Implementing an Empathetic Approach

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

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, the Archives had a look at its access service, procedures, staff training and well-being, to see what could be done to raise awareness amongst all staff about Care Leavers, and improve the service.  This led to many new initiatives at the Archives.

Care Model image series
A Care Leaver’s records packaged in archival quality folder and ribbon

Release of records 

University staff worked with Care Leavers and support agencies to improve the experience of looking for, requesting and receiving records from the UMA. As a result of that collaboration, Care Leavers who access records from the collection are given a package which includes:

  • Colour print outs of all their records, as well as digital copies on USB.
  • Records are placed in archival folders (acid free), carefully labelled and sealed, with a cover letter from the staff that searched for, retrieved and prepared the records.
  • Photographs of the UMA repository where the records are housed, the collection, the box or boxes where the records live, and of staff carefully packaging and labelling the records.
  • Records can be delivered to the client through the UMA reference service, or via a support service.
  • Archivists are available to answer questions when they hand over the records, or at any time before or after the records are handed over.

In addition, UMA staff 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.

Care Leaver Package
A Care Leaver's records in the process of getting labelled and packaged for delivery to her.

Awareness Raising and Training for Staff

From 2018, University of Melbourne staff with responsibility for describing or providing access to records about Care Leavers (i.e. Reading room and Archives staff) attend a half-day information session and training workshop. At the workshop, Care Leavers, Open Place (Find & Connect support service for Care Leavers in Victoria) and Find & Connect web resource staff talk to the group about issues specific to Care Leavers accessing their records. This is followed by a training workshop about trauma informed approaches to service and vicarious trauma.

What to Expect Information Sheet

What to expect when accessing records is an information sheet aimed at Care Leavers wishing to access records about them held by the University of Melbourne. It purpose is to 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.

Content and Language Warning

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

We like to let people know that they may come across material that is confronting or disturbing in the records. Sometimes words or images can cause sadness or distress, or trigger traumatic memories for people, particularly survivors of past abuse, violence or childhood trauma. For some people, these responses can be overwhelming. If you need to talk to someone, support is available - please see Find & Connect Support Services.

Care Model image series
What to Expect information sheet and Deed of Undertaking

Deed of Undertaking Information Sheet

Some collections include personal sensitive and health 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 produced an information sheet to illuminate the meaning and intent of the Deed. This was done in consultation with a Care Leaver and a Find & Connect staff member. See Explainer: Deed of Undertaking.

Memorandum of Understanding

In 2018 the University of Melbourne and Open Place (Find & Connect support service for Care Leavers in Victoria) 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 established 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.