“Problems with records and recordkeeping practices are not confined to the past”: a challenge from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

Abstract

This paper describes and analyses the campaign by the Care Leaver community and other stakeholders to bring about a royal commission into child abuse in Australia. Care Leavers did not get the royal commission they wanted and expected—other more powerful forces were at play—but the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) was highly effective in exposing the complex nature and extent of the problem of child sexual abuse, “the core transgression of childhood innocence”. This paper aims to show that, although the Royal Commission disappointed many Care Leavers with its narrow focus on sexual abuse, when it eventually reported on records and recordkeeping, the Commission surprised many by moving beyond its narrow remit. Issues relating to records and recordkeeping were not originally a prominent part of the Commission’s mandate, but they emerged as one of the crucial issues that influence the quality of the out-of-home Care experience and child protection. This finding has created a fresh context in which Care Leaver advocates, academics and other professionals can work together to further a new agenda for recordkeeping in out-of-home Care.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References

  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2015) Australia’s welfare series No. 12, Cat. No. AUS 189, AIHW, Canberra

  2. BBC News (2018) Catholic Church ‘an empire of misogyny’—Mary McAleese

  3. Breckenridge J, Flax G (2016) Service and support needs of specific population groups that have experienced child sexual abuse. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Sydney

    Google Scholar 

  4. Child Rights International Network (2018) Australia: care leavers’ fight for redress for historical abuse, Child Rights International Network. https://archive.crin.org/en/library/publications/australia-care-leavers-fight-redress-historical-abuse.html. Accessed 5 April 2019

  5. CLAN (2012–13) The Clanicle: newsletter. CLAN, Sydney

  6. CLAN (2013) The Clanicle, Number 76, January

  7. CLAN (2017) ‘I know more about captain cook than I know about my father’: CLAN’s submission on records and record keeping to the royal commission. CLAN, Sydney

    Google Scholar 

  8. Coate J (2016) Perspectives on records and archives: an update from the royal commission, Keynote address, Australian society of archivists, 31st national conference, Parramatta, 20 October. https://www.archivists.org.au/learning-publications/2016-conference. Accessed 29 March 2019

  9. Coate J (2017) An update from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on their records and recordkeeping findings and potential recommendations, national summit: setting the record straight: for the right of the child, Melbourne, 9 May. https://rights-records.it.monash.edu/summit/program-schedule/. Accessed 29 March 2019

  10. Croucher R (2018) Letter to The Hon Prue Goward MP NSW Minister for Family and Community Services and The Hon Mark Speakman, NSW Attorney-General, 28 August 2018, Copy held in CLAN Inward Correspondence File C03/2218

  11. De Wilde L, Vanobbergen B (2017) Puzzling history—the personal file in residential care: a source for life history and historical research. History Educ 46(3):384–397. https://doi.org/10.1080/0046760X.2016.1268213

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs together with the National Framework Implementation Working Group (2011) An outline of standards for out-of-home care: a priority project under the national framework for protecting Australia’s Children 2009–2020. Commonwealth of Australia

  13. Eberhard K (2015) Unresolved issues: recordkeeping recommendations arising from Australian commissions of inquiry into the welfare of children in out-of-home care, 1997–2012. Arch Manuscr 43(1):4–17. https://doi.org/10.1080/01576895.2014.959536

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Ericsson K (2015) Children’s agency: the struggles of the powerless. In: Sköld J, Swain S (eds) Apologies and the legacy of abuse of children in ‘care’: international perspectives. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, pp 42–54

    Google Scholar 

  15. Evans J (2017) Setting the record straight for the rights of the child summit. Arch Manuscr 45(3):247–252. https://doi.org/10.1080/01576895.2017.1373244

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Evans J, Wilson J (2018) Inclusive archives: towards a critical manifesto. Int J Historical Stud 24:8. https://doi.org/10.1080/13527258.2018.1428671

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Evans JE, McKemmish SM, Rolan G (2017) Critical approaches to archiving and recordkeeping in the continuum. J Crit Libr Inf Stud 1(2):1–38. https://doi.org/10.24242/jclis.v1i2.35

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Gillard J (2012) Letter to James Luthy, President of CLAN, 16 November 2012 (CLAN Inward Correspondence File C12/4705) Reproduced in the clanicle: newsletter Number 76, January, p 3

  19. Gilliland AJ, McKemmish S (2014) Rights in records as a platform for participative archiving. In: Cox RJ, Langmead A, Mattern E (eds) Archival education and research: selected papers from the 2014 AERI conference. Litwin Books, Sacramento, pp 355–385

    Google Scholar 

  20. Golding F (2015) A charter of rights to childhood records, Frank Golding (blog). http://frankgolding.com/a-charter-of-rights-to-childhood-records/. Accessed 29 March 2019

  21. Golding F (2017) Capturing the record—building a storehouse of hope, presentation at the Records Management Network Meeting, Melbourne, 19 May 2017

  22. Golding F (2018a) Sexual abuse as the core transgression of childhood innocence: unintended consequences for care leavers. J Aust Stud 42(2):191–203. https://doi.org/10.1080/14443058.2018.1445121

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Golding F (2018b) Submission No. 9 to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra

  24. Golding F (2018c) Transcript of Hearing, Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, 6 March 2018

  25. Golding F, O’Neill C and Story N (2013) Improving access to Victoria’s historical child welfare records. Proven: J Public Rec Off Vic 12

  26. Heinrichs P (2004) Call for royal commission into abused wards of state. The Age, Melbourne

  27. Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission (1997) Bringing them home: report of the national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres strait islander children from their families. Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, Sydney

    Google Scholar 

  28. Inquiry into Children in Institutional Care (2009) National apology. Text from the National Apology delivered by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the Great Hall, Parliament House on 16 November 2009 and then followed by speeches given in the House of Representative and the Senate. http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completedinquiries/2004-07/inst_Care/national_apology/index. Accessed 29 March 2019

  29. McClellan P (2016) Addressing the needs of those who have experienced abuse in care as children—implications of findings from the Royal Commission. Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies Conference, Sydney 15

  30. McClellan P (2017) Correspondence to CEO CLAN, 17 February 2017 CLAN Inward Correspondence File C2/0034

  31. McDowall JJ (2013) Experiencing out-of-home care in Australia: the views of children and young people, CREATE report card 2013. CREATE Foundation, Sydney

    Google Scholar 

  32. Murray A (2004) Speech at opening the CLAN Office in Bankstown, Sydney, 6 March 2004. CLAN Library. See also The Clanicle: newsletter Number 20, March, pp 1–3

  33. O’Neill C, Selakovic V, Tropea R (2012) Access to records for people who were in out-of-home care: moving beyond ‘third dimension’ archival practice. Arch Manuscr 40(1):29–41. https://doi.org/10.1080/01576895.2012.668841

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Olick J (2007) The politics of regret: on collective memory and historical responsibility. Routledge, London

    Google Scholar 

  35. Ombudsman V (2012) Investigation into the storage and management of ward records by the department of human services. Victorian Government Printer, Melbourne

    Google Scholar 

  36. Powell F, Scanlon M (2015) Dark secrets of childhood: media, power, child abuse and public scandals. Policy Press, Bristol

    Google Scholar 

  37. Recordkeeping Innovation (2015) Access to records by forgotten Australians and former child migrants: access principles for records holders, and best practice guidelines in providing access to records. DSS1687.11.15. Department of Social Services, Canberra

  38. Rolan G (2017) Agency in the archive: a model for participatory recordkeeping. Arch Sci 17(3):195–225. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10502-016-9267-7

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2015) Redress and civil litigation. The Commission, Sydney

    Google Scholar 

  40. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2016) Records and recordkeeping practices. The Commission, Sydney

    Google Scholar 

  41. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2017a) Final report: Private sessions, vol. 5. The Commission, Sydney

  42. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2017b) Final report, Preface and executive summary. The Commission, Sydney

  43. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2017c) Final report: Recordkeeping and information sharing, vol. 8. The Commission, Sydney

  44. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2017d) Final report: Our inquiry, vol. 1. The Commission, Sydney

  45. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2017e) Final report: Historical residential institutions, vol. 11. The Commission, Sydney

  46. Senate Community Affairs References Committee (2001) Lost innocents: righting the record: report on child migration. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra. https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_inquiries/1999-02/child_migrat/report/index. Accessed 4 April 2019

  47. Senate Community Affairs References Committee (2004) Forgotten Australians: report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra. https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_inquiries/2004-07/inst_care/report/index. Accessed 4 April 2019

  48. Senate Community Affairs References Committee (2009) Lost innocents and forgotten Australians revisited. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra. https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_inquiries/2008-10/recs_lost_innocents_forgotten_aust_rpts/report/index. Accessed 4 April 2019

  49. Senate Community Affairs References Committee (2018) Submissions on national redress scheme. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra. https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/NationalRedressScheme/Submissions. Accessed 4 April 2019

  50. Setting the record straight for the rights of the child (2017) National summit 8–9 May 2017. Report. Monash University, Melbourne. http://rights-records.it.monash.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/ReportFinal-1.pdf. Accessed 4 April 2019

  51. Sköld J (2013) Historical abuse—a contemporary issue: compiling inquiries into abuse and neglect of children in out-of-home care worldwide, J Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention 14, Supp 1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Swain S (2014a) History of Australian inquiries reviewing institutions providing care for children. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Sydney

    Google Scholar 

  53. Swain S (2014b) Stakeholders as subjects: the role of historians in the development of Australia’s find & connect web resource. Public Historian 36(4):38–50. https://doi.org/10.1525/tph.2014.36.4.38

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Truth Justice and Healing Council (2018) Final report: where from and where to: the Truth Justice and Healing Council, the Royal Commission and the Catholic Church in Australia, vol. 1. The Council, Melbourne

  55. United Nations (1989) Convention on the rights of the child. United Nations, New York. https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-11&chapter=4&lang=en

  56. Victoria. Auditor-General (2012) Freedom of information. Victorian Auditor-General’s Office. http://www.audit.vic.gov.au/reports_and_publications/latest_reports/2011-12/20120418-foi.aspx

  57. Victoria (2018) Victims and other legislation amendment bill

  58. Wilson JZ, Golding F (2015) Contested memories: caring about the past—or past caring? In: Sköld J, Swain S (eds) Apologies and the legacy of abuse of children in “care”: international perspectives. Palgrave Macmillan, London

    Google Scholar 

  59. Wilson JZ, Golding F (2016) Latent scrutiny: personal archives as perpetual mementos of the official gaze. Arch Sci 16(1):93–109

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Wright K (2017) Remaking collective knowledge: an analysis of the complex and multiple effects of inquiries into historical institutional child abuse. Child Abus Negl. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2017.08.028

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Wright K, Swain S, Sköld J (2017) The age of inquiry: a global mapping of institutional abuse inquiries. La Trobe University, Melbourne. https://doi.org/10.4225/22/591e1e3a36139

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

Rights in Records by Design is funded through an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant. The Chief Investigators are Associate Professor Joanne Evans (Monash University), Associate Professor Jacqueline Wilson (Federation University), Professor Sue McKemmish (Monash University), Associate Professor Philip Mendes (Monash University), Professor Keir Reeves (Federation University), and Dr Jane Bone (Monash University). The author has acted as a consultant to the Project. The Project is investigating systems to support the recordkeeping rights of people who experience childhood out-of-home Care.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Frank Golding.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Appendices

Appendix 1

Table 1 Examples of failures to uphold children’s rights in out-of-home care (This previously unpublished list is compiled by the author principally from analyses of the four Senate reports (2001, 2004, 2009, 2018) together with the most relevant volume of the Royal Commission’s Final Report (Royal Commission 2017e)

Appendix 2

Clan advocacy and action on historical records

July 2017, Revised October 2018

This advocacy and action agenda was developed at a number of CLAN Committee of Management planning workshops in 2017 and 2018. Previously unpublished, the agenda is derived from CLAN’s long and continuing history of advocacy for Care Leaver access to records, from our Charter of Rights in Records (Golding 2015) and from the findings and recommendations of the abovementioned national summit (Setting the record straight for the rights of the child 2017; Evans 2017) and the Final Report of the Royal Commission (2017a, b, c, d, e).

The problem

Achieving access to records is a major and long standing issue:

  • The records are often disorganised

  • Processes for accessing the records are often confusing or adversarial

  • The contents of many personal records are negative and demeaning

  • Support for individuals accessing the records is either non-existent or inadequate

  • The records are not acknowledged as being the property of the Care Leaver.

Because these issues are pervasive but vary across States and Territories, CLAN will advocate for reforms within all State and Territory governments and departments, employing a seven-point action agenda.

The action agenda

  1. 1.

    Immediate priority access for older care leavers

    • Endorse and implement the Commonwealth Department of Social Services (DSS) access principles and guidelines

    • FOI/RTI processes based on proactive disclosure, i.e. the right of people to know what records are held about them

    • Without removing any rights to full access to records, require record holders to identify key and critical documents to provide a pathway when case files are voluminous

    • Use administrative discretion to release records, not to withhold them

    • Assert the right to full unredacted release of records unless it is clearly unlawful to do so

    • Explain and discuss redactions where they must be used

    • Provide support services for access and interpretation of records

    • Lobby Birth, Deaths and Marriage Registrars for a consistent, agreed and national approach for free access to 2 generations (i.e. me, parents, grandparents) of certificates

  2. 2.

    Support for adding to/annotating official records and specifying access controls

    • Normalise the existing right to incorporate individual’s stories into the record

    • Advocate for the person’s story to be presented first in personal archives

    • Enable access wishes to be clearly expressed and honoured, including informed consent for access by researchers

  3. 3.

    Remediation of legacy recordkeeping systems

    • Continue advocacy for resources and clear plans to remediate older systems, particularly name indexing and facilitation of connections to family

    • Develop guidance for organisations transitioning from current service provider to legacy record holder

  4. 4.

    Development of care leaver history and heritage (see also national orphanage museum strategic plan)

    • Encourage and support initiatives that enable individuals Care Leavers and communities to tell their stories of “care” experiences, the impacts of institutional systems, and to create their own histories, exhibitions, memorials, commemorations, storytelling and other activities

    • Lobby for Care Leaver history and heritage to be incorporated into primary, secondary, university and other curricula, professional and community education

  5. 5.

    Training for records release

    • Work collaboratively to develop guidelines and training on how to release records with minimal redaction (i.e. only where absolutely necessary), including informative disclosure of reasons for redactions, accessible processes for appeal, effective monitoring and oversight to ensure fair and consistent practices and specialised release mechanisms over reliance on generic FOI/RTI processes.

  6. 6.

    Research ethics

    • Work collaboratively to devise protocols and obligations for researchers in dealing with access to case files and personal information in out of home care research.

  7. 7.

    Recommendations of the royal commission (RCIRCSA) and beyond

This part of the Strategic Plan was previously framed as advice to the RCIRCSA, but in December 2017 the Commission published its Final Report—of which Volume 8 is devoted entirely to Recordkeeping and information sharing. We are now recasting this section of the Strategic Plan to accord with the recommendations contained in that report. We endorse the five principles recommended in the Final Report, giving particular attention to Principle 5:

Individuals’ existing rights to access, amend or annotate records about themselves should be recognised to the fullest extent.

CLAN will also continue to work with the partners who collaborated in the National Summit on Setting the Record Straight for the Rights of the Child held in Melbourne in May 2017. In particular, CLAN will participate in the Rights in Records by Design Project funded through an Australian Research Council Grant—through Monash University and Federation University—which is pursuing many of the issues discussed at the Summit.

A special aspect of this project that CLAN will monitor closely is a national survey of the views of the capacities of recordkeeping and other professionals involved in childhood out-of-home Care of their capacities to implement the Recordkeeping Principles of Child Safety and Wellbeing set down by RCIRCSA and the Records Access Principles and Guidelines developed in 2015 as part of the DSS’s Find & Connect Services and Projects. The national survey will become an annual event.

In conjunction with these initiatives, CLAN will take the opportunity to refine its Charter of Rights in Records and to urge recordkeepers to honour that Charter.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Golding, F. “Problems with records and recordkeeping practices are not confined to the past”: a challenge from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Arch Sci 20, 1–19 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10502-019-09304-0

Download citation

Keywords

  • Care leavers advocacy
  • Inquiries
  • Royal commission
  • Recordkeeping
  • Child abuse