Opinion: My problem with Scotland’s “Named Person” plan

The other day I commented on a Facebook post about areas we share with the SNP, mentioning my concerns about the SNPs plans for every child in Scotland to have a “named person” who is their point of contact with the social services. Caron Lindsay mentioned that Euan Davidson had written for this site in support of the measures, and invited me to post a response. I made sure I had the facts right (some of which I had to be corrected on but didn’t change my overall view) and got started. To the best of my understanding, the named person would be someone the child could contact if they had a problem that they needed confidential help from. It could also be to obtain information on subjects that may be either too sensitive or too awkward to discuss with parents. I agree with what is trying to be achieved here, but I don’t think this is the way to do it. Here is why.

On May 15th 2015, I finished my final secondary school exam. I was finished school. I was an adult? I would never have a teacher again. Lecturers, sure, but I would never again be in the situation where I would have to ask someone if I was allowed to go to the bathroom. Some of my teachers I would miss more than others because I had grown to trust them enough to act in the same way around them as I would around my friends. Some teachers I still showed restraint around, as if I was an employee of theirs. You would think that my guidance teacher, whom I was supposed to approach with any problems, would belong to the first category. This was far from the case.

I am fairly certain he would be my named person if I were staying at school, (but I won’t name him here), but there are few teachers in the school I felt less relaxed around. He wasn’t unkind, or unfriendly. He was just … not the most skilled communicator I’ve ever met. Even if he actually had been my employer I’d have characterised it as a particularly tense relationship. I would not have felt comfortable talking to him about subjects I found awkward to discuss.

There were two teachers (one of my english teachers and my computing teacher), who I would have felt comfortable talking to, but felt I couldn’t, because they weren’t my guidance teacher, so it would have been inappropriate. If either one of them had been my named person, I’d have seen the point of the scheme.

But when I discovered that the point of contact I have with the social services is my guidance teacher, I sighed long and hard. He is the person I was supposed to be able to ask to access information on contraception, domestic abuse, alchohol addiction support etc, assuming I ever needed to. Luckily for me, I didn’t. But two different girls in my class of thirty had had children before the end of sixth year (one in fourth year, one in sixth year but she had left at the end of fourth year). If they had been able to choose which teacher they wanted to talk to about contraception, then these situations could have been avoided.

I agree with young people having a point of contact. I certainly wouldn’t want the social services to be inaccessible. In fact, I don’t believe that this new legislation is going to bring in any major new problems. My issue with it is that the problem – young people not feeling comfortable discussing sensitive issues with their point of contact – has been in existence for as long as I have been in the school system, and I would presume longer. As far as I can tell, this legislation is not going to fix this.

* Joanne Ferguson joined the Liberal Democrats in May

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  • Helen Tedcastle 17th Jul '15 - 12:45pm

    I agree with this article. Having a policy which ‘guarantees’ every single child in Scotland access to a ‘named person’ is bound to throw up issues like this – the child not having a good relationship or any relationship with the designated adult.

    I have another concern. To give every child a named contact, suggests even implicitly, that the state does not trust parents as a default. I would prefer a government that trusted parents first and provided targeted help for those who need it . That way there is a greater likelihood of children in need having access to trained adults (in child protection issues for example) and adults who they might be able to strike up a rapport with.

    Instead, it seems that a nanny state approach is preferred by the SNP and will throw up trust issues for all parties involved.

  • It ought to be noted that people become Midwives, health visitors and teachers (the three groups that are expected to serve as “named persons” throughout the child’s life) presumably enter those professions to do those roles, the responsibilities of a “named person” are distinct and adding extra responsibilities to existing stretched workers is not clever.

    On a more related point, a “single point of contact” idea is not often used in any other organisations, the chances are people will have multiple points of contact over an issue to imply a restriction to the “user” is regarded as a bad idea in other circumstances, why would it be good in child protection? If the concern is the logging of low level concerns there will be better ways to do this.

  • This ‘named’ designated person policy is such a dangerous and daft idea, I’m astonished that anyone is even considering it seriously.
    From page 3,..It appears that the designated person will have a role who’s duties include asking the following questions.:
    1. What is getting in the way of this child or young person’s well-being?
    2. Do I have all the information I need to help the child or young person?
    3. What can I do now to help this child or young person?
    4. What can my agency do to help this child or young person?
    5. What additional help, if any, may be needed from others?
    Suppose a young girl wants contraception advise, but the parents do not want her to be given that contraception or advise, feeling she is too young?
    What if the designated person considers [using question 1], that the parents intransigence [over contraception], is getting in the way of the child’s wellbeing? Will taking the young girl away from the parents be the designated persons conclusion?
    What if that young girl is from :
    ~ A Catholic family ?
    ~ A Muslim family ?
    Will the designated person have differing ‘well being’, considerations for children of different cultures and ethnicity?
    Will the Family Courts be overwhelmed by battles between parents and designated persons?. Will the view of designated persons be used as a weapon by one parent over the other in contact battles after divorce?
    Has the potential emotional, legal and financial cost of this utterly mad idea been considered?
    The list of why this is such a dangerous idea, is endless,.. and frankly these daft ideas are the kind of things that make me wonder about the competence of politicians.?

  • John Farrand-Rogers 17th Jul '15 - 1:57pm

    A bit over-simplified and authoritarian, isn´t it? In practice, children and young people can consult their parents, brothers and sisters, friends, trusted teachers, as well as the official “guidance” teacher, and no doubt many others too. But in pactice, the person they consult depends on the nature of the problem. To try to restrict their sources of information and comfort to one officially designated person is a recipe for disaster. Can the SNP be so stupid?

  • Jennie Kermode 17th Jul '15 - 3:10pm

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve been struggling to understand what people have against the Named Person idea. Your post makes n important point, and I agree that there may indeed be better ways of going about this.

    As one of many tens of thousands of people who was abused, as a child, by a relative, I feel very strongly that some measure of this type is needed. I don’t think it would necessarily have prevented what happened to me, but I think it could have enabled me to get help a lot sooner. The thing about trusting parents by default and targeting resources only at the those children we know need help is that, very often we don’t know; of the huge number of fellow survivors I’ve talked to, only a handful eve experienced contact from concerned social workers, doctors or teachers, and in the vast majority of cases they ether couldn’t talk to their parents (it’s hard when, for instance, the abuser is somebody they love), or their parents _were_ the abusers. It’s really easy for that kind of thing to happen without children being aware that there’s anywhere they can go for help.

    Having an extra person looking out for a child doesn’t have to mean interfering in healthy parent-child relationships. It just means that children have an extra chance of escape if something goes wrong. It could also be a big help when there are other issues a child feels unable to talk to their parents about, such as tension between the parents or difficulty dealing with a parent’s illness. In cases like this, having another person to talk to first could lead to improved communication within the family as kids then have a better idea how to approach the subject.

  • Interesting article, as I am 100% sure the Lib Dems in the Scottish government backed this , so the SNP might be the lead in the Scottish parliament but it was cross party excluding the conservatives( eyes roll) so think again putting on the SNP shoulders.

  • The “Named Person” would be brilliant in an ideal world – “Here’s one person I can trust to help with all my problems!”… BUT I too keep coming across situations where these trusted individuals (Social Workers… Parents, Teachers, Therapists, GPs etc.) are not approachable.

    Worse – they often are the cause of the problems & concerns. And if the *one* person they’ve been told *should* help isn’t going to, why should they believe anyone else will? So they tell no one, go nowhere, and things continue to get worse.

    Instead I’d love to see a policy to ensure every child has access to multiple points of contact, multiple routes through which they can seek help – *AND* get it. They must also be encouraged to ask, and not feel as though they don’t deserve it.

    So no “Named Person”, but maybe a map of multiple pathways?

  • Clearly a named person relationship is not always going to work which can also be the case with a biological parent. But sometimes dealing with a big organisation I would love to have a single named person on my side. The mechanism by which children are allocated or get to choose or change a named person are important. But a named person has the potential to be massively superior to being shuffled from pillar to post. I also think its unrealistic to expect a guidance teacher to prevent teenage pregnancy.

  • Jayne Mansfield 17th Jul '15 - 8:20pm

    @ Jennie Kermode,
    I agree with you. It is voices such as yours that we should be listening to.

  • Joanne Ferguson 18th Jul '15 - 10:05pm

    Jennie, thank you so much for your reply. I’ve never had a reason to need a person like this (I was bullied slightly but never anything physical and it was easy to ignore) so it’s good to hear your views.

    Méave, I was not a member of the Libdems until May and will happily oppose this within the party until someone convinces me it will work.

  • Richard Underhill 19th Jul '15 - 6:32pm

    In Cumbria Tim Farron gets ITV Scotland. On the Andrew Marr show he said that Scotland now has one police force, … …
    Slightly left of centre and authoritarian, just like Labour. There is a gap for Liberals and Liberal Democrats.

  • Joanne Ferguson 19th Jul '15 - 6:56pm

    Richard, you are so right. Every time I have met him he has said these things, and I’m so glad he’s got a national platform to confront the SNP.

  • Richard Underhill 19th Jul '15 - 7:12pm

    The next elections for Holyrood will be on a broadly proportional system.
    We must keep saying that because the obsolete first-past-the-post system has caused many undeserved landslides.

  • Joan Coverley 20th Aug '15 - 8:53pm

    I think some people are wilfully ignoring key aspects of this e.g. suggesting that any victim can talk only to the named person.
    Read again, fully.

  • Janet McArthur 28th Nov '15 - 3:54pm

    I agree that the most damning and insulting part of this legislation is that it is clear that the Scottish Government do not trust the vast majority of parents to have their own children’s best interests at heart and do their very best for them. The two worst aspects in practice are that a) the NP is NOT just a single point of contact that children or parents can access when required – the NPs will have an OBLIGATION to nosy into and interfere in the lives of ALL families in Scotland (we now know it’s being brought in in England too, albeit also under the radar and I don’t know under what legislation) and b) the vast quantity of personal, even sensitive, data and tittle tattle being recorded and planned to be shared by every service is quite mindblowing. I cannot possibly go into it all here, but the rainbow paint being used in NP government propaganda will not disguise just how insidious this legislation is, however well intentioned, when the SS, children’s charities (follow the money), et al, get together with their GIRFEC forms, SHANARRI tick lists, data sharing (“if consent won’t be given, don’t ask for it”), etc, etc gets to work. What people believe to be the real reasons for this dreadful legislation does sound like a conspiracy theory. I really hope when the paint has dried that the actual conspiracy to split the family unit and make everyone even more dependent upon the State and Serv ices causes the stench that it really should – worse than all the furore over child sexual abuse, child trafficking, etc, etc. People will save themselves the Stasi intrusion on their lives if they stand up and fight this now before it comes into full effect in August 2016. It’s going to the Supreme Court in March. Make sure all your MPs and MSPs know you don’t want it.

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