Implementing a Care Model at the University of Melbourne Archives

Guest Post by Rachel Tropea & Georgina Ward, the University of Melbourne.

To those who spent time as children or youths in orphanages, children’s homes, foster care or any other form of institutional or out-of-home ‘care’, we would like to acknowledge you and your experience.

People who spent time in out-of-home ‘care’ are sometimes known as Forgotten Australians, former Child Migrants, Stolen Generations, Care Leavers, or Homies. In this blog post we’ve used the term Care Leavers.

In 2017, the University of Melbourne Archives (UMA) undertook a comprehensive program to improve access to records related to Care Leavers. Several collections were identified as having relevant records and work was done to improve the descriptions, and identify any names and specific records of interest. In some cases, the records were rearranged, re-boxed, or preservation work was done.

In addition to the documentation of records, UMA had a look at its access service, procedures, staff training and well-being, to see what could be done to raise awareness about Care Leavers and improve the service.  As a result, UMA adopted a trauma informed approach to describing Care Leaver records and the release of those records which can be adapted to other situations. Below is a selection of new initiatives at the University:

Release of records

Archivists worked with Care Leavers and support agencies to improve the experience of looking for, requesting and receiving records from the UMA. Care Leavers are given a package which includes: colour print outs of all their records, as well as digital copies on USB. The records are placed in archival folders (acid free), and carefully labelled. UMA staff include photographs of the repository where the records are housed, the collection, the box or boxes where the records live, and show staff carefully packaging and labelling the records. The records can be delivered directly to the client, or via a support service, with a cover letter, and archivists are available to answer questions if needed. Archivists respect the sensitivities around records of this nature and the privacy of individuals, and only read as much information as they need to search and retrieve the records for the client.

Awareness Raising and Training for staff

From 2018, all University of Melbourne staff with responsibility for describing or providing access to records about Care Leavers will attend Cultural Sensitivity Training, and a half-day workshop about Care Leavers, trauma informed practice, and vicarious trauma. At this workshop, Care Leavers, Support Service staff, and representatives from the Find & Connect web resource educate the group about issues specific to Care Leavers accessing their records. This is followed by Vicarious Trauma Training which explores the nature, dynamics and risks of vicarious trauma, contrasts it with burnout and compassion fatigue, and supports staff to stay healthy and safe in their work with people impacted by diverse traumas.

Below is a selection of photos given to Care Leaver Geraldine along with her records so that she could see some of the process involved; where the records are housed, and the care taken by staff to package them for her.

The Citizens’ Welfare collection
The Citizens’ Welfare collection in the UMA repository
Box containing family case files
Box containing Geraldine’s family case files
Geraldine’s records in the process of getting labelled and packaged for delivery to her.
Geraldine’s records in the process of getting labelled and packaged for delivery to her.
Geraldine’s records packaged in archival quality folder and ribbon.
Geraldine’s records packaged in archival quality folder and ribbon.

Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)

In 2018 the University of Melbourne and Open Place (a support service for Care Leavers) signed a Memorandum of Understanding formalising their commitment to improving access for Care Leavers to University of Melbourne records.  The MOU acknowledges the vital importance of records and information to Care Leavers and their families. It establishes a formal relationship between the two organisations in which to share knowledge, improve discovery of and access to relevant records at UMA; and, provides a way for support service staff to assist Care Leavers to access records held by UMA.

What to Expect Information Sheet

What to expect when accessing records about you is an information sheet aimed at Care Leavers wishing to access records about them held by the University of Melbourne. Its purpose is inform Care Leavers about what records they are likely to find, the reasons why they were collected in the first place, and where to get support. It is given to anyone who requests records about Care Leavers, and is based on the Find & Connect web resource version.

Deed of Undertaking

Some collections include personal health and other sensitive information, and in some cases UMA may ask people to sign a legal document called a Deed of Undertaking to protect the privacy of those mentioned in the records. The language is very legalistic, so UMA created an “explainer” to illuminate the meaning and intent of the Deed. This was done in consultation with a Care Leaver and  Find & Connect staff.

Content and Language Warning

UMA adapted the Content Warning from the Find & Connect web resource and included it on its finding aids to relevant collections.

Thank you

Georgie and I are very grateful to Siobhan (support worker at Open Place) and Geraldine (Care Leaver) who worked closely with us and guided us to improve UMA practices, services, and the experience for current and future staff and clients at the Archives. We delivered the records you see pictured to Geraldine at Open Place, and sat with her and Siobhan for an hour. This was a really special time for us.

We are also very grateful to Nicola Laurent for her help with the Deed of Undertaking ‘explainer’; and, Cate O’Neill, Katrina Dean, Sue Fairbanks, Eithne Donlon, Kirsten Wright and Michelle McDonald for their efforts around the Memorandum of Understanding.  When it was signed we did a ‘dance of joy’.

Rachel Tropea is a Research Archivist at the University of Melbourne. Since 2008 she has worked with Care Leavers on the Who Am I? and Find & Connect web resource projects. 

Georgina Ward is an Archivist at the University of Melbourne Archives responsible for the release of record to Care Leavers.

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