Is Getting Your Foster Care File a Want or a Need?

Summary: below are the responses from our February 2022 survey for current and former foster youth, from the question surrounding the following question: IS having your file a “want” or a “need”?.  

It was most certainly a need for me, knowing why things had gone the way they had, why I had ended up in the situations and the processes that had been followed, etc. I needed to understand what was behind the decision-making, I needed to see with my own eyes what was written about me and my family and the circumstances. I still don’t have all of this information and it has impacted my mental health significantly over the years.

Saira-Jayne Jones

It has validated my understanding of the reasons I was in care and confirmed things I thought about people who abused me. I feel more confident in myself and my personal values from having the information. I am currently undertaking a social work degree and seeing how my social worker advocated for me in my files has empowered me to follow this career path and demonstrated what good practice looks like. Anonymous

Not having my file leaves gaps in my memories and questions unanswered. Deborah Denzel

Need. We have the right to know what and how information about us was stored and at one time, presented. It’s similar to having access to doctor records or school records- it has to do with our life. It is information that can help us piece back parts of our life and identity and it can help us see the big picture, which we deserve. When we were kids, we were only given the privilege to see parts of this information, and it helps to see the bigger picture. It even just helps knowing how our parents talked about us or seeing that things were being done to try to help us. There is a lot in those files that could be helpful. And even the hard things serve a purpose. Emily Stochel

Having my file is definitely a want. At this point in my life, I understand that many aspects of my foster experience many never be revealed to me in the ways that I want. So much power is stripped away from individuals placed into the foster care system and struggling to obtain our files is a strong example of that. What I need, is to continue advocating for my right to access the files. I want to encourage the legal system to reassess foster youth practices too. As I step back into the journey of attempting to find out more about my past, I look forward to the self-empowerment that will come from doing what I firmly believe to be a step in the right direction for foster youth. Rebeccah Carlson

It is an essential need to understand your own childhood and how parts of your development were lacking or missing, files are like puzzle, you need to know what happened and decisions made in order to heal and grow, but it is far from a nice read. Laura Bye

It’s both. We need to know certain things (health records of the family for instance) and we want to know others (what actually happened, reasons, etc.). They are equal, but it is still our story, and are entitled to have it. Anonymous

We need to know our story in order to succeed in the future. It’s extremely difficult to wander through life without knowing your past. That void haunts and revisits you in unexpected ways if left unchecked. Adam Starks

I feel that having access to your file after care is a necessity. Financially, mentally, and emotionally. My health depends on what I know about my biological past. I deserve to have a relationship with all of my biological siblings, not just the ones the state had time for.

Shaden Jedlicka

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.

“Having my file would be a want because I do not have any negative views on my placement(s). I have had my closure with foster care after I had my daughter at age 18. That’s a story for another time… I try not to let any negative situations of my past effect my future. I use the negative situations to grow. The entire time of my placement was not all bad. I did have some great role models and a good support team. Of course, I did not recognize this until I matured.” Orenda B (has not requested file)

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Is foster youth having access to their “file,” medical history, birth parent info, placement history and sibling details NECESSARY, a need or just nice to have?

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