A proactive approach to access

Discussions about access to records for Care Leavers often focus on issues like redaction and the complex web of legal mechanisms governing who can and cannot consult records. But proactive disclosure of information – through finding aids, public programs and outreach – also plays an integral role in providing access to records.

The Principles of Access to Archives, adopted by the International Council on Archives in 2012, recommend that ‘Institutions holding archives adopt a pro-active approach to access’ (Principle 3). Such an approach requires institutions to  ‘make known the existence of the archives, including the existence of closed materials, and disclose the existence of restrictions that affect access to the archives’ (Principle 2). We know that it’s important to provide supported release to Care Leavers and to interpret legislation compassionately – but such approaches to access won’t be much use if users don’t even know the records exist.

As was discussed in a blog post earlier this year, Victoria has a new website,  Finding Records, produced by the Department of Health and Human Services to provide detailed information about its collection of records relating to child protection and child welfare, youth justice, disability services and mental health services.

The Finding Records website, with its unprecedented amount of information about the Department’s holdings, is the culmination of the Ward Records Plan Project, established by the Department in the wake of the Victorian Ombudsman’s investigation into the storage and management of ward records (the Ombudsman’s report was published in March 2012). We commend the Department for the work it has done to improve its management of these vital records, and for its proactive disclosure of information about its collection.

Finding Records is the most accurate, comprehensive and up-to-date resource about Victorian government records relating to wardship, adoption, disability and mental health institutions, and it contains much more information about records than the Find & Connect web resource. We are still combing through the reams of information in the Finding Records website, and we will be updating the content on Find & Connect to reflect the new information that has come to light. (For example, Finding Records has information about institutions not yet on Find & Connect, like the Isolated Refugee Minors family group home in Camberwell, and the Meerindoo Youth Accommodation Service in Bairnsdale.)

Currently, we are still thinking through how we will create connections between the data on our website about Victorian institutions and the information in Finding Records. The two websites are complementary, and one website could never take the place of the other. Our aim at Find & Connect is for users to get access to all the relevant information, in the most sustainable and user-friendly way possible.

So, watch this space, and in the meantime, go and have a look at the over 200 guides on Finding Records. If you or a family member have applied for Victorian government records in the past (before the Ward Records Plan commenced in 2012), it is worth getting back in touch with the Department and applying again in case new records have been identified.