Are Your Young People A Ghost In Their File Or Jumping Off The Page?

July 19, 2022

Hearing their voices.

How well is participation embedded in your organisation? I am not talking about the KPI showing how many young people attended their children in care reviews or child protection conferences.

I am talking about how many children and young people feel like they are heard? Contributing to their own story. When you audit case files what do they tell you? Can you see the child’s lived experience? How do they feel they fit into the world? How will what is written help them to understand their life and sense of identity?

A worker told me that one young person recently explained that after viewing their case records they felt like they were “a ghost in their own files”. Hearing that has haunted me since. Imagine if you accessed a recording about yourself, maybe from your GP, and you didn’t even recognise yourself.

Now imagine that you are trying to piece together your story and form a sense of identity. 

Inspiring different outcomes.

I am delighted to say that we have also heard about the opposite. During an inspection of an outstanding children’s services the inspector commented that “the child jumped off the page” in each case file they picked up.

Isn’t this what we should all be striving to do?

Back in the day I set up and ran a leaving care service. I would sit with young adults looking through piles and piles of papers, heavily redacted papers at that, looking for answers that were invariably not there. When I heard the young person describe themselves as a ghost in their own files it took me straight back to those days and I wonder how far we have come in the intervening twenty years to making this better.

It made me think about the Mirra (Memory – Identity – Rights in Records – Access) project when John-George said:

“My voice is totally stolen and words are put in your mouth, saying this is how you feel about certain occasions and certain people, and at times there’s conflict with what I believe.”

My time in looking through case records was before the option to cut and paste. It was the days of social workers writing by hand and stuffing pages into buff folders. We know much better now that people realise the importance of child-focussed recording.

What is the point of case records if we lose the child in them?

While we build digital participation tools but we are also driven to change practice for the better. Each time I see ‘Share My Good News’ in the One app I think about those days looking through case files with young adults and wish they had it then. There was never any good news and very little in the actual words of the child or young person. The One app and Express have the power to change that.

Whether the child is sharing their good news or contributing to their own life story through completing Me In My Own Words or This Is Me participation can be a real force for good and will really change this practice once and for all.

One day, I really hope there will be no more ghosts.

By Jill Thorburn, Director.