February 19, 2010


PARENTS TELL WOMAN THEY HAVE SAME PROBLEMSBacking for mum over files access

By Lyn Grainger

The Stafford mother battling to have access to Social Services files on her children has received nationwide support after telling her story to the Post.

The woman who cannot be named for legal reasons, has been fighting for 18 months to see Staffordshire County council reports on her family which she says are inaccurate and may have affected court proceedings and the access she has to her sons.

Under data protection law she should have been given the information within 40 days.

Earlier this year Stafford’s MP David Kidney joined her fight and said he was “ spitting mad “ after being assured in April she would be given the files.

And now on the Stafford mother’s online blog, parents across the country have backed her call for the reports – and have revealed that many of them are in the same situation.

One local parent wrote ; “I had the same problem with Staffordshire County Council trying to get information.When it was finally sent six months later some of the information had been deleted. I know this as I had original copies of some of the papers.”

And parents from across the country raised concerns about their own local authorities and social services.

One wrote :” This happened to me. In my case they had 40 days to reply but they said that because they shared parental responsibility with me ( which means they are in control )they can decide if I have that information.”

Another commented: “Many years after my daughter was adopted against my wishes I found that a letter sent to Social Services contained a typing error which conveyed the opposite intention to that which had been meant regards my parental abilities. This typing error may have contributed directly to the awful course of events that prevented my having my baby back. I believe it was used to discredit me despite the hospital writing again to correct the mistake “

Alison Stevens, of the campaign group Parents Against Injustice, said the organisation was aware of many cases dragging their heels over information requests.

“ Local Authorities have to send the requested files within 40 days but they are often not following public law guidelines. “

She added “ We have been quite successful, with regards to parents obtaining their social services files, under the data protection act, using a template letter and another letter we have drafted for the Information Commissioner.”

A spokesperson for Staffordshire County Council issued this statement last week : “ The issue of supplying case files extends further than a data protection issue, which would carry a deadline of 40 days.

“ Now we have received advice from the Information Commissioner a meeting will be held imminently to discuss this matter to agree what information she will be provided with.

This is the history now for the present

I refer to your complaint to the Information Commissioner concerning the Social Services Department of Staffordshire County Council.

In my previous email I indicated that I would be approaching the Council with regard to your complaint.  The Council appeared to have breached the sixth data protection principle by failing to properly respond to the subject access request you made in February 2008.  Also, I wished to confirm that you had received all of the information to which you are entitled, and to establish what information has been withheld from you, and what action has been taken in relation to the information which you consider to be inaccurate.

I received a response from the Council shortly after speaking to you yesterday morning.  With regard to your requests for information, I understand that, to date, no information has been provided to you in response to your February 2008 request, or any of the requests you have made subsequently during the course of your contact with the Council.  (I should add that the Council’s records do not show what action took place in 2008.  However, in view of the fact that you continued to make further requests I am assuming that you received no information in response to your request at that time.)

It appears that whilst the files were to be presented to you on 16 June 2009, a last minute decision was taken that legal advice should be obtained before the information could be disclosed.  This was because there were concerns that you may have published the information you received, to the detriment of your children.  The matter was considered further in August 2009 but the same conclusion was reached.  It is not clear whether you were ever informed of this.  However, I understand that an injunction was issued regarding publishing information in relation to one of your children.

By October 2009 the Council was aware that you had moved to Newquay and that you required release through your solicitor (it is not clear whether you informed the Council of this).  However, it appears that whilst the Council is now ready to release the files to you, they do not have your new postal address, or that of your solicitors.

In view of the above I have confirmed my assessment that the Council have breached the sixth data protection principle in this case.  It is clear that the Council had concerns about the release of the information to you.  Nevertheless, you should still have received a response to your original request, and your further requests, within 40 days of each request.  Whilst it would appear that some of your subsequent requests were contained within your formal complaints to the Council, they should have been dealt with as separate matters.

The DPA allows information held by social services departments to be withheld from a response to a subject access request if the provision of the information:-

“would be likely to prejudice the carrying out of social work by reason of the fact that serious harm to the physical of mental health or condition of the data subject or any other person would be likely to be caused.”

However, even though it was necessary for legal advice to be obtained in this case, this should have been done within the statutory 40 day timeframe.  Also, if the final decision was that all of the information should be withheld from you, you should have been informed of this within that 40 day timeframe.

Nevertheless, as I have indicated above, the Council are now ready to provide you with the information to which you are entitled if you could provide them with your, or your solicitors’, address.  Please contact the Acting Access to Information Manager with this.

More press stories to follow regarding this matter and the matter .


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