Journal Article

The Use of Discretion in a ‘Cinderella’ Service: Data Protection and Access to Child-Care Files for Post-Care Adults

Derek Kirton, Julia Feast and Jim Goddard

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 41, issue 5, pages 912-930
Published in print July 2011 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online November 2010 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
The Use of Discretion in a ‘Cinderella’ Service: Data Protection and Access to Child-Care Files for Post-Care Adults

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This paper focuses on policy implementation and, in particular, the workings of ‘street-level bureaucracy’ in a small, marginalised area of welfare provision, namely post-care adults seeking access to their care records. The work arises from research mapping UK service provision in this area, via questionnaires and interviews with key actors in local authorities and voluntary organisations. The study was prompted by widespread but largely anecdotal evidence that practices and service provision for those seeking to access their care records varied enormously. While post-care adults may seek access to records for reasons similar to those of adopted adults (curiosity, information on birth family, medical information, care histories and experiences, search and reunion), there is a lack of comparable legal framework and service provision, with reliance instead on the 1998 Data Protection Act (DPA). The intersection of data protection and (child) welfare gives rise to a number of important tensions that are explored, such as those surrounding ‘ownership’ of files and their content, between rights to information and (paternalistic) welfare considerations, and whether the handling of requests should constitute an administrative or a social work task. Finally, we consider the findings, their wider contexts and implications for legal reform and policy change.

Keywords: Post-care adults; data protection; street-level bureaucracy; rights; paternalism

Journal Article.  7322 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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