Project MIRRA: Memory - Identity - Rights in Records - Access

Comma (2021), 2020, (1-2), 97–110.


Many people who grew up in care have gaps in their childhood memories and unanswered questions about their early lives. In the absence of family photos and stories they turn to records held by the local authorities and charities that looked after them. Accessing these records is a practically and emotionally challenging process. Response times are often long and the records received are redacted because they include confidential information about “third parties’” who are often family and carers. The language and ideas contained reflect the prejudices and assumptions of previous times. Some files are extremely long and confusing, whereas others only have a few pages to cover a whole childhood. Records may have been lost or destroyed altogether. Very few services are available to support people through the experience. MIRRA: Memory-Identity-Rights in Records-Access is a participatory action research project carried out at the Department of Information Studies at University College London since 2017 that explores these issues. It considered how child social care records have been created, kept and used in public and voluntary organizations in England from 1970 to the present. The research is co-produced with care leavers in partnership with The Care Leavers’ Association and reflects on how what it is recorded about a childhood can affect the individual concerned throughout their life. This article republishes edited blog posts produced during the research project. The original blogs in full are available at

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Author details

Shepherd, Elizabeth

Hoyle, Victoria

Lomas, Elizabeth