Clyde Campbell and the review of Highland child protection services

While no child protection system can be expected to pick up every at-risk child, the public are entitled to ask questions about how this poor boy could be neglected for five months without ever coming to the attention of Highland children’s services.

It is also right to ask whether anyone at Highland ever picked up that a child had been born to parents in a violent relationship. Clyde’s parents’ criminal record for violence was often in the pages of the local press. Were the social care services aware of this?

It is also proper to ask whether the Named Person scheme in Highland is helping or hindering them in the crucial job of identifying at-risk children.

No stone can be left unturned in the investigation of how such neglect is able to take place.

A lot of praise has been lavished on Highland’s Named Person in order to try to convince an unwilling public to accept the controversial scheme due to be rolled out nationally in August.

Just last week in the Scottish Parliament, the Minister for Childcare and Early Years, Mark McDonald, said the Highland Named Person scheme was “working perfectly in practice”.

The Scottish Government often cites statistics from the Highland scheme and quotes the Director of Barnardo’s Scotland saying: “The Named Person role has already been implemented with great success in the Highland Council area.”

And in a press release late last year it said it was “working well”.

Despite the fact that Clyde had a Named Person, the Government tried to use him to make the case for the scheme. When Clyde’s mother was in court earlier this year the SNP told the Press and Journal that his death “underlines the need” for the Named Person.

The First Minister has suggested the Named Person scheme will save lives, telling The Times, “if it saves the life of one child, I think it’s worth it”.

When so much has been made of the scheme – and the Highland scheme in particular – it must be right to expose it to a proper degree of scrutiny not least when there is a case like this that raises serious questions about child protection in Highland.

Many are anxious that the Named Person approach diverts focus and resources from truly vulnerable children. Police Scotland have previously raised issues “surrounding ensuring high-risk children remained a focus” and highlighted delays caused by the Named Person approach in passing on actual evidence of abuse.

When a tragedy like this happens, the public want to know if any mistakes were made, whether the system is being overstretched, and whether the transition to the Named Person model is creating problems.

Leading social work professional Maggie Mellon, a critic of Named Persons, has said that child protection committee reports across Scotland were indicating a significant rise in investigations, and also that “concerns about wellbeing” – which have a lower threshold for investigation – were being merged with the child protection system. “This ‘net widening’ effect was warned of. The danger is that the Scottish government’s insistence that the scheme is aimed at saving lives will create panic among named persons and an increase in referrals into social work…”

The Deputy First Minister recently tried to suggest that questioning the Named Person was outside the scope of the Liam Fee enquiry in Fife. The public simply will not settle for this politicising of public enquiries. If the Named Person scheme is not to blame, a full and proper enquiry will vindicate it. But if the Named Person scheme is, as many have warned, taking resources, time or attention away from the crucial task of child protection then we are entitled to know. That fact that it would be politically inconvenient for the Government is totally irrelevant.

– The court was told there was no clinical basis to link the neglect of Clyde Campbell to his death.
– His mother admitted to five months of neglect from 1 October 2013 to 23 February 2014 when Clyde’s body was found.
– Highland say the Named Person role “has been fully implemented since 2010”.
This Scottish Parliament briefing referred to Highland as the “exemplar” for the scheme.
– Highland say the Named Person must “be aware of risks and needs and identify and report child protection concerns arising from observations or information received, for example where a pattern of incidents or concerns suggestive of possible harm builds up over a period of time”.
– Highland also say: “where any concerns may indicate that a child could be at risk of harm, there can also be swift contact with Police or Social Work, who know they are getting credible and significant information from someone who has a good understanding of a child and family’s circumstances”.
– The Children’s Commissioner Tam Baillie claimed the Named Person scheme “is really a low level, early warning system for where things are at an early stage of going wrong in a child’s life.”
– In July 2015, Police Scotland issued the following statement: “There is a lack of clarity as to the expectations, roles and responsibilities; therefore it is unknown at this time if current systems, models and process in [Police Scotland] can support this legislative change.”
– Police Scotland also said: “A potential risk has been identified that ‘wellbeing concern’ assessments are being carried out by a range of practitioners from organisations when there is actual information that a child has or is the victim of abuse and or neglect deemed as criminal acts. This has resulted in a time delay, at times significant, during which time the children (or other children) are exposed to the potential of further criminal acts and the potential for evidential opportunities to be lost or compromised. Specific examples can be provided if required.”
Minutes of a top level steering group, set up to oversee the introduction of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, recorded that Police Scotland had “raised issues surrounding ensuring high-risk children remained a focus”.