Advice to Fosters Who Want to Request Their File

Check out this powerful podcast from Unbelievably Resilient about the difficulties with obtaining your case files as former foster youth.

The hang ups, managing your own expectations, and rewriting the stories you read about your past. If you find yourself wanting to obtain your records or even you are just beginning to consider making the request…we are right there with you. Privacy and protection standards vary across the country and as you will hear, it’s not always a straight forward process; and sometimes it leads to disappointment. How do we keep building our story if there are many gaps in the history? Tune in to find out.”

Below are responses from our February 2022 survey for current and former foster youth, from the question surrounding the following question:

What advice do you have for others who want to request their file?

I would say it will likely be hard, and they may learn things that may be hurtful, but that ultimately, it may also validate some of the feelings they have and/or decisions they have made. I would encourage young people to have a support network and utilize it during this process. A lot may come up for the young person.

Emily Stochel

Prepare yourself. Michael Davis-Thomas’

Have support. Have someone with you that you trust and feel comfortable to confide in and share your story with. Social workers can be subjective. It is their opinion and bias doesn’t mean it’s your story. Be compassionate to yourself and read in parts. Expect that unexpected. Do something nice for yourself after. Mary Carter

Prepare for to much information or nothing at all. I spent 12 years in Arkansas’ foster care system. I entered care at 9 years old. I left care at age 21, I requested my file at age 18. There were only 4 documents in my file. Nothing that I didn’t already know and nothing that could help me piece together my memories. Shaden Jedlicka

To not set your heart on finding anything out and if you do it’s a bonus. to make sure you have support and access to some kind of therapy or a strong friendship network. Saira-Jayne Jones

I would say if you really want it don’t stop until you retrieve it. I didn’t want it bad enough so I gave up but I know if I didn’t give up, I would have it right now. Deborah Denzel

For anyone wanting to request their file, I would encourage them to be resilient and self-advocating. The legal system isn’t necessarily setup to fully support us in obtaining information about our pasts. There are so many roadblocks and barriers to accessing data that should be rightfully ours. Be patient, step back when you need to, and find individuals to support during the entire search process. Rebeccah Carlson

I would ask what they hope to achieve from accessing them and ensure they are knowledgeable about the support they’re legally entitled to, or organizations such as Rees Foundation (a Charity registered in England and Wales). Anonymous

Maybe don’t, it’s very difficult because you want to know your childhood experiences but professionals (I am one myself) write in a way that is so robotic, inhuman and talk about you like you are an object. I think they forgot you can one day read these. Laura Bye

I think the process is different for everyone, but I would say don’t get your hopes up that you will get what you need or want. Go in with little expectations. Anonymous

Surround yourself with a team of adults that know you. That can be there for the hard stuff, the surprises and good things without passing judgement. Be prepared to have your memories challenged. As I was writing my autobiography, I couldn’t remember my 1st-3rd grade years due to overwhelming hunger and chronic illness. I didn’t know I missed over 140 days between Kindergarten and 3rd grade or some of the therapy sessions during my high school years.

Adam Starks

This survey is ongoing, If you spend time in care and would like to share your process thus far – we would love to hear from you and you can complete the survey here –

*Since foster care happens in many counties, people who have lived in foster care are referred to by many names: foster youth, care leavers, care experienced individuals, those with lived experience in the child protection system, former foster youth, FFY, and foster alumni. However, none of those names capture the experience of being removed from your first family or the individuality of the people those names refer to.

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Advice, cautionary tales, real encouragement and things to consider for care experienced young people, from a 2022 survey for current and former foster youth.

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