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Pitfalls for practitioners 6

The record is not written for sharing

The Access to Personal Files Act 1987, now replaced by the Data Protection Act 1998, gave individuals the right to see information recorded in their social work record, after the date of the introduction of the Act, with some provisions to safeguard vulnerable individuals.

Research following the introduction of the Access to Personal Files Act 1987 found a varied and at time confused response to the Act from practitioners and local authorities (1).

Although many documents and reports are now routinely shared with service users, for example child protection conference reports and reports for reviews, user access to files has been regarded with a high level of suspicion by some practitioners (2).

Parallels can be drawn between the involvement of families in record keeping and the attitude of some professionals when parental attendance at child protection conferences was initially proposed. It was thought that the involvement of parents would limit the freedom of professionals to contribute to the conference, undermining its ability to protect children. In fact experience has shown quite clearly that the involvement of parents has improved the contribution conferences can make to protecting children (3).

A number of research studies have highlighted the benefits of user involvement in recording. They found that users welcomed the opportunity to see their records and to correct any factual inaccuracies (4). Sharing records strengthened partnerships between practitioners and users. It provided an opportunity to clarify issues with families. Practitioners were able to check their perception of issues and events with the family, resulting in an increased mutual understanding of issues and needs (5). It is not expected that children and families will always see eye to eye with practitioners and agencies. However, the record should be open to scrutiny and comment by the family and any areas of disagreement noted.

Practitioners involved in open recording have reported that the involvement of service users improved their record keeping. Recording was more factual, focused and opinions were more likely to be substantiated (6).

Avoid the pitfall

  • Use plain language not jargon
  • Provide families with a copy of your agency's access to records policy and explain it to them
  • Share early drafts of assessments, plans and reports with the family to enable you to incorporate the family's views in the final document.
  • Provide the family with copies of the final assessment, plan or report
  • Share your recording as you go along
  • Encourage the family to contribute to the record


Try Recording Exercise 6: Avoiding Oppressive Recording

Review your files using Audit Sheet 6 (Microsoft Word format). 


1. Ovreveit J (1986) Improving Social Work Records and Practice. BASW, Birmingham.

2. Ovreveit J (1986) Improving Social Work Records and Practice. BASW, Birmingham.

3. Thoburn  J, Lewis A and Shemmings D (1995) Paternalism or Partnership? Family Involvement in the Child Protection Process. HMSO, London.

4. Raymond Y. (1989) Empowerment in Practice. Clients views on seeing records: themes emerging from twelve interviews with clients. Practice 1: 5-23.

5. Cornwall N (1990) On the Record and Open to Question. Social Work Today. 18.1.90: 28-29. Prince K (1996) Boring Records? Communication Speech and Writing in Social Work. Jessica Kingsley, London.

6. Shemmings D (1991) Client Access to Records: Participation in Social Work. Avebury/Gower, Aldershot.

By Steve Walker, David Shemmings and Hedy Cleaver
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