How should Liberal Democrats react to Named Person law judgement?

This week, the Scottish Government was told by the Supreme Court tae think again about the controversial  Named Person law. The Court said that it couldn’t be implemented as it currently stood following an application from parents and organisations, among the the equally controversial Christian Action Research and Education (CARE). This law makes sure that there is one person with responsibility for bringing information together about a child and co-ordinating necessary interventions.

The Court was at pains to point out that the intention of the legislation was benign but there were concerns that some of the information sharing provisions in it conflicted with the Right to Family Life as outlined in the Human Rights Act.

If a court says that aspects of a law are unlawful then you have to think again. That’s an important part of the checks and balances of a democratic country. I have never felt as worried by the named person scheme as some. Liberal Democrat MSPs cautiously backed the bill when it went through Parliament. When it was discussed at our Conference, members voted to support it, although there were very strong feelings on both sides. It’s one of these issues where very fine liberals whom I trust and respect have come to different positions on it.

I have to confess that when it first came out I did think that it sounded way too draconian. It was only after talking to people like Alex Cole-Hamilton who worked for a children’s charity before becoming an MSP and to young people themselves that I started to see that it wasn’t quite such a binary issue. I’m not about to stand up for every single provision in the legislation, but I do think it has been subject to a sensationalist and inaccurately hyperbolic campaign that would make Vote Leave proud. It is worth noting that some of its most vocal opponents are screaming about parents’ rights yet they are vehemently opposed to being able to marry the person you love or being able to adopt if you are in a same sex relationship. We should not forget that the loudest opponents are not in any way liberal.

For me, the provisions about a child’s wellbeing are important. Opponents say that resources should be concentrated on only the most vulnerable children – but children can become vulnerable very quickly if there is a change of circumstances. A health professional telling a school of a change in a parent’s condition might lead to earlier support for a young carer, for example.  What’s happened is that lots of middle class parents have been frightened into thinking that their child’s head teacher will be ransacking their food cupboards for e-numbers and telling them that they have to buy more broccoli.

The SNP government has failed to gain parents’ confidence on this. They have not won the arguments. Now that changes have to be made to the legislation, there is time now to get it back in committee and re-examined. The Scottish Liberal Democrat role in this should be to be as constructive as possible in building a system that parents can trust and will be effective in giving support to the children who need it. It’s not for us to dig the SNP out of the mire it’s in, but if we’re going to be responsible, it also isn’t for us to help the Tories put the boot in. We need to be the grown-ups in the room.

Scottish Liberal Democrats initially called for Holyrood to be recalled to discuss the way ahead. That is not quite so urgent now as the law’s implementation, which had been planned for the end of August, has been put back indefinitely by Education Secretary John Swinney.  This is an opportunity to get this right and to also listen to the concerns of professionals who feel that they are being asked to take on roles and responsibilities that they feel that they don’t have the time or resource to fulfil.

The SNP Government has not done enough to reassure those who were concerned about it. Complying with the Supreme Court judgement may be technically enough but John Swinney needs to put effort into winning people over. SNP truculence at the opposition, however hyperbolic that opposition has on occasion been, hasn’t helped.

I want to end by encouraging you to read this blog post by a friend of mine, Chris Creegan. Chris wrote very movingly about his experiences as a young child, and the effect that his mother’s mental ill health had on him. He wished that someone had been there to speak up for him. It’s powerful stuff. First of all he shares what his life as a child was like:

I didn’t experience physical violence on a daily basis by any means but it happened enough for the fear it generated to linger. And that was in part because it was completely out of proportion to the thing that had apparently provoked it. One incident that’s always stuck in my mind was accidentally losing my dad’s car keys on a holiday visit to Hadrian’s Wall. It was a pretty daft thing to do and it did result in us frantically searching for them in driving rain. But even now I struggle to understand the viciousness of the response it generated once we were back in the car; my mother lashing out at me, urging my dad to do the same, which he did albeit without the same vigour while my four younger siblings screamed for it to stop. I was 13. And yet somehow this moment of childish carelessness on my part became an indicator of everything that was wrong with me and the justification for physical assault.

My dad’s collusion stung. But sometimes he just wanted out and no wonder. Sometimes we did too. We would fantasise about a time when it would all just stop. And always there was the unspoken sense that we weren’t like other families. Always you would go home from school not quite knowing what you’d find, a mum who was okay or a mum who wasn’t. I used to measure it by the colour of the soup we got for tea. Good mum days meant thick, bright and hearty soup. Bad mum days meant soup that resembled dishwater. We ate it all the same of course.

How does that fit into what the law should do?

My word of caution about how we judge the Scheme is not from the perspective of parent or professional but from an adult who recalls a childhood where no one asked about my wellbeing, where the assumption can only have been that because we lived in a nice house in a leafy village nothing can possibly have been wrong. Yet in fact, everyone knew that something was. If only someone had asked. If only someone had had the guts to think beyond family privacy. If only there had been a minor busybody.

Ripping up the scheme and starting again would be unnecessary. I think they should take it back to a parliamentary committee and incorporate change that addresses the concerns of the court, professionals and parents but doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

 

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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23 Comments

  • Nonconformistradical 31st Jul '16 - 10:46pm

    “Opponents say that resources should be concentrated on only the most vulnerable children – but children can become vulnerable very quickly if there is a change of circumstances. A health professional telling a school of a change in a parent’s condition might lead to earlier support for a young carer, for example.”

    The very idea that it should be thought appropriate that EVERY child should AUTOMATICALLY be assigned a ‘Named person’ seems deeply worrying.

    Such a blanket provision suggests authorities must assume that the majority of children will at some point in their childhood need the support and attention of such a ‘Named person’.

    If the authorities have got this wrong then assigning a ‘Named person’ to every child seems a profound waste of scarce resources. If they have got it right – i.e. that most children WILL need such support and their parents cannot be trusted to fulfil their duties properly towards them – then society must be in an even worse state than I ever thought it was.

  • There are liberal principles in play here. This is one time that it is not adequate to go with easiest pragmatic option. If liberals can not fight for individual freedom then what is the point of it all ?

  • I think any child, or any family, could find themselves needing to refer to a names person, although its likely that folk from certain demographics will in reality do so.
    It seems to me a fairly simple argument – annoy some ‘we know best’ type parents and put up with their sounding off, or allow some children to linger in a desperate position.
    I can’t see any non-phoney liberal arguments against it?

  • Neil Mackinnon 1st Aug '16 - 1:17am

    I agree with Alan.

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Aug '16 - 2:50am

    I think the principle of having someone outside of the family to check up on the welfare of children is a good idea.

    I haven’t read much about it, but I certainly don’t think it is illiberal to look out for other people’s children.

  • Alastair Ross 1st Aug '16 - 5:24am

    Freedom is not limitless. Re-read ‘On Liberty’ by John Stewart Mill. I do not recognise any persons ‘freedom’ to abuse others nor any parents ‘freedom’ to abuse their child. Those are perversions of the traditions of Liberty, traditions and principles that we stand for.

    But law is about practical things. Is it right to appoint a ‘named person’ as ultimate guardian of a childs welfare? Does the existence of such a person absolve the rest of us from caring about that child? Or does it offer us a channel to raise any concerns?

    For me, if I have any concerns, the right avenues are GP, police, and social services. They are all trained and have professional standards to adhere to. And yet some pretty ghastly cases have been seen to fall through the gaps between these agencies. And so a ‘named person’ comes forward as ‘the solution’. Yet that rests on the assumption that there is somewhere ‘a solution’. Will a named person be any more effective than the existing agencies in preventing child abuse? When the first child who has a named person suffers or dies at the hands of abusers what then will society say? And it will happen, just as it happened in the past despite police, social services, and GP’s.

    I guess my worry is that we have built so many privacy limits as to inhibit the proper agencies from sharing information and from taking a timely and appropriate interest. None of us have the right to abuse others, and we all have a responsibility to be guardians of each others core liberties in life.

  • David Cooper 1st Aug '16 - 11:18am

    It is depressing that anyone who styles themselves a liberal should have any truck with this awful idea from the SNP. State appointed busybodies should not be second guessing how parents bring up their children. As Rotherham has shown, the state has enormous capacity to inflict harm, and the power to cover up and suppress the evidence when it does so.
    Caron, the childhood memories of your friend are sad, but large scale state interference in how families function is no solution and has a distinctly Stalinist flavour.

  • The road to hell is paved with “benign” intentions.

    Obviously the principle that Alan outlines should be enough but there is also a pragmatic matter.

    This article illustrates all that is wrong with this discussion. An anecdote about a terrible situation, which simply shows that child protection is necessary not that this method is.

    There is a trend towards “something must be done, this is something, therefore this mist be done” thinking on so many issues.

    This situation legislates to create “white noise” in the system, anyone who has ever worked in a an area that has to deal with lots of data knows you really want to avoid ever increasing quantity and focus on quality, those at the top who have never really done the jobs below consider quantity a proxy for quality.

    There are numerous cases of children’s deaths even when several agencies were already involved, having a child’s teacher as the dedicated “named person” is of no use if the other agencies are struggling. If you have any concept of the pressures already on the people these responsibilities will dumped on you know that something will have to give.

  • “lots of middle class parents have been frightened into thinking that their child’s head teacher will be ransacking their food cupboards”

    This is a result of reporting of trivial matters by existing systems that are then brought up later. Expectant mothers warned about things that health visitors have recorded previously, eroding relationships what should be based upon trust. If you demand the Public employees produce “reports” on a topic, you get a report, it will contain whatever is demanded, but is rarely that useful unless it is specific and targeted.

    By supporting this system that will not be without cost you the proposers are saying that the monitoring of the children where there is no issue is worth the cost of not providing faster/greater quality intervention to children where there is already an identified issue. How happy are the LibDems to support the provision of less/worse support for some children to allow the monitoring those not in need?

  • I’m sorry, but however well intentioned, the named person policy is just plainly ill judged. What next, since we all may be a potential victim of a crime should the state assign every citizen a ‘police liason’ officer? As someone who once worked in a Looked After Children department, it smacks of Labour’s aborted Contactpoint database, which, if enacted, would have been most effective in allowing local authorities unnecessary access to information on the children who least needed their support. Child abuse tends to slip through the net because of lack of effective communication between safeguarding agencies and pressures on Social worker caseloads, neither of which are likely to be improved by the sheer scale of this policy. The inevitable disillusion with this intrusive state intervention also runs the risk of undermining safeguarding agencies from their vital targeted support of vulnerable children.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 1st Aug '16 - 2:32pm

    The intentions of this are no less noble in theory than the efforts of our new Prime Minister when Home Secretary , to deal , rightly , with internet hideousness.

    But as with those measures , the intentions need solutions .

    This , like Mrs Mays efforts , are not that !

    We must have a measured approach . There is an urgency far more with the internet lately . Developments in technology and criminality need some responses .

    Where are the urgent or new and previously unheard of developments in how to safeguard our young people , in school , home or play , that were not known years ago,?!

    Is it not time to look to the best of those that were involved in these things way back in the day when people , and especially Liberals , believed in personal as well as professional responsibility ?

    These measures were and are more dubious than those of our new Prime Minister re the internet.

    It is correct that we needed to make her pause on that. It is also correct that the same should be so in Scotland on these matters.

    We should be wary f the SNP as much as the Tories.

  • Except it’s absolutely nothing like the Snoopers’ Charter which involved active snooping and data recording whether it was needed or not. This is about flagging actual concerns about individual children – and any child may become vulnerable at any time – and ensuring that they are acted upon. Having one point of contact is supposed to ensure that kids don’t fall through the cracks between agencies and everyone else thinking that someone else is doing something.

    When Scottish conference debated this, it came to the conclusion, persuaded by Alex Cole-Hamilton, whose Liberal credentials are not in doubt, that it was the right thing to do.

  • The snoopers charter is not an exact analogy, but this policy will be actively gathering unnecessary information on the majority of children who will have no need of state intervention. There are existing agencies and networks set up to try and ensure that vulnerable kids are identified during all stages of their childhood, would it not help more children if resources were focused locally on making these networks as good as they can be, rather than trying to vet an entire population? Isn’t it more likely that the named person policy would in reality become an inflexible, costly and tick-boxing exercise, for agencies already sorely stretched? I fear that this policy would have the exact opposite effect of it’s stated aims.

  • Would be interested to hear someone walk this through:
    – Person X does Y job,
    – Works Z hours in Y job,
    – Will be NP for B number of pupils,
    – Must check in with each child every C days taking D hours,
    – Must fill in forms taking E hours,
    – Must review information from other sources taking F hours,
    – Periodic review and produce summary reports every G weeks taking H hours,
    – Will attend training taking J days a year,
    – Will spend K hours a month on cases where risks are identified,
    – Will carry L level of responsibility if something goes wrong,
    -Will M powers if risk suspected.

  • All of the above for the areas worst affected by poverty, mental health problems, physical disabilities.

    Then what is going to be the central support for this, record keeping, analysis of reports? How will consistency in reporting be measured? Costs?

    This system will work well for the enquiries that follow tragedies, not much for rapid response when it will help.

    How will job sharing staff cope, areas with high turnover, high long term sick levels?

  • Alastair Ross

    “I do not recognise any persons ‘freedom’ to abuse others nor any parents ‘freedom’ to abuse their child”

    Who defended the “freedom’ to abuse their child?” I didn’t notice any comment to that effect but perhaps I missed it?

  • Isn’t it more likely that the named person policy would in reality become an inflexible, costly and tick-boxing exercise, for agencies already sorely stretched?

    I was under the impression that the NP policy was a way of transferring responsibility away from ‘overstretched’ social services departments to schools. In so doing it would also vastly hinder communications and create greater opportunity for delays and non-communication and hence enable more cases to slip through the net…

    Anyone with a bit of common-sense would realise that the simplest, cheapest and most professional system is to have a central department ie. the children’s section of the local social services department, who’s job it is to collate reports from all sources and investigate as deemed necessary those cases that are brought to their attention. Only at the time of investigation is there any need to assign a NP to a child.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 1st Aug '16 - 9:02pm

    Caron

    I did not say that there is an exact parallel between the two suggested pieces of legislation.There are similarities in the tone of the pro lobby and response from the anti.

    What there most definitely is not is consistency.

    The Tories back the Investigatory powers act , we choose , as do you here , to oppose it to such a degree that we or you call it “the snoopers charter “, not , I add , without good reason !

    On the Named person legislation , a far more nuanced response from our party , the reverse from the Tories.

    Labour as ever now facing all ways at various points on both issues.

    I am a social Liberal on most things. A social democrat on some. But a Liberal ,and that essentially, can mean many things. It means rule of law and the harm principle to me on most things . I am for very strong sentences on the wicked that would make liberal Tories wince but not most of my Liberal Democrat colleagues who share my view.If a Named person unearthed wickedness, that would be where you would think me too statist , or perhaps not , I do not know , me being for long sentences in strict prisons with real punishment, for evil doers ,whereas perhaps you are more liberal , and I , Liberal .On the other hand we would perhaps agree.

    I am, for sure , as a Liberal ,concerned that innocent until proven guilty is my and our watchword or expression of concern.Above all .

    I do not want well meaning “nanny state ” intrusive so called well meaning staff interfering where not necessary, but as a Liberal who believes in the good of the best of the role of the state , it is a question of balance .

    This new proposal in Scotland with its patronising leaflet to parents and its potential storing or accessing of confidential information needs more thoughtfulness in order to be accepted.Then maybe.

    As with the Invetigatory powers .

  • Alastair Ross 1st Aug '16 - 9:32pm

    Psi,

    You are quite right that nobody suggested that any parent has any right to abuse their child. It was a rhetorical device to call attention to the limits to our freedoms – limits that are both necessary and appropriate.

  • From a lib dem point of view, my opinion is that, in principle, this legislation is welcome – protecting as it does the freedom of all parties involved.

    However, in practice, and I believe this is why the Supreme Court has ruled as it has, the implementation of the policy stands a very real risk of being invasive and not achieving its aims.

    The parenting gold standard in this country is the nurturing parent framework and while most parents strive to do the best they can, none of us is perfect. At the moment, if someone has a worry, they can report it and a social worker will do an assessment to see if the parenting is good enough. Those doing the reporting may not be happy with response. Those same people may now be named persons.

    In this case, a named person would report a worry to a social worker, who would do an assessment for which they have received substantial training, only to be harried by a person with less specific training who ‘feels’ that that parenting or something else does not meet their own personal standard. It is a lowering of the bar for intervention that lacks clarity and is without safeguards for all of the parties.

    Also, an interventionist state will always be a poor second to a loving family. A named person with a day job and 300 ‘wards’ will not be effective in either role.

    If the aim is to increase the quality of parenting and promote the welfare of those children who are currently borderline in assessments where parenting is deemed ‘good enough’, there are far more effective ways of achieving this aim.

  • Mike Falchikov 2nd Aug '16 - 12:57pm

    Caron,
    As you know, I’m a staunch supporter of civil liberties all round, but I think the named person concept is creepy, invasive and could, at worst, encourage kids to snitch on parents (as in Fascist/ Communist societies). We still do not know enough about how named persons are selected and what their remit is e.g. proactive, or reactive. There is also a major discrepancy in practice – if we honestly believe in giving young people the vote at 16 (effectively a lower age of majority from which other adult freedoms might flow anyway) how can we possibly justify “guardianship” remaining till the age of 18? At the very least our MSPs should vote to limit the scheme to under 16s.

  • John Mitchell 3rd Aug '16 - 4:54pm

    I would hope to see the Named Person scheme scrapped after the UK Supreme Court’s ruling. The chances of that happening are slim but the proposed policy is unsuitable on a number of levels as the UK Supreme Court have ruled.

    The protection of children should be on a targeted basis. I believe it is wrong that under the Named Person scheme all children from birth to the age of 18 would be monitored. This does not take into account as to what an individual situation is and just adopts a blanket approach. I don’t like the idea of blanket surveillance and I don’t think wholesale policy such as this should be made to impact everyone, regardless of circumstances.

    The Named Person Scheme is essentially saying to parents that you’re on notice, whether justified or not and whether you like it or not. In some cases, parents may be unaware that they’re being watched. This policy is suggesting that you’re guilty until proven innocent, when it should always be the other way around.

    Then there’s the arbitrary cost of such a scheme. Protecting vulnerable children is absolutely essential and desirable but I don’t feel that a national taskforce will make things any better, and could as some have argued make things worse as it will stretch thin resources even thinner.

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