Has the Named Person scheme really been scrapped and where do we go from here?

Yesterday Deputy First Minister John Swinney announced in the Scottish Parliament:

“We will now not underpin in law the mandatory named person scheme for every child. We will withdraw the Children and Young People (Information Sharing) (Scotland) Bill and repeal the relevant legislation.

“Instead, existing voluntary schemes that provide a point of contact for support will continue, under current legal powers, when councils and health boards wish to provide them and parents wish to use them.”

Mr Swinney’s announcement led to widespread media coverage, with some containing misleading content. So here we set the record straight.

What named person scheme has been scrapped?

It was a mandatory scheme

The Scottish Government wanted a statutory scheme which would make it mandatory to appoint a Named Person to monitor the ‘wellbeing’ – or ‘happiness’ – of every child in Scotland. Whether the family wanted one or not it would have been imposed, with or without the family’s knowledge.

The proposed scheme was not a ‘voluntary point of contact for parents who wanted it’ as some media reports suggest. If it was a voluntary service, that would have been uncontroversial.

But this was about compulsory state-sanctioned monitoring of every child in Scotland. Parents have spoken out about uncovering detailed dossiers filled with inaccurate information on them, which have been compiled by Named Persons behind their backs and used in damaging ways.

It was about monitoring wellbeing

The proposed scheme tried to give Named Persons legal powers to grab and share information at the low level of ‘wellbeing’. It was not about monitoring welfare as some media reports suggest. Social services and police already have legal powers to monitor welfare concerns.

Professionals working in child protection can already share information if they think there is a ‘risk of significant harm’, and intervene where necessary. The proposed Named Person scheme was not about welfare, but about monitoring ‘wellbeing’.

Commenting on the concept of wellbeing found in the policy, the UK Supreme Court ruling stated: “‘Wellbeing’ is not defined. The only guidance as to its meaning is provided by section 96(2), which lists eight factors to which regard is to be had when assessing wellbeing. The factors, which are known under the acronym SHANARRI, are that the child or young person is or would be: “safe, healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible, and included”. These factors are not themselves defined, and in some cases are notably vague: for example, that the child or young person is “achieving” and “included””.

Elsewhere in the judgment the justices stated:
“[T]he assessment of that wellbeing under section 96… involves the use of very broad criteria which could trigger the sharing of information by a wide range of public bodies… and also the initiation of intrusive inquiries into a child’s wellbeing.”

The judges concluded that sharing private information at the level of ‘wellbeing’ “may in practice result in a disproportionate inference with the article 8 rights of children, young persons and their parents”.

It breached human rights

Let’s remind ourselves what else the July 2016 UK Supreme Court judgment said.

The ruling noted that “the sharing of personal data between relevant public authorities is central to the role of the named person” (para. 78).
It then concluded that these information-sharing provisions:
• Were incompatible with the rights of children, young persons and parents under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights;

• May in practice result in a disproportionate interference with the article 8 rights of many children, young persons and their parents, through the sharing of private information;

• Were “not within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament”, deeming the legislation “defective” and blocking it from coming into force.

Bizarrely, Mr Swinney responded to the ruling at the time by saying: “I welcome the publication of today’s judgment and the fact that the attempt to scrap the named person service has failed.”

But three years later, he finally has to admit that the mandatory Named Person scheme, with legal powers to grab and share private information at the low level of wellbeing, cannot work without breaching the human rights of children and families.

It had to be scrapped.

So, where do we go from here?

John Swinney said in his statement yesterday: “Instead, existing voluntary schemes that provide a point of contact for support will continue, under current legal powers, where councils and health boards wish to provide them and parents wish to use them.”

A voluntary single point of contact

If you still see a Named Person service being offered, it will now be on a strictly voluntary basis. It will be up to councils and health boards to decide if they wish to offer a voluntary named person or some kind of voluntary single point of contact for parents, and it will be up to parents to decide if they want to use the service.

This ‘voluntary single point of contact’ will not be able to share information on ‘wellbeing’ concerns at will. Instead it will have to adhere to current data sharing frameworks.

There will no longer be a statutory Named Person service imposed on every child in Scotland.

Parents can feel confident that when they are given advice or offered a service by a voluntary ‘Named Person’ or ‘voluntary single point of contact’, they do not have to accept it.

As the 2016 Supreme Court judgment stated: “Care should therefore be taken to emphasise the voluntary nature of the advice, information, support and help which are offered”.

Will this reduce the level of protection for children?

We have always been concerned about the Named Person scheme diverting valuable resources away from vulnerable children who genuinely need help.

A significant case review into the tragic death of Fife toddler Liam Fee stated that the role of the Named Person “may have contributed to confusion”.

And the significant case review into the sad death of Inverness toddler Clyde Campbell mentioned the child’s Named Person, as among those who could have done more.

The report from Highland Child Protection Committee stated serious concerns “were not appropriately escalated to senior social care managers”.

Finding a vulnerable child is like finding a needle in a haystack, and the Named Person scheme, as proposed by the Scottish Government, would have made the haystack bigger, placing an even greater burden on already overstretched child protection services.

Now child protection services can concentrate time and resources on helping children who are genuinely at risk of significant harm.

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