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By Peter Williams, on 14 September 2021

We felt the symposium (see previous entry) went really well, so thanks to all involved – speakers, chairs, delegates and others who gave invaluable help behind the scenes. Videos and PDFs of presentations to come. Meanwhile, here are some links speakers asked us to circulate:

Joanne Evans (Monash University) : An Australian developments that you might be interested in – CaringLife – https://about.caringlife.com/  – developed by foster carers.

Gavin Moorghen (British Association of Social Workers): https://www.basw.co.uk/system/files/resources/basw_recording_in_childrens_social_work_aug_2020.pdf

Leonie Jordan (Access to Care Records Campaign Group): A new edition of the Practice Guide on Access to Care Records which covers issues of DPA 2018 and GDPR and case examples published by CBaaf is due out in October so check the CoramBaaf website (https://corambaaf.org.uk/) for further details

Miriam Smith (Aberdeen CC): FutureGov https://www.citf.tech/event/webinar/1535-case-study-tech-for-good-2

Watch this space for more on the symposium!

Invitation to the MIRRA Symposium

By Peter Williams, on 29 July 2021

8 and 9 September 09:00—13:00

Followers of MIRRA will know that we are developing the specification for a participatory recordkeeping system in partnership with the software development company OLM Systems (https://www.olmsystems.com/). We now invite you to a free two-day symposium examining issues around social care record creation and access, with MIRRA as the main focus. Day one centres on the creation of participatory records (language, system design etc.), including work undertaken by the MIRRA project. Day two looks at facilitating access to care records for care leavers, and includes presentations from both the UK and Australia.

You can register (for either or both days) at:
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/mirra-virtual-conference-08092021-and-09092021-tickets-162305075851

 

Accessing care records podcast

By Peter Williams, on 13 April 2021

Miriam Antcliffe, Research in Practice Research and Development Officer, speaks to John-george and Darren who share their personal stories of accessing their care files as adults.

Listen to the Podcast here: https://www.researchinpractice.org.uk/children/content-pages/podcasts/reflections-on-accessing-care-records-and-supporting-good-recording/

As a very sad PS, one of the contributers to the Podcast, Darren Coyne, died on 25th May after a short illness. He made a very considerable contribution to the project, and was always so enthusisastic and supportive – reflecting his amazing life which he helped so many people in so many ways. More is to follow on Darren ….

“Care leavers’ rights to records” seminar report now available

By Peter Williams, on 22 February 2021

As mentioned in a previous blog post (at that time as a forthcoming event) UCL hosted a virtual seminar as part of an ‘Up Close & Policy’ series: Care leavers’ rights to records – a central theme of the MIRRA project – in October. Dr Elizabeth Lomas (Department of Information Studies, UCL), Darren Coyne (The Care Leavers’ Association), Luke Geoghegan (British Association of Social Workers) and Matthew Brazier (Ofsted), discussed how their work with care leavers (i.e. any adult who spent time in care, such as foster care, residential care, or other arrangements outside the immediate or extended family, as a child) and their rights to their personal records has led to change in policy in the area of children’s social care policy.

The report to this seminar is now available, which brings together the key points made during the discussion by each of the speakers, as well as the audience Q&A:

https://medium.com/policy-postings/care-leavers-access-to-childhood-records-leveraging-grassroots-initiatives-to-impact-national-5c83957bc67b

MIRRA+ workshops

By Peter Williams, on 7 January 2021

A happy and (especially, considering last year!) healthy New Year from the MIRRA+ team! Just to say, in this update that, along with our OLM partners, we ran two workshops just before Christmas in which we discussed the participatory record-keeping principles developed in Phase One of the research. These were to tease out the implications for the design specification for a new participatory system. The principles were initially cut down by the research team to the 20 most likely to be of relevance in creating the specification for such a system, and participants were asked to choose individually and then discuss what they considered to be the four most important in this context. The first workshop was with our ‘co-researcher’ group of care-experienced people (the ‘receivers’ of care records) and the other with the information providers or ‘deliverers’.

Both workshops showed how passionate everyone was to promote positive change. For the Care Experienced individuals, redaction was one important issuer. They felt that their files were over redacted, leading to serious gaps in their journey in care. Feelings of distress were reported, and some felt they were being misled. Participants also said the preservation of memories should include material items – the smell of letters and hand-written notes in old books were said to bring back more memories than digital copies.

For the Deliverers, much of the focus was on the quality and preparation of content. In terms of the latter, concerns were expressed about gaps in the care experienced person’s life, the language used and the lack of creative record keeping such as photographs, awards, and letters. They felt participatory record keeping would help in allowing the young people and important individuals in their lives to contribute and build a story. However, this would need to be delivered in an age appropriate and sensitive way.

From both of the workshops, four main principles were agreed as potentially having the most positive impact:

  • Inclusion of sentimental items
  • Minimising redaction
  • Participatory record keeping
  • Creative record keeping

OLM Systems will now conduct further internal workshops to analyse the results, brainstorm solutions, and create interactive designs. Watch this space!

Inquiries into Childcare

By Elizabeth J Lomas, on 7 November 2020

Across many countries, religious houses have been part of the patchwork of national childcare provision. The reality of this care is that it has been both positive and negative and religious organisations should own to the strengths and failures of the systems they have built. This includes taking responsibility across Ireland for the Magdalen Laundries. In both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, right up until the 1990s, the Magdalen Laundries took in expectant mothers (so called ‘fallen women’) with the outward goal of caring for these women and the children born to them. However, the reality of the experiences of many of these women and the babies born to them has cast a shadow on the care provision across the island of Ireland. The conditions for many women within the Laundries was little short of slavery. Furthermore, tragically many mothers and children died. In regard to the surviving children, they were often taken away through forced adoptions and sent overseas, with records being withheld to limit any chance of the child and their mother reuniting. Recently, it has further emerged that the children were exploited, for example for through their use in vaccine trials. Separately in Ireland, a Mother and Babies home Inquiry was launched to investigate specific abuses. However, whilst this has acknowledged failings, nevertheless this Inquiry itself has been mired in controversy. Initially the Department of Children, announced that its entire copy of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission archive would be archived and sealed from access for 30 years. Last week, under pressure, this decision was reversed. We have yet to fully understand what will be released and what may be withheld and/or redacted.

In Ireland and across the world, systematic failings have called into doubt many lauded institutions. Despite the institutions knowledge of their own failings, there has still not been full disclosure and accountability for past practices. This raises the questions, why do current administrations seek to cover the horrors of the past? This only further damages the reputation of Government and institutions and their relationship with citizens today. In addition, why does it need an Inquiry to force changes the need for which is often recognised long before the full findings of an inquiry are released? As part of this restoration of justice, we know that around the globe, care leavers are still denied access to the full set of records that can help them make sense of their childhoods. This is in spite of the case law decisions that have highlighted their rights to access these records. Whilst not all crimes of the past can be remedied, some very simple steps to provide accountability and information access can assist in restoring trust today and providing care leavers and current children in care with the rightful information that helps them make sense of their pasts.

In Ireland, the case for change is being made from the grassroots up. In addition, last week the Republic of Ireland wound up a consultation on the new strategy for the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth aiming to better resource and mange critical agendas. The MIRRA Research Group submitted a response arguing  for accountability and better recordkeeping for children in care. The submission relates to the need to properly recognise the recordkeeping responsibilities regarding children in care and the need to support access to their records throughout their lives. MIRRA has found that records are the only means for many care leavers to make sense of their childhoods, given the disconnect with family. The provision of well-crafted records can be life-changing to a person’s long-term wellbeing into adulthood. In addition, when there are investigations, such as the Magdalen Inquiry, these are often hampered, contested and called into doubt when recordkeeping systems are poor. The need for records in the Magdalen Laundries investigation, which has shown that the omission of records and poor management has had serious consequences, has impacted citizen trust in childcare processes. Holistic systems with some independence are key. The MIRRA submission can be read at https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/mirra/files/2020/11/MIRRA_DCYAStrategyStatement_6Nov2020.pdf.

In the UK we are still awaiting the findings of the IICSA inquiry. MIRRA also provided a policy briefing to IICSA which can be read at https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/mirra/files/2020/11/IICSABriefingPaper_MIRRA_UCL_August2019-1.pdf. We hope that the report from IICSA will acknowledge the failures of the past and make strong recommendations to address and remedy these failings into the future. Part of this adenda needs to include a recordkeeping provision.

We are all on a journey. However, we know many of the solutions that are needed to provide for better lives and outcomes for the children in care today. Let us hope that the authorities of today, own to the failings of their predecessors, and improve the outcomes  of children in the future. Recordkeeping is a key part of this agenda. Records made with children, centering their voices, can help build better trusted systems that enable organisations to be accountable to future generations.

Let us hope these inquiries do make concrete changes for the future.

MIRRA+ By Peter Williams

By Elizabeth J Lomas, on 22 October 2020

… we are pleased to announce that the MIRRA project has obtained further funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. In our first project we focused on understanding the information needs of care experienced individuals, and this enabled us to build a set of recommendations around the creation, management and ongoing accessibility of children’s social care records. This had the aim of better supporting the care experienced to enrich their memories and their sense of identity’. Some work from this first phase is still ongoing. However, with this new funding we are now developing a set of specifications that can underpin a new record-keeping system for use in child social care that takes our recommendations into account and which centres the needs of the person in care. Crucially, it will  be designed to provide better opportunities for care experienced individuals to contribute to their files. We are delighted to be working with the commercial company OLM Systems on this. OLM are expert software developers who work with public services and the wider care sector. This next phase of the work will be known as MIRRA+. The result of the research will be an open-source specification for a participatory digital social care recording system.

As previously, we will also be working with care-leavers (as co-researchers), social care workers and information professionals who will be using the system. We wish to capture their views on what the system should look like, how it should function, and what features would work for them.

I keep saying ‘we’ of course, but in fact I should introduce myself. I am Peter Williams, the new Research Associate working full time on the project. I have worked as a researcher at UCL on various projects since 2004 but am delighted to have this opportunity. In addition, I will be working with Anna Sexton. Anna worked on the initial pilot project that was the forerunner to MIRRA. In my case, at the time of the first MIRRA I was working on a British Academy-funded study looking at the role and impact of mobile devices on the lives of people with learning disabilities – the last of a long line of projects working with this group. However, I kept up to speed on MIRRA, partly because it was similar to my own work  ‘participatory’ also in that those involved were not mere research ‘subjects’, but ‘participants’ (if not ‘co-researchers’) and partly because I shared an office with the amazing Victoria Hoyle who worked on MIRRA full time. It will be very hard to match her expertise, although I hope I have the same enthusiasm, and will certainly try my best! Elizabeth Shepherd and Elizabeth Lomas continue to work on MIRRA too.

Meanwhile, watch this space for more news on our progress!

Up Close and Policy! Care leavers’ access to childhood records: the British Association of Social Workers, Ofsted, the Care Leavers Association and MIRRA project team

By Elizabeth J Lomas, on 12 October 2020

As you know, MIRRA is trying to make change surrounding social care recordkeeping processes including access and ownership of those records by care leavers. In addition we have been looking at the wider information networks that help care leavers make sense of their lives. This is a journey, which many of our MIRRA research participants have been working on for a very long time. A critical intention of MIRRA from the outset, was to provide an evidence base to help facilitate critical policy changes for the care leaver community. Clearly this work has had a much greater impact because of the role of care leavers as co-researchers at the heart of the project advocating for their needs. We have been grateful for the support of the Care Leavers Association. In addition, from the outset we were able to get key stakeholders involved as advisors.

On Wednesday 14th October, we will be discussing the MIRRA policy journey with some critical players – Darren Coyne (Care Leavers Association), Luke Geoghegan (British Association of Social Workers) and Matthew Brazier (Ofsted). Social workers have been keen to reconsider aspects of their recording processes and the importance of the child’s voice in recordkeeping. In August BASW, drawing on MIRRA guidance, published top tips for recording practices (https://www.basw.co.uk/resources/recording-children%E2%80%99s-social-work-guide ). In addition, Ofsted have taken very seriously the impact inspections can have on recordkeeping processes. This was a great blog post from Ofsted on records https://socialcareinspection.blog.gov.uk/2019/07/24/what-makes-an-effective-case-record/ . MIRRA has reached out and tried to make a difference to on the ground practice, both through the traditional networks of Whitehall but in addition through other critical players from professionals through to charities and local authorities.

We hope that some of you might want to come and join this discussion on policy making within the context of MIRRA. It is on Zoom at 1-2pm Wednesday 14th October. Please sign up at https://upcloseandpolicycareleavers.eventbrite.co.uk.

 

Spreading the word!

By Elizabeth J Lomas, on 4 October 2019

We have been trying to further spread the word about our recordkeeping recommendations for local authorities, information and data professionals, and social workers, which are that:

  • Records should be co-created by all those involved in a child’s care. They should include the voices of children themselves, taking into account their life-long needs for memory, identity and justice.
  • Best practice guidance for records creation and management should be establishedfor all organisations with safeguarding responsibilities and guardianship of children’s memories.
  • New standards for access to records for all care-experienced persons should be developed. New standards should address the rights of care-experienced people and the responsibilities of institutions.

UCL has issued a press release at: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2019/oct/childrens-voices-omitted-care-records-ucl-study-finds . We are delighted that this press release has already been picked up by The Conversation who have published a piece at: http://theconversation.com/care-leavers-trying-to-access-childhood-records-is-distressing-and-dehumanising-124381. The piece draws out the distressing and dehumanising nature of some recordkeeping practices across the social care system. In addition, it highlights the value of good recordkeeping. We are pleased to report that Community Care produced a piece highlighting the recommendations: https://www.communitycare.co.uk/2019/10/03/childrens-voices-largely-absent-care-records-causing-significant-distress-study-finds/ . Finally Elizabeth Shepherd was interviewed and discusses the project at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p07md69m (please note she is featured 2.22.50 in).

All of these pieces are made particularly powerful by those participants who were quoted speaking of experiences accessing their records and the highs and often lows of seeing what had been captured. It is their testimonies that highlight the significance of recordkeeping, whereby childhood memories should be captured and made available as a basic right that underpins lifelong wellbeing.

We hope that others will continue to engage with this important debate.

Visual minutes from Manchester Workshop, by Rowan Watts.

 

A goodbye, thankfulness and new beginnings

By Victoria Hoyle, on 23 September 2019

Research often feels like something that happens behind closed doors. Over the two years that I’ve worked on the MIRRA project I have spent many hours alone in my office (or at my dining table!), just me, a computer screen and the clack of my keyboard.  This is undoubtedly where a lot of the work of thinking, analysing, understanding and writing has been done; but it isn’t where the meaning or satisfaction in my job has come from.  That has come, without fail, from the amazing people that I have worked alongside and from the change we’ve started to make together.  When I was doing my PhD I often quizzed myself about my decision to go into research, and worried that becoming an ‘academic’ would take me away from the real world and the real life concerns of people. I’m inexpressibly grateful that my first full-time job as an academic researcher proved those fears were wrong, in so many ways.  Research is what we make it, and with MIRRA we have all had an opportunity to make something powerful and heartfelt.

That’s an emotional way to begin this post, but it seems fitting since MIRRA has been an emotional project: it’s about memory, identity and our need to understand ourselves, which are all very emotional things. I’ve often felt full of feelings while working on it. I am full of feelings now as the project, at least this phase of it, comes to a close. The current funding for MIRRA finishes in mid-October 2019, which means that my role as Research Associate is almost over. I will be leaving UCL at the end of this week (28th September), to take up a new job at the University of York. This is incredibly sad for me, because I will miss working with everyone in the research team so much; but it is also very exciting, as the new project I will be working on also promises to make a difference to people’s lives.

The MIRRA Research Team. Left to right: Linda, John-george, Darren, Rosie, Brett, Isa, Gina, Me! (Victoria), Sam, Elizabeth (UCL), Emmanuel and Elizabeth (UCL).

I am grateful and humbled that I have had the opportunity to work with my care-experienced colleagues on MIRRA. Prior to starting on the project I had very little knowledge or understanding of child social care, and no personal experiences. I was an outsider, but people welcomed me in. I would like to particularly thank the core and extended research group – Darren, Andi, Gina, Linda, Isa, Rosie, John-george, Jackie, Emmanuel, Brett and Sam – but also all of those who shared their life stories or experiences and placed their trust in me, in person, by email or on Twitter. Practitioners and other researchers have also been very generous, both with their time and their thoughts. It’s safe to say that while I have learnt a lot about care and care experiences over the last two years, I have learnt even more about how to be a good researcher and a good human.

MIRRA doesn’t end here though! The other members of the research group at UCL, Elizabeth Shepherd, Elizabeth Lomas and Andrew Flinn, will be picking up the reins and carrying the work forward.  They will be continuing to work with legislators and regulators on improving recordkeeping and access to records, and creating and sharing guidance for care leavers and practitioners. Twitter and the website will still be updated.  They will be joined by a new colleague, Anna Sexton, who will be leading on follow-on funding applications to extend and expand the work. Anna isn’t completely new to the project, as she worked on the original pilot study back in the summer of 2017.

We are currently waiting to hear about another year’s worth of money from our current funder, the AHRC, which would allow UCL to start developing a recordkeeping system for social workers that focuses on memory and identity rather than risk and performance management. If that bid is successful the project will start early in 2020.  The team is also beginning to discuss the next large scale bid, which will widen the research to other services and agencies who have similar record-keeping issues including mental health provision, criminal and youth justice, immigration and adult social care. The aim is to keep records high up on people’s radar, and to emphasise the role they play in shaping our lives as both individuals and as citizens.

You can contact the team with your thoughts and queries:

Elizabeth Shepherd – e.shepherd@ucl.ac.uk

Elizabeth Lomas – e.lomas@ucl.ac.uk

Anna Sexton – a.sexton.11@ucl.ac.uk

Andrew Flinn – a.flinn@ucl.ac.uk

If you would like to stay in touch with me and my future work, you can find me on Twitter as @Vicky_Hoyle, or contact me via email at victoria.hoyle@york.ac.uk.

Take care everyone, and thank you again.