The Victorian Ombudsman has reported on an own motion investigation into the management and storage of ward records by the Department of Human Services in the beginning of March 2012.
In his report Own motion investigation into the management and storage of ward records by the Department of Human Services, the Ombudsman George Brouwer said numerous reports over the last 15 years had documented the neglect, abuse and lack of care experienced by many children in institutions and had highlighted the need for former wards to have access to their records for emotional, medical, psychological, financial or legal (compensation and redress) reasons.
“In some instances, the existence of such records are the only means by which a former ward can reconnect with a sibling or parent from whom they were separated at childhood,” Mr Brouwer said.
Clearly poor record keeping impedes both FOI and legal discovery. He said he launched the ‘own motion’ investigation in July last year after receiving information from an anonymous source that claimed there were a number of boxes containing records relating to former wards being held by the Department in storage.
He said his investigation found the Department was holding around 80 linear kilometres of historical records in storage but had not inspected or indexed a considerable portion of them.
My Brouwer said that government agencies had been provided with advice in 2007, on the ‘Crimes (Document Destruction) Act 2006 – Implications for government recordkeeping’, the Keeper of Public Records stated: [L]egal discovery should not be impeded by poor document organisation making things hard to find. Documents should not become unavailable by virtue of being “lost in the system”.
The Evidence (Document Unavailability) Act 2006 reinforces the concept that it is every organisation’s responsibility to have document management systems sufficient to the task of locating and providing evidence in litigation, and that inadequate document retention policies or document classification will not excuse the unavailability of documents in court.3
“Despite having had the majority of these records in its archives for over 15 years the Department has only indexed and catalogued records relating to 26 of the 150 plus years worth of records relating to wards and institutions it holds,” Mr Brouwer said.
Mr Brouwer recommended the Department take immediate action to ensure that it had a thorough understanding of the records it held in its collection.
He said this was needed to assure former wards that they had been provided with all the available information regarding the often traumatic chapter of their lives.
This particular scenario is of great significance in that currently the Victorian Government has elected to fight claims for compensation by the former care leavers through an adversarial court system. Current compensation claims are for alleged cases of abuse whilst in government or church run institutions. This process currently places the onus of proof on claimants to meet exacting requirements for documentary evidence, despite the fact that the legal responsibility for managing the records rests with government and non government organisations. It is unlikely former care leavers would have ever received copies of their records whilst in care.
The legislative requirements for records management within government are ineffective and have to be reviewed.
This was reinforced in a 2008 Performance Audit completed by the Victorian Auditor Generals http://download.audit.vic.gov.au/files/20080312-Records-Management-Public-Sector.pdf
RIM Professionals will be taking an advocacy role with regards to current legislative deficiencies. In September 2011 the association sent a letter to Premier Baillieu, (and all the others- can you list here) reinforcing that records management compliance breaches were prolific and have far reaching consequences.
This is available here:
The association will continue to inform you of key developments and actions we are taking to support our industry.
For more information on the ombudsman’s report go to the following websites: