Opinion: In defence of the Scottish Government’s plan for named persons for every child

I am writing this article after becoming increasingly frustrated at the tone and level of debate with which many people in our party are subjecting the Scottish Children and Young People’s bill and in particular the provision for a “named person” for every child.

Many of you will be asking what a “named person” is. If you choose to listen to the Daily Mail, the Christian institute and an assortment of other hysterical social conservatives this represents the introduction of state sponsored guardians whose mission in life is to spy on families and enforce political correctness. However I choose not to listen to these groups. I choose to listen to the countless social workers, teachers, child protections professionals, youth workers and other professionals who are backing this legislation.

What this legislation actually does is provide for a single point of contact for every young person from the ages of zero to eighteen so if ever that young person requires support from services or a welfare issue is raised by professionals, these organisations are operating in tandem rather than working in isolation. This will operate in a similar manner as health visitors supporting mothers and infants. For the vast majority of young people the named person will be a midwife then a health visitor followed by their primary school headteacher and finally their secondary guidance teacher.

What this legislation does not do is give any professional greater powers to intervene in family life. It neither expands nor decreases the power or duty to intervene on welfare concerns. All that is changing is the structure of child protection within our public services.

This bill will not effect most young people but those it will effect are those most often let down by our system. Homeless and LGBTI youths, those in care and those who care for others, BAME, the children of travellers, those suffering from mental illness, or coping with sexual or physical abuse.

How often do we hear of cases of vulnerable children and young people being let down by the cracks in our system? I for one will do everything in my power to make sure that we have a joined up approach rather than our health, education and social services operating in destructive silos and letting down the most at risk in society.

This legislation isn’t a magic bullet. There are some concerns around cost implications and personally I’d rather the legislation stopped at sixteen rather than eighteen. So my plea to fellow Liberal Democrats is if you’re going to criticise this bill do so on a factual basis and do not give credence to yet another Daily Mail scare story.

* Euan Davidson is Councillor for Corstorphine/Murrayfield in Edinburgh. He is the former PPC for Aberdeen North and East Lothian and a previous President of the Scottish Young Liberals.

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  • Simon McGrath 4th Jul '15 - 6:08pm

    To characterise concern about the state appointing an official to have responsibility for every child, regardless of whether they need support, as only being opposed by ‘hysterical social conservatives’ is absurd: it should be the concern of every Liberal who only wants the state to interfere in our lives when it needs to. Concern about the this is shared by organisations like Big Brother Watch
    http://www.bigbrotherwatch.org.uk/2014/02/state-appointed-guardians-every-child-scotland/ and the Faculty of Advocates http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_EducationandCultureCommittee/Children%20and%20Young%20People%20(Scotland)%20Bill/FacultyofAdvocates.pdf

    There is a good summary of the case against it here:

    LDV have had frequent articles about the awful, centralising authoritarianism of the SNP of which this is a particularly dreadful example.

  • Stephen Donnelly 4th Jul '15 - 6:43pm

    These two sentences from the Guardian convince me that this should be opposed.

    “If said named person has any concerns about a child’s welfare, they may be able to refer the case to social workers. Before that, though, the named person will be able to access information about a child and his family from the police and health authorities”.

    Liberals should automatically be suspicious of any extension of the state’s powers over an individual, no matter how well intentioned..

  • In what way do you see this as “extending state powers”?

  • Jane Ann Liston 4th Jul '15 - 8:24pm

    I recall too many cases where children have died at the hands of their carers and, although various individuals thought something was amiss, they were often unsure whom they should inform and also there was no way of putting together the information from different source. As far as I can see the named person legislation should address these difficulties.

  • Ruth Bright 4th Jul '15 - 11:52pm

    Simon McGrath – exactly.

    From the second link that you gave (Faculty of Advocates) : “It would appear that there is only very limited means to monitor compliance by corporate parents with their sometimes nebulous duties. The bill is silent on how compliance is to be effected beyond the requirement to report.” Very frightening – especially for those of us who had a personality clash with our health visitor!

  • “For the vast majority of young people the named person will be a midwife then a health visitor followed by their primary school headteacher and finally their secondary guidance teacher.”

    Funny how none of these are people employed by Social Services or such ‘professional’ groups. I can’t see the teachers doing much given their prior educational commitments. given this fact, I can’t see the “named person” having any effect whatsoever in assisting the ‘welfare’ services to “operate in tandem”, or even addressing the issue Jane Ann Liston raises. I think there is some confusion between having a point of contact known to the parents and child, that has the potential to be around for longer than a Social Services case worker, and having a point of contact for inter-agency working.

  • Only last week LDV posted this article..

    Named persons would help to address the issues raised in that report.

    However, my problem with named persons is of a “who guards the guards” nature. What happens if the named person is part of the problem? There are plenty cases of teachers and other local authority employees that have turned out to be paedos or malicious in some other way. Imagine if they had had the powers and contacts that are proposed for a named person. I am hoping more rigorous safeguards can be added before the bill becomes an act.

  • David Warren 5th Jul '15 - 9:29am

    This should be opposed.

    Firstly because it is state intrusion into the lives of children and their parents, totally illiberal.

    Secondly and worse still it assumes the so called professionals will protect the child.

    Haven’t the Scottish government looked at all the recent cases where social workers failed a child or children.

    Obviously not!

  • Paul Griffiths 5th Jul '15 - 10:50am

    Sorry, but I stopped reading the Guardian article at “The Scottish government … will not stop until surveillance cameras are installed in every home.”

  • It’s astonishing how we fail to see lessons from even recent history, and are prone to repeating those mistakes over and over again?

  • NotTellingYou 5th Jul '15 - 1:11pm

    As if midwives, health visitors and teachers aren’t busy enough?
    Speaking as a person who, as a child, had numerous social workers and was still failed by the system I think this is a stupid idea. Abuse within the home is more often than not hidden! The child will even cover for the abuser, and the abuser can know how to charm officials.
    Meanwhile those services that these children could be referred to are being privatized! Cordia are buying up social workers in Glasgow without the staff having a choice for god sake! Glasgow’s disastrous decision to privatise care for disabled and vulerable people has resulted in staff that don’t give a fuck because they are being paid minimum wage and zero hour contracts and service users being neglected! Our population has risen and our essential services haven’t been looked after so that they can look after us. So I have another idea, how about looking after our essential services better, providing each primary school with several dedicated social workers that can have access to the child’s medical records etc. That takes away the issue of having to vet god knows how many people before allowing them access to this information. Our hospitals and social services are under immense pressure to deal with more people in less time as it already stands, so how can they be expected to also be made responsible for the welfare of all these children? When the welfare of all the people these services deal with has already been compromised? The answer is to stop sacking social workers to save money and start hiring more.
    I voted for and support SNP, but not this bill.

  • Nigel Cheeseman 5th Jul '15 - 6:11pm

    We are currently pursuing a complaint against social services and considering referring one of the professionals who will be a Named Person under this legislation. I will not go into much detail as our complaint revolves around breach of confidentiality and failure to follow the local authorities written procedures. Until we (my family )had this problem I had no experience of social services, other than in my role as a member of Ipswich Borough Council’s Overview and Scrutiny committee. (Social services is not a direct responsibility, as that is undertaken by Suffolk County Council. We were looking at the renewal of some funding for a family intervention project). I would hasten to add that we live in another area now, and neither of those councils are involved.

    Our ongoing experience has led us to contact other families who have had problems with social services and other agencies. It is clear that the Named Person scheme is up and running in many parts of Scotland, with some authorities effectively running it unofficially prior to its legal implementation date. Named Person is just part of a child protection and welfare strategy by the Scottish Government, which is based on something called Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) which uses some wellbeing indicators known by the acronym SHANARRI.

    At first sight, much of this, which is all part of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, appears to be a good thing. As some in this thread have realised, however, there are some major problems which have not been properly addressed and which are being highlighted by a coalition of people under the banner of No2NP. I am fully behind this campaign and I would not describe myself as a social conservative. Well, unless you think that it is socially conservative to think that parents and families are the best way to bring up children and that the main thrust of social services should be to support families and involve them at every stage.

  • I wonder how this named person will deal with a child from an ethnic and religious minority.

  • I have just been referred to this author, so I can read the “opposing view” on this act. I wish I hadn’t, how patronising to infer that those who condemn this illiberal act are “readers of the Daily Mail, members of a Christian society or hysterical conservatives” !
    Not a good way to change a persons perception. I’m none of things.

    The act is intrusive, there is no right of refusal on behalf of any parent.

    Of course its aim is to prevent harm, well put the money to good use and help out the stretched social work department & mental health services. Midwives, Health visitors & social workers, already co-ordinate with each other. Teachers are failing to teach the 3rs in some areas, they should not have to take on this burden. This has not been thought through, to a conclusion.

    A named person has just been struck off the teachers register. Who is accountable for them ?

    Most of us want what is best for all children. The State doesn’t always know best and I know for a fact not all professionals agree with this either. Will professionals who disagree, have a choice ? I agree, this is far from being a ‘magic bullet’.

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