Tough questions for named person, following tragic Liam Fee murder

The tragic and brutal death of toddler Liam Fee has led to a public outpouring of grief and dismay.

Two-year-old Liam was brutally murdered by his mother and her civil partner, despite being on the radar of social services and the police.

In the wake of his death the media has been asking tough questions concerning the Named Person scheme since Fife, where Liam lived, was one of the leading pilot areas for the scheme.

As recently as September 2015 the Scottish Government issued a press release saying the Named Person scheme in Fife was “working well”.

Two major newspapers have published editorials highlighting the risk that the universal Named Person scheme could draw resources away from front line social work – an argument those involved with NO2NP have been making for a long time.

The Daily Mail quoted children’s charity leader Laurie Matthew, who said: “If there are not enough resources to properly see to children like Liam, why on earth are we adding every other child in Scotland into the pot?”

An editorial in The Times stated:
It seems a reasonable question to ask as we try to ensure there are no more deaths like the one suffered by Liam Fee: shouldn’t social workers be left to deal with the cases that cause concern? Shouldn’t they be helped to get a proper grip of them, rather than be deluged with new information about the vast majority of children who are brought up in a loving home? Are we in danger of making social workers’ jobs even harder?

In a separate comment piece in The Times, Kenny Farquharson said:
We owe a debt to Liam Fee. We owe it to him to come to the fullest possible understanding of how the system let him down.

There are legitimate questions to be asked, particularly on the scheme’s practicalities. In particular, is it wise to screen the entire population for problems instead of concentrating scarce resources on children known to be at risk?

Would the “radar” that Liam Fee “fell off” be more effective if it was scanning fewer people? The “named person” approach treats every Scottish family home as a potential crime scene.

Does the “named person” approach – and the thousands of false positives it will inevitably produce – make it harder for social workers to devote sufficient attention to kids like Liam who are known to be at risk? That is what we need to find out.

Writing in the Mail, Conservative MSP for Glasgow Adam Tomkins said Scotland needs “strong legislation enabling public authorities to intervene early and effectively to stop, and indeed to prevent, child abuse” but stressed: “We already have such powers.”

The Named Person legislation does not replace these powers: it sits alongside and on top of them.

But because its scope has been drawn far too widely, the Named Person law means that the operation of our child protection laws is likely to be hindered, not helped.

The scheme was also seriously criticised by members of the public during a lengthy debate on Radio Scotland. Several callers referred to the Named Person on the Kaye Adams programme on Wednesday which asked the question ‘how did he drop off the radar?’.

One woman called Margaret from Cumbernauld said:
Data sharing is already in place when it’s a child protection issue. So how on earth is this legislation going to possibly help anyone in this situation?

What we are talking about here with this Named Person legislation, and make no mistake about it, is that people are being looked at and examined against a set of ‘wellbeing’ indicators.

NO2NP’s Alison Preuss, from the Scottish Home Education Forum, appeared on the programme saying:
The big problem appears to be lack of action in social work and that also appears to be because of a lack of resources. Our view is that resources are being diverted into a universal scheme that is not necessary for most parents.

The Named Person scheme is putting data collection over child protection and that is where the danger lies. Child protection is a deadly serious business, and should not be lumped in with a universal surveillance system.