Many people have suggested that whenever I reflect about my time as a former youth in care or talk about my life as mental health consumer that I sometimes take a negative tone. I've always identified myself as a 'mental health advocate,' and while I'm constantly speaking publicly about what aspects of the system need improvement I've been urged to talk about what the system does well and how we can build on that. I promise to expand on some of the strengths of the system in future blogs.
Every client of the mental health system knows that at every appointment you attend with your health care team, whether it be doctors or therapists, notes are taken and stored in your file. The same goes for youth in care especially those living in group homes. A report is written on you every eight hours. Now in my case, multiply one report every eight hours for nine years. Now add in incident reports, serious occurrence reports, plan of cares, report cards, psychiatric reports, etc. Visualize how much documentation that is for one client. It's a lot, and I've obtained some of it.
Since being discharged from the Children's Aid Society over five years ago I have struggled to obtain my files from various agencies that were in charge of my care at various points during my time as a Crown Ward. It took me over four years to get CAS to release their files to me which consisted of dozens of file folders and envelopes that overflowed a Bankers Box. Why did it take four years, you ask? Bureaucracy is why it took four years! Nobody could decide as to if somebody should go through the files with me, who should be the one to release them to me, heck CAS had to spend time looking into where my files were located. But at least I finally got them!
While CAS was my legal guardian (as appointed by the Province of Ontario), other agencies were in charge of my care day to day and they too have hundreds of documents solely about me, my strengths, my weaknesses, and the challenges I endured as a child living a colorful childhood. At least six agencies were in charge of my care while I was a Crown Ward.
Child protection agencies are legislated and licensed in Canada by the provinces in which they're located. That means the agencies I was a client of were overseen by Ontario government officials. There's a lot of legislation and policies that agencies must follow in order to remain licensed and to be funded by tax dollars. However, Ontario lacks legislation as to how and if an agency should release its records to former clients. Each agency is free to write its own policy.
A couple agencies I've contacted have quickly set up a meeting with me to review the files and to surrender copies to me with names of clients and staff omitted. Other agencies I've talked to lack a policy and are completely clueless as whether not they should and are even allowed to release my records to me. One agency told me to go back to CAS who then told me they weren't allowed to release files on me not authored by them, which is understandable.
Many people have asked me why I want to see my files so badly. It is because I am curious to know what they say. There are thousands of reports and pages all about me. It's like somebody authored my life story, or at least the most interesting parts. Wouldn't you want to read all about your life authored by somebody else? In addition to my intense curiosity I believe valuable information exists in them too such as medical records and reports that could be useful to my day-to-day treatment as a mental health consumer.
I am calling on Teresa Piruzza, Minister of Child & Youth Services and her staff to establish a province-wide policy as to how clients and former clients requests get handled around releasing records to them. There's too much uncertainty around how people can obtain their records. Do the right thing, lets give clarity to people who have so many unanswered questions about an already complicated and colourful life!