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Records about child abuse

This advice applies to England

In a child abuse case, all the professionals involved will keep detailed records. You may want to see your records and this page tells you more about how to do this.

Records about child abuse

You may want information about records concerning child abuse. For example:

  • you’re an adult who remembers being abused as a child and you want to know whether this was ever recognised by the local authority and what steps were taken to protect you. You may therefore wish to see information held about you on local authority records
  • you may want to know whether an organisation holds information about your past convictions or has suspicions about you abusing children
  • you may want to find out if someone has been convicted or suspected of abuse offences in the past.  The police will reveal this information in very limited cases, if someone wants to know whether their partner is known to present a risk to children.

You generally have the right to records that are about you personally, but in some cases, you can be refused access to these records.  For example, they would refuse you permission to see records if this would be likely to cause serious harm to you or someone else, for example, a child who’s being abused. You may also not be able to see information which would reveal the identity of an individual who has provided information about you in confidence to the authority.

Access to records held by the local authority children's services department

You generally have the right to see information about you held by the local authority. It doesn’t matter whether the records are held on computer or manually.

However, a parent doesn’t have an automatic right to see their child's records. The local authority can give you permission to see these records if they are satisfied that:

  • you have parental responsibility for the child, and
  • the child has given permission for you to make the request or you’re making the request in the interests of a child who is can’t understand the nature of the application.

The older the child or young person is, the more likely it is that they will be asked to make the request for the record themselves. Parents wishing to defend themselves against allegations of child abuse would probably would not be given access to these records.

A child has the right to see their own social work records if the local authority considers that they can understand the nature of the request. A child of 12 years or over is generally thought to have this understanding.

You can't be denied access to your records just because you refuse to be seen by a social worker before you see the records.

All records will be 'redacted' . This means they will only contain information about the person whose file it is. Any information about anyone else will be blanked out.

Local authorities have 40 days from the date of your request to send out the files.They should also discuss with you how you want to receive the files. For example, if you have visual impairment, you might want an audio version of your file.

You could make a complaint if there's an unreasonable delay in getting you the file.

There's a good guide about accessing your childhood records on the website of Care Leavers' Association.

Access to records held by other agencies

You generally have the right to see records held about you by other agencies such as the NSPCC, healthcare professionals, education services and the police.However the limits described above also apply to these records.

Make sure the records are accurate

Whatever information is on file about your child can be seen by medical professionals, health visitors, teachers and school staff, housing authorities, police, public and some voluntary workers who have contact with children, and youth workers. That is why it’s important to ensure that whatever is recorded is correct.

How to correct records

You have the right to have inaccurate information about yourself corrected. This only applies if facts are incorrect or misleading or if the record contains an opinion based on information which is incorrect or misleading.  But you may have to prove that the records are wrong. To get a record corrected, write to the organisation saying why you think the information is wrong. If they refuse to correct the record, you can complain to the Information Commissioner or apply directly to the court. It’s usually best to go to the Commissioner first, since this costs nothing and does not prevent you going to the court later on.

If you can’t prove that there’s an error in the records, the most you may be able to do is have a note added to the file explaining what you believe to be the correct position.

Next steps

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