Within residential and foster care, the records we keep on young people are very much ‘about them’ and too often not ‘for them’. The ‘professionalisation’ of the caring roles over the years has ensured factual records are kept, with opinion and non-essential or anecdotal information kept to a minimum. The resulting documents may be in keeping with the reports from other professions, however, unless the writer is very skilled, they do not reflect accurately the focus of our work. Our work is relationships; creating and maintaining trusting safe relationships through which young people can be supported to recognise the impact of the trauma they have experienced, develop hope and ambition, and realise their potential.
The relationships which we all agree are key to our work, too often disappear within the reports that are written, allowing the focus to be on risk management or concerning behaviours. Unintentionally, negative shaming and blaming come to the fore, from people who most often genuinely care for and about the young person. Over time, as our careers progress we can easily become less aware of how our words could impact the people we are writing about. We can forget that the report we are writing will not just be used to meet the purposes of the meeting we are attending, but may also form part of the memory for the young person we are looking after.
We are aware of the impact historic reports can have on people reading their files, but we have been too slow to change the format. Many organisations such as ourselves have for years changed our daily recordings, writing to the young person and ensuring the record captures the relationship. In adoption processes, the ‘Later life letter’ is often included in files and we can learn from this.
Care Visions are looking to improve the experience of anyone reading their records in years to come, by ensuring the first document they open is a letter from the people who looked after them. Talking about the relationship, sharing fond memories and pictures, and offering the opportunity to get back in touch and discuss the contents of their files. Importantly we are also explaining that the reports they are about to read are about them but were not written for them, and may at times not reflect the relationships that were important to us all. The letter explains we are working to change this, however, as yet, we have not managed to improve all reports as much as we would like.
As we know so many people are impacted heavily by the fact the records kept on them do not reflect their memory of the past, it is hoped the explanation will help. The letter will hopefully help the recipients of the files understand the relationships were real, it is our reporting that is lacking and that we are still working on improving our ‘systems’ to better reflect how we ensure the positive memories receive as much focus as the blips. Growing up we all make mistakes, learn from them and move on. Often the same opportunity is not afforded to the young people we care for, hopefully by setting a more positive start to their journey through their file, we can help in some small way.