of their time in care, the names of the staff who worked there and information about the abuse experienced.

“Sadly, for many people, when they approach the record holding agency, their experience is that no records exist, or if records do exist, they usually do not provide the answers that are being sought.

Today, there is a greater understanding of childhood trauma and how it can impact people throughout their entire lives. Subsequently, we understand that for some people the records releasing process can be re-traumatising,” Jenny said.

Jenny and her team work closely and sensitively with those requesting records and engage other organisations and agencies to seek further information where information is missing. They then talk through the records with the record seeker, helping them to piece together their history.

In March 2018, Jenny held a sector-wide Masterclass: Finding identity and family… Learnings from 20 years of supporting people to access childhood records.

This Masterclass drew on the experience of MacKillop’s Heritage and Information Service and explored contemporary record keeping practice.

‘What will the experience be like for children who are in care now when they come back in twenty years or longer to access their records?’ Jenny asked the child and family care sector.

Records kept by agencies capture medical information and other history that can read as clinical. Although this information is critically important, there are other milestones which are best captured by carers.

“Foster carers have a significant role in preserving the day to day life of children. They know the milestones and they develop a special relationship with the child while they’re in their care.

“Scrapbooks, photos and capturing the stories – those moments that made you laugh, or made you proud – are invaluable to capture. It can be a single photo that provides the record seeker with the piece of the puzzle they need, and it’s extremely challenging to find that information if it’s not captured at the time,” Jenny said.

“It is many records that come from many sources that tell the full story. We are all on the life journey with these children, whether they are in our care for one week, or for their full childhood,” Jenny said.