Lifelong rights in childhood records for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders


Figure 1. Why keep records?

Developing the Charter of Lifelong Rights in Childhood Recordkeeping in Out-of-Home Care is research in progress. It addresses the critical information needs of children and young people in Care, and all of those of any age who have exited the Care system. Research on the Charter is one component of the ARC-funded Rights in Record by Design Project 2017-2020.

Recordkeeping rights are essential to the exercise of human rights. including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1990, the UN Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People 2007. Research on the Charter recognises that there are unique human and recordkeeping rights issues associated with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in Care. Today they are ten times more likely than their non-Indigenous counterparts to be in Care relative to their numbers in the general population. Historically racial based policies and legislation empowered government to remove Aboriginal children creating the Stolen Generations. The colonial legacy, institutional racism and transgenerational trauma continue to impact the numbers in Care.

At the 2017 Summit on Setting the Record Straight for the Rights of the Child participants imagined a transformational shift away from organisation-centric records of control and surveillance towards child- and Care leaver-centred recordkeeping frameworks, policies and systems.

They envisaged participatory recordkeeping systems that would document their lives, support the development of their sense of identity and belonging, keep them connected with family and community, and address their questions about who they are, where they come from, and why they are in Care. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island participants also emphasized the important role recordkeeping could play in truth-telling and connecting to their rich heritage and country.



Figure 2. Graphic representation of the Charter of Lifelong Rights in Childhood Recordkeeping in Out-of-Home Care designed by Antonina Lewis

The Charter is designed to support child safety principles, the wellbeing of children and young people in Care, the cultural safety of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people, and meeting the lifelong information needs of Care leavers, including connecting with family and community, historical justice, and redress. Its development has involved those who have lived experience of Care and its lifelong impacts, and in advocating for the rights of children in Care and Care leavers.

One of the main goals of the Charter is to strengthen the voices of children in Care and Care leavers in decision-making that affects them, and in recordkeeping itself. This acknowledges that Care-experienced individuals can speak with direct authority on the ways in which recordkeeping affects the exercise of their rights leading up to, during, and after Care. The voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and Care leavers, including Stolen Generations, are prioritized as the best expressions of knowledge regarding their rights and experiences.

Frank Golding, Antonina Lewis, Sue McKemmish, Gregory Rolan & Kirsten Thorpe (2021) Rights in records: a Charter of Lifelong Rights in Childhood Recordkeeping in Out-of-Home Care for Australian and Indigenous Australian children and care leavers, The International Journal of Human Rights, DOI: 10.1080/13642987.2020.1859484 (eprint available at https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/6UUQVEHCCVHDPEUTTGHU/full?target=10.1080/13642987.2020.1859484).