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Were you in out-of-home care?
If you grew up in a children’s home or in foster care, you were in out-of-home care. People who have left out-of-home care are known as “care leavers”.
Care leavers are entitled to access personal information about themselves in Community Services records about their time in care.
What records are held by Community Services?
Community Services holds information about people who were in the care of the NSW government agency responsible for child welfare – now known as Community Services.
A Children’s Court order may have made you a State ward, placed you in the care of the Director-General or under the parental responsibility of the Minister.
Records are not held for all people who were in the care of Community Services. Community Services, following record-keeping practices of the time, destroyed many records throughout most of the twentieth century.
Unfortunately, in the past the significance of these records to the people they were about, was not recognised.
How do I access Community Services records about me?
If you live in NSW you can apply at any local Community Services Centre.
You will be asked to complete an application form and provide proof of your identity (e.g. driver’s licence, birth certificate, health care card, passport).
If you need help to fill out the application form, staff at the Community Services Centre can assist.
If you now live outside NSW please complete the application form and post it, together with proof of your identity, to the Care Leaver Records Access Unit at the address on the application form.
If you want to access records about someone else you will need to contact the Right to information Unit.
What information can I access?
Care leavers can access personal information about themselves from Community Services records about their time in out-of-home care.
In NSW, the privacy law requires Community Services to protect the personal information of other people unless they have given their consent to release the information.
As well, the child protection law prevents the release of information that could lead to the identification of a person who reported that a child was at risk of harm.
There is also a general rule of law that any communication between a lawyer and their client is confidential (that is, ‘privileged’) if that communication was created for the main purpose of providing legal advice or assistance, or preparing for Court proceedings.
The reason for this is that the Courts have decided that confidentiality is important because it allows lawyers to speak openly with their clients without the fear that this may be used against their client at some point in the future.
The material remains privileged because there is the possibility that at some point in the future, legal proceedings may be commenced.
If our records about you contain this type of information it will be removed from the records before they are released to you.
How long will it take to complete my application?
We aim to complete each application within eight weeks.
However, it may take several months to process your application if we have received a large number of applications or have found a lot of records for applications which are ahead of your application.
I have special circumstances and need the information urgently. What should I do?
We recognise that there are circumstances when a delay in accessing records could disadvantage an applicant.
You can apply for priority access to records if you have circumstances which fulfil one of the following priority categories:
- serious or terminal illness e.g. if you have cancer
- serious illness requiring medical history of care leaver or family medical history
- genetic condition
- transmissible health condition
- serious psychological/psychiatric illness requiring history of care leaver to develop an urgent therapeutic response.
- care leaver is 65 years or older.
C. Service provision
- birth certificate or other document is required to enable applicant to access services e.g. to apply for a passport or to gain citizenship in another country
- claim for victim’s compensation (where there is a time limit on lodging an application) requiring information contained in records about care leaver
- court matter where records will be provided as evidence
- management of an estate where records may:
- assist in determining how assets will be distributed, or
- enable an applicant to make a claim on an estate or trust.
You can apply for priority access when you fill out your application form: tick the box next to the category you are eligible for and attach documents that support your request. For example, provide a medical certificate if you have a serious illness.
Please note that for all categories except Compassionate and Service provision, you will need to attach supporting documentation to be considered for priority access.
Each new request for priority access is assessed for eligibility and if it is approved it is then ranked against the other applications that have been granted priority access.
Applications are completed according to the highest urgency. We aim to complete approved priority access applications within a month.
What records does Community Services search for?
We search for records in your name held by Community Services.
Records are not found for all care leavers. As mentioned above, many Community Services records were unfortunately destroyed throughout most of the twentieth century.
If we are unable to locate records in your name, a search is conducted for records held in the names of your family members.
This occurs because records in the name of one person sometimes contain personal information about other people in their family. If personal information about you appears in these records, it will be copied for you.
Some care leavers lived in children’s homes that were not operated by the government. Community Services does not hold records from non-government homes.
If you mention a non-government home in your application, and we are aware of how to access records from this home, we will provide you with this information when we complete your application.
You can also go to the national Find and Connect web resource for Forgotten Australians to find out where records are held and how to access them www.findandconnect.gov.au.
What happens when you have finished working on my application?
If you live in NSW and you lodged your application at a Community Services Centre (CSC), the CSC will contact you.
If records have been located, the CSC will make an appointment for you to view the information about your time in out-of-home care. A senior caseworker or experienced intake officer will be available to answer questions and provide support if you read the records at the CSC.
You will also be provided with a copy of the records by the CSC.
If you live in NSW but have special circumstances that prevent you from going through a CSC, live outside NSW, or have authorised a support service to obtain records on your behalf, the Care Leaver Records Access Unit will contact you or your support service when your application has been completed.
If records have been located, a copy of the prepared documents will be sent to you by the unit.
What should I be aware of before I read the documents?
The language used in past Community Services records reflects the attitudes of Australian society at the time the records were made.
Today, we consider some of this language to be inappropriate. Its use in our past records is not intended to cause offence or distress.
What support services are available for care leavers?
We recommend that care leavers have a person to support them as they search for information about their time in out-of-home care.
For care leavers who live in NSW, a senior Community Services caseworker or experienced intake officer will be available to answer questions and provide support when you read the records at a CSC.
For care leavers who live outside NSW, staff at the Care Leaver Records Access Unit are available to answer questions about your application.
The unit can be contacted on 1300 137 160 or 02 9716 2500.
Additionally, the following organisations receive funding from the NSW Government and provide a range of support services for care leavers:
Wattle Place – the NSW Support Service for Forgotten Australians, is operated by Relationships Australia. Centrally located at Harris Park in western Sydney, close to rail and bus transport links, Wattle Place provides counselling and a range of other support for people who are over the age of 25 and were in care in NSW between the 1920s and 1990s, regardless of where they now live. Wattle Place can provide you with advice and support on accessing records about your time in out-of-home care.
Wattle Place can be contacted on 1800 663 844 (freecall from a fixed line phone) or 02 9633 5395.
The national Find and Connect web resource has been established by the Commonwealth Government to provide information for people who were placed in out-of-home care in Australia and their families. The web resource contains historical information about past and present providers of out-of-home care, details of where records are held and how to access them, and links to resources for care leavers.
The Find and Connect web address is www.findandconnect.gov.au.
CLAN is a national, not-for-profit advocacy organization for mature-aged care leavers based in Bankstown, NSW. Support services provided by CLAN to its members and other mature aged care leavers who have experienced institutional care include the provision of information, advocacy, telephone support, referrals and assistance with file reading. Other services provided by CLAN include a bi-monthly newsletter, library, museum and a website.
International Support Services (ISS) – NSW
International Support Services (ISS) Australia is a national charity that provides social work services to families and children separated by international borders, such as parental abduction, adoption, migration, asylum seeking, and family separation.
International Support Services NSW office can be contacted on 02 9267 0300.
Link-Up (NSW) Aboriginal Corporation
Link-Up NSW works with Aboriginal people who were separated from their families when they were children. Services provided by Link-Up NSW include family reunions and counselling.
Link-Up NSW can be contacted on 02 4759 1911, 1800 624 332 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Special Search Service is run by The Salvation Army. This service is for people who are over the age of 18 years and were separated from their child or family by actions of the NSW Government.
The Special Search Service can be contacted on 02 9211 6491 or 1300 667 366 or SpecialSearch@aue.salvationarmy.org.