Connecting pieces to solve a vital jigswaw

Helping to heal wounds is key for Birthlink, writes Gary Clapton

Care Connect is for adults who have spent part of their childhood in care. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Care Connect is for adults who have spent part of their childhood in care. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

CARE Connect is a Scottish service for adults who have been in care, hosted by Birthlink, a well-established after-adoption service.

Established in 2003 as a service for those who have spent a portion of their childhood in foster or institutional care (local authority, church-based, private or charity-run), Care Connect facilitates access to and help with interpretation of records and provides counselling, search and mediation services to help people who have been in care find their families.

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Care Connect has helped over 200 people and it is now possible to say something about those people and their motivations for wishing to read their records. This is derived from a sample of 129 cases which gives an in-depth account of the workings of the service, its reasons for existence and the benefits for those who have been in care.

All enquiries have in common the need to know why the person was taken into care, how long this lasted for and which homes they were placed in. Further explanations for our service include “to see what has been written about me” and one woman who wanted “help with the healing process before I die”.

Other reasons for reading care files were many, but most frequent was the wish to contact fellow brothers and sisters from whom they were separated during their time in care. In other cases, access to files was sought for more current reasons, one man was contesting the adoption of his child and understood that his time in care was being used against him, a woman had applied to adopt a child and wished to recall memories of her time in care; another was hoping to challenge the reason for the continued existence of a police record relating to him from the time he had been before a children’s panel. This was to help with his application for a place at university. Interestingly, given the current spotlight on abuse in care, just one man gave this as his reason for reading his records, although it is acknowledged that the subject is not the most simple to explain when at the point of enquiry.

The length of time spent with people ranged from a one-off session of one hour to work with a 67-year-old woman from East Lothian who wanted to “fit the pieces of my jigsaw together” because, she said she “had forgotten much about my time in care”; the Birthlink worker was in contact with her over a period of four years. Much of the work involves interpreting the records, one set of files ran to 553 pages.

Of nearly 130 people helped, 50 were men aged between, as already noted, a 76-years-old, and a 20-year-old who was seeking information about his biological father. The women we helped were aged between 67 (one that age, now living in Wales wanting “Access to files about my time in care and to share these with my siblings”) and a 22-year-old from Edinburgh who wanted to read her care record “for life-story work”. The majority of those we helped were in their fifties and sixties.

The current addresses of those with whom we are in contact range across the world from Orkney (“Why was I put in foster care”?) to Ohio in the USA (“I want to make contact with my birth family and deal with the past”). Most of the people we have helped are still resident in Scotland.

The biggest question that is posed by our research with those wishing access to their care records is “Is It Worth It?”. As with all of those with whom we work, feedback and evaluation is invited but locating and making sense of the past, especially one that involved removal from family of birth, does not easily lend itself to snap judgment. Connecting the pieces in an interrupted lifeline is a life’s work.

• Gary Clapton, Birthlink Consultant.