Getting it wrong for Scotland’s children

Children’s Minister Aileen Campbell is responsible for the Named Person policy. She’s been a bit invisible recently, but she has made game attempts to defend the Named Person in the past (here and here).

She’s now written a blog, ‘Getting it right for Scotland’s children: what you need to know’. We’ve reproduced the blog below in its entirety, along with NO2NP’s responses.

Getting it right for Scotland’s children: what you need to know
By Aileen Campbell

We all want Scotland’s children to get the best start in life. Undoubtedly, parents and families are best placed to provide that for their children.

NO2NP: We agree

However, it is not always possible, no matter how hard we might try, to predict in advance which children might become vulnerable. The Named Person policy is an important part of trying to ensure that when things are not going well for children, something is done about it.

NO2NP: The Named Person law says nothing about ‘vulnerability’. Finding truly vulnerable children is like finding a needle in a haystack. The Named Person scheme makes the haystack bigger.

Every one of Scotland’s one million children will have a Named Person to “promote” their “wellbeing”. This is a vague concept that’s likely to be far removed from vulnerability.

One parent reported how his child’s Named Person compiled a 60-page dossier, behind his back, with concerns including that the boy sucked his thumb and had a runny nose.

Campbell says the Named Person will “ensure… something is done” (emphasis added). This conflicts with the First Minister’s claim that the scheme is “not mandatory”.

Campbell says the Named Person will act “When things are not going well…” That’s a very different intervention threshold to current child protection law, which cuts in where there is risk of significant harm.

The Named Person, using SHANARRI indicators, Wellbeing Wheels and over 200 ‘risk indicators’, will act “where the named person considers it to be appropriate”.

It has been introduced to make sure families and children get help if and when they need it. It is about supporting, not diminishing, the role of parents and carers.

NO2NP: Nice rhetoric. But the reality doesn’t match. The Named Person law orders health, education, police and other bodies to send private information to the Named Person about children’s wellbeing without reference to parental consent or knowledge.

One Government-funded leaflet says “wellbeing is another word for how happy you are”. To assess this, Named Persons “will help make sure” “Your child gets a say in things like how their room is decorated and what to watch on TV”.

A Scottish Government training tool based on the game Cluedo calls for “effective intervention at even the lowest level of concern”. It says friends and landlords should feed information to the Named Person. Information like a parent being “worried about work” or “enjoying a glass of wine during the week”.

Even Named Person supporter Joan McAlpine suggested this “will inevitably lead to breaches of privacy” and “perhaps we should be honest about that and say that we will have breaches of privacy for quite a lot of families”.

How is all this meant to support the role of parents?

The policy was passed unopposed in the Scottish Parliament by 103 votes to 0 and has already been upheld by the highest court in Scotland.

NO2NP: Sometimes politicians and judges get things wrong.

That’s why the case has been appealed to the Supreme Court.

It’s also why parents are trying to persuade politicians to think again. Many politicians have already changed their minds.

For the record, it was the Children and Young Person’s Act as a whole that was passed by 103 to 0. The Named Person scheme was just one part of it.

Here’s what you need to know.

1. A Named Person won’t replace or change the role of a child’s parent or carer.

Parents and carers are, with very few exceptions, the best people to raise their children. All a Named Person does is ensure that parents have a single point-of-contact if they need it – someone they can go to if they are worried about their child in any way and need advice, information, help or support. They’ll normally be a Health Visitor for pre-school children and a head, deputy-head or guidance teacher for school-children.

NO2NP: No. That is not “all a Named Person does”. Why legislate to give them powers to obtain and share data and powers to act “where the Named Person considers it to be appropriate” if they are merely reactive to parental requests? How can they “ensure that when things are not going well for children, something is done about it” if they are merely “someone [parents] can go to if they are worried about their child”?

2. There’s no requirement for families to take up the offer of help.

Parents are entitled to advice from a Named Person but they are under no obligation to follow that advice. A Named Person isn’t there to monitor family life. They will respond to requests for help from parents or children and work with professionals, if for example a teacher, has concerns for a child’s wellbeing. The policy means that any child, young person or parent knows who to contact for help or advice if they need it.

Some have suggested that a Named Person would have a say on things like how a child’s bedroom is decorated or what TV programmes they watch – that’s simply not true.

NO2NP: We didn’t make up those examples. They came from Government-funded leaflets.

And if the Named Person will “work with professionals, if for example a teacher, has concerns for a child’s wellbeing” how does that square with “All a Named Person does is ensure that parents have a single point-of-contact if they need it”? If a professional contacts the Named Person, the initiative is not coming from the parent.

And can the parent refuse to engage with the Named Person’s recommendations? One Named Person defender, when asked if a parent could hang up the phone on a named person if they are not interested in their advice, said “No. Er… Yes and No”.

Not taking advice is one of the 200 risk indicators, and earned the parent of the thumb-sucking child mentioned above a black mark in his 60-page dossier.

As for saying the Named Person “isn’t there to monitor family life”, guidance for Health Visitors is explicit that a Health Visitor has “responsibility for overall monitoring of the child’s wellbeing and outcomes as their GIRFEC Named Person”.

3. Children who are at risk will be protected.

Nothing about the service will change child protection procedures already in place – police and or social work should still be contacted immediately if a child is believed to be at risk of significant harm.

NO2NP: The huge amounts of new data hoovered up by the Named Person scheme will inevitably result in over-referrals, burying the files of genuinely at-risk children under a mass of trivial details on ordinary families.

Health Visitors, who are forced to act as Named Persons for under-fives, say they risk being consumed by an “avalanche” of information. One said: “I think there may be a number of issues which will create excessive amounts of information sharing in a very formalized way. This will I think clog an already stretched system.”

And some innocent families will get caught up in the child protection system. Independent social work consultant Maggie Mellon says that if parents say they do not want a Named Person involved in their family’s affairs this would inevitably be regarded as a risk and would move the family into child protection investigation.

Eileen Prior of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council says the Named Person will “lead to more families being drawn into the system unnecessarily.”

4. A Named Person approach isn’t new.

A Named Person service already exists in many councils, including Highland, Fife, Dundee and South Ayrshire. The new scheme simply extends this good practice consistently across Scotland so that all children, young people and their families can benefit from the same support.

NO2NP: How can it take eight pages of statute to create something which “isn’t new”?

If it isn’t new, why do Health Visitors say it will “totally change my job”?

If it isn’t new, why does NHS Grampian say: “The Act affects the way we share information to support all children and young people. The shift in emphasis from a welfare to wellbeing approach impacts on all services who deal with children, young people or adults who are also parents”?

If it isn’t new, why did the Faculty of Advocates say it “dilutes the legal role of parents, whether or not there is any difficulty in the way that parents are fulfilling their statutory responsibilities. It undermines family autonomy. It provides a potential platform for interference with private and family life in a way that could violate article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights”?

If it isn’t new, why has it cost at least £61m to central Government and potentially at least £2m at the local council level?

5. Information sharing will only happen to protect wellbeing and support families.

A Named Person will work with families, as they already do, to understand individual circumstances. They will only receive information from other professionals where it is relevant to the child or young person’s wellbeing and where it will help them support the child and family.

NO2NP: The Information Commissioner’s Office are quite open that the legislation is ‘lowering the trigger’ at which data can be shared.

Clan ChildLaw says the wellbeing threshold “involves a highly subjective judgment on the part of the Named Person and others as to whether to share information. It allows for the sharing of confidential information at that lower threshold even if the child does not consent. There is a serious risk that the overriding of confidentiality when there is no child protection concern will lead to children being reluctant to engage with confidential services.”

The information sharing provisions do not limit information sharing to “where it will help them support the child and family”.

Apart from in exceptional circumstances where there is a concern for a child’s safety, the child or young person and their parent will know what information is being shared and why, and their views will be taken into account.

NO2NP: This is simply untrue. The Named Person information sharing provisions in the Act say absolutely nothing about telling parents what is being shared and why. If it is “likely to be relevant” to the Named Person and “ought to be provided” then it “must” be shared.

Government guidance to Health Visitors actively discourages professionals from seeking consent, saying sharing of information with or by a child’s Named Person “will be a duty even where there is a duty of confidentiality hence consent to share relevant and proportionate information in this context will not be required and if sought and refused could potentially damage the HV/parental relationship”.

Kayley Hutton only discovered that her Named Person had compiled a 120-page dossier on her and her daughter Kaiya when she made a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act. It turned out officials had been secretly recording innocuous incidents as matters for concern.

For example, a report by Kayley’s support worker stated: “Kayley was waving off an overnight visitor as I left”. This guest was actually a female friend who had stayed at her house after a relationship ended.

The law already allows information sharing to prevent or tackle a risk to wellbeing. The highest court in Scotland has said that “it has no effect whatsoever on the legal, moral or social relationships within the family.”

NO2NP: No, Minister, the current law does not allow that. The current threshold for information sharing is “risk of significant harm”.

The Information Commissioner’s Office say the Named Person law is “lowering that trigger down to wellbeing”.

Let’s see what the Supreme Court has to say about it all…

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