Dr Stuart Waiton: Named Person law ‘degrades the very meaning of privacy’

By Dr Stuart Waiton, a sociology lecturer at Abertay University, writing in a personal capacity.

Here he expresses his deep concerns about the named person provisions of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act.


About 10 years ago, I decided to write a dystopian novel about a future where the idea of privacy had completely collapsed, where each child born was given a live-in “support worker” who helped the parent manage the difficult child while ensuring the child was safe from the parent’s problematic behaviour. The very idea of private intimacy and personal responsibility no longer existed in this futuristic dystopia, where safety had become the only principle and all relationships were now mediated through a state-paid professional.

Of course the book was never written and now, following the passing of the new Children and Young People (Scotland) Act, it has become almost obsolete because it is no longer a futuristic fantasy that every child will have their own “support worker” assigned at birth. It is to become a lived reality.

The new act will mean that, from birth, each child in Scotland will have a specific state-appointed professional, a ‘named person’, to oversee their interests, and in particular, to oversee their safety. Initially this named person is likely to be a health visitor or midwife, the role later being taken over by school teachers who will have the “duty” and responsibility to act as the child’s guardian. The regulation of data-sharing between professionals is also to be loosened and the guardians will have new legal authority to access data from the police, local authority council, NHS files and even, potentially, information accessed from Young Scot (leisure) Cards.

The children’s minister, Aileen Campbell, has been dismissive of those parents groups who have raised concerns about “state snoops”, or who, like the various Christian groups opposed to the idea, have described the new law as an “attack on the family”. For Campbell, the new powers and duties being given to the state guardians are simply another service to both help families in trouble and also to further ensure that children are protected in society. Indeed, Aileen Campbell at times appears to be nonplussed by her critics, incapable of seeing why her caring approach is not simply celebrated. The idea of state snoops undermining the family, she argues, is simply “misunderstandings” and “misrepresentations” of the new law. Somewhat comically, when quizzed about the state’s overbearing intrusion into the home represented by the new act, Aileen Campbell replied, without a hint of irony, that “we recognise that parents also have a role” in looking after their children. Also?

However, given the increasing way in which all children are today being categorised as ‘vulnerable’, where all professionals are being educated to put child safety at the top of their agenda and when ‘early intervention’ is promoted as the only rational approach to solving social problems, there is a serious risk that the relationship between the ‘named person’ and parents will become one predicated upon suspicion. Given that the trigger for intervention into a child’s life is also being down-graded to concerns about ‘well-being’, rather than when a child is at serious risk of harm, the potential for unnecessary and potentially destructive state intrusion into family life is significant.

The Scottish government appears to be blind to the potential this new act has for transforming the relationship between parents and the state, and for degrading the very meaning of privacy. Likewise the potential this approach has for sullying relationships between teachers (who will be the main state ‘named person’) and parents, is ignored. Tragically, the danger is also that by incorporating every single child into the child safety rubric, the very few children who need state intervention in their lives will become lost. As one concerned parent has noted, when you are looking for a needle in a haystack, why make the haystack bigger?