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1. Adoption agencies are required to set up case records both for children who are being considered for adoption and for prospective adopters. The contents of such records are dealt with in the relevant chapters. This chapter deals with the specific duties in respect of storage and confidentiality of these records as set out in AAR 39-44, and also with access to records. Specific provisions relating to the statutory scheme for access to information after the adoption order is made are contained in chapter 11, except as indicated above.
2. It should be borne in mind that adoption records, like other records, are subject to the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998, except where there is a specific exemption. The exemption applying to adoption records relates to the right of a person whose records are held (the ‘data subject’) to demand access to the records under section 7 of that Act. The provisions of AAR 41 will prevail over section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 by virtue of the Data Protection (Miscellaneous Subject Access Exemptions) Order 2000/419 (as amended by SI 2005/3504).
3. The agency is required by AAR 39 and AIR 5 to ensure that adoption case records, and all their contents, are kept in secure conditions at all times. In particular, the agency is required by AAR 39 and AIR 5 to ensure that it takes all appropriate measures to prevent the theft, unauthorised disclosure, loss or destruction of, or damage to, case records or their contents. This applies equally to information which may not be stored at the agency’s main premises, or which is removed from the office while the social worker is working on the case at another location.
4. The adoption agency should keep its security arrangements under review, and any breaches of the security of records should be acted on promptly to prevent any recurrence. All agency staff with responsibility for handling section 56 information should be clear about their duty to safeguard this information at all times.
5. There is nothing in the regulations to prevent the agency from transferring paper records and documents to microfiche or other electronic or digital media but it must be confident that the information can be retrieved during the next 100 years. The agency should take particular care when transferring original documentation to microfiche or other formats to ensure there is no electronic link between the care and adoption records. Documents which are likely to be significant to the adopted person, such as reports, cards or letters handwritten or signed by their birth parents or other birth relatives, should always be preserved in their original format so that the adopted person can see and handle them.
6. AAR 39 covers the storage of the whole case record, including any information that may be stored electronically or digitally, or by other means; cards or letters; the child’s life story information; and photographs or audio-visual film. Where it is not practicable to keep some of these objects with the main electronic or paper case record, this fact, and the whereabouts of the other information or objects should be noted on the main case record. The duty to secure these objects securely applies as it does to paper or electronic records.
7. Where a case record is not in active use, it should, if it is a paper record or stored on disk, CD-rom or microfiche, be stored in a lockable security cabinet or secure room with access allowed only to authorised staff and any person as provided for by AAR 42 and 43, or AIR 8 and 9. Where it is stored electronically or digitally, the agency must ensure that appropriate systems are in place to safeguard it. Confidential information stored on computers should be password protected, and the system should ensure that only those properly authorised can have access to it. The agency should not transmit information from the adoption case record outside the agency by email or facsimile unless its confidentiality can be assured.
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