Named Persons – not sinister, not an attack on families, but perhaps in need of more thought

Michael YammerGlasgow Labour activist Michael Shanks responds to an article we published earlier this week on the Named Persons scheme. He argues its implementation may deserve some criticism, but the system is sound and could save lives.

 

I read with great interest the recent post by Beth Greene on the Named Person provisions of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act. Beth quite rightly wondered what interest the scheme would get at the upcoming Scottish Labour Conference. I too hope it gets discussed.

But I hope that when it is discussed it is as part of an informed debate about how we safeguard our most vulnerable young people and give them the best possible start in life.

The Named Person element of the Children and Young People Act has been in some respects blown out of all proportion. In my view, aspects of the Act around continuing and aftercare for looked after children and services to prevent children becoming looked after by the state are much more important – but perhaps inevitably since they are less controversial they have been rarely discussed.

I have to take issue with one point Beth, and many other people, made about social workers ‘failing children and ripping families apart’. I defy anyone to argue that any social worker has any such intention. The overwhelming majority spend their entire career trying everything in their power to keep families together and provide the safest environment for children to grow up.

The latest social work statistics show that the number of young people being taken into care has fallen for the past two years. The majority of young people in care remain in their community (14,110 out of 15,580 in 2014) – at home or in kinship or foster care placements. In fact, if anything, the glaring gap in support is for those children being formally looked after at home (but more on this in another blog, if the editor will allow me…!).

Social workers are rightly held to account when they do fail, and those failures are often high profile. But they are rarely given any credit for the countless tough decisions they make day in day out so that the most vulnerable young people in our society are provided with safe, stable and sustainable upbringings.

And it is from that principle that the Named Person scheme emerges.

Only in the eyes of the Daily Express and the Daily Mail are these individuals ‘state guardians’ or ‘snoopers’. In fact they are the very people who are by and large already carrying out the support role – health visitors (who already visit babies after birth and maintain contact); primary school teachers (who already support young people and look out for their welfare and wellbeing throughout the first seven years of education) and secondary school guidance teachers (who already have a defined role in being the central contact for all information about pupils in the school).

Secondary school guidance teachers are a key one here. If you look at the literature on the development of guidance in Scottish schools you’ll see it fits the model of Named Person perfectly:

• ‘to ensure that each pupil knows and is known personally and in some depth by at least one member of staff’
• ‘to consider the pupil’s personal, social and intellectual development’
• ‘to help the pupil to be aware of his [sic] own development and to accept responsibility for it’
• ‘to identify and respond quickly and appropriately to the specific needs of the individual’
• ‘to foster the development of good relations between teachers and pupils’
• ‘to work well with the home in all aspects of pupil development’
• ‘to liaise with support and welfare services’; and
• ‘to systematise and make effective the recording and communication of information relevant to the welfare of individual pupils’.

(More detail here.)

Put simply: in almost every case, the child will grow up having a Named Person who would otherwise already be the key figure in their personal development. There is nobody new getting involved here. And as far as I can see, there is nothing ‘sinister’ going on.

But we must recognise that this is being brought in because time after time after time in every major enquiry into the death or abuse of a child, the conclusion comes back: there were people who knew what was going on. The problem is always that nobody joined up the dots between seemingly isolated incidents of neglect and abuse – until it was too late.

And I know from experience that there are a huge number of young people in Scotland who spend their entire childhood just below the threshold for any kind of intervention and support – who struggle along, quietly hiding the challenges and chaos in their lives and never get noticed. Their silent struggle is no less important for us to resolve than those already being supported by social work – intervening early to prevent crisis and avoid young people being taken into care.

The Named Person – like all legislation – is never going to solve everything. But it is a fair go at trying to do more than we currently do – and isn’t that worthy of support? If even one young person is prevented from falling through the numerous cracks in our system – doesn’t that make it worth trying?

Now, as with everything, the devil is in the detail, and aside from the principles of the Named Person – which I would support – there must be considerable criticism of and opposition to aspects of the implementation and the detail of the guidance around it.

The Scottish Government has failed to outline clearly the complaints procedure, and what process children and families undertake if they wish to change their Named Person. They have also failed to understand the crucial transition period between primary and secondary schools – which is where many young people struggle the most. This is the time where young people may need their Named Person most, but find under the current proposal that support will change overnight to a new, as yet unknown teacher.

There is also a considerable lack of any clarity around the ‘targeted interventions’ which Named Persons will be able to recommend (e.g. speech and language therapy). The Government has studiously avoided laying down any specifics, including whether Named Persons will have any budget to provide these services without which renders them somewhat pointless.

Whilst I may disagree with the SNP on a great, great many things, I find it hard to believe this legislation is designed with anything other than the best possible outcomes for young people in mind. I find it hard to believe the Scottish Government has a genuine desire to break up families.

The Named Person scheme is not perfect. Perhaps no system ever is. But I believe if the Guidance is improved, and the implementation much more effectively thought out than it is at present, it will make a difference to the welfare and wellbeing for young people and it may even save lives.

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3 thoughts on “Named Persons – not sinister, not an attack on families, but perhaps in need of more thought

  1. I’m afraid this article completely misses the point. Of course nobody can genuinely disagree with the overall statement for protecting children. The problem with the NP legislation is that at every count is is inspecting on decision making made by the parents by questioning children, with no parental involvement, and giving those who have not had relevant training even larger workloads and responsibility.

    “Only in the eyes of the Daily Express and the Daily Mail are these individuals ‘state guardians’ or ‘snoopers’. In fact they are the very people who are by and large already carrying out the support role – health visitors (who already visit babies after birth and maintain contact); primary school teachers (who already support young people and look out for their welfare and well-being throughout the first seven years of education) and secondary school guidance teachers (who already have a defined role in being the central contact for all information about pupils in the school).”

    The problem with your conclusion is that they are now not in a support role. They are in an active monitoring role, regardless of circumstances. As someone who has gone through liaising with health visitors lately, you do indeed get a person – and that person is named. They visit, ask you questions, and vitally check for post natal depression. They are trained in this act, and they will be the named person it seems for babies – just as now. They discuss with the parent. The parent knows everything that is going on. They support.

    The issues start to creep up when you look how things change as ages rise. They ask children if they can ride a bike. They ask children if they like their bedroom decoration. They ask children if they go on holidays. They ask children if their parents hug them. They end up asking intimate questions later without parental knowledge. Is this monitoring? Is this snooping? Is knowing that they have a favourite poster on their bedroom wall support? Or is it intrusion? You mention guidance teachers – usually they work in cooperation with parents, have parental evenings and discussion is regular. Named persons are allowed to question children without parental consent. They are allowed access to medical records without parental consent. Do guidance teachers have access to medical records? Can guidance teachers be notified when medical appointments are made/missed/reorganised without parental knowledge?

    They have it actually bound to them that this child is their responsibility. I’m assuming, if anything happens to this child, this named person will be held accountable as social workers in the past have been? If so, I don’t see how teachers can take on this level of workload further, given the strains currently in this profession. I actually asked this question in the initial consultation and never received a response.

    “But they are rarely given any credit for the countless tough decisions they make day in day out so that the most vulnerable young people in our society are provided with safe, stable and sustainable upbringings”

    The problem now is that all families are now judged by what the government defines a safe, stable and sustainable upbringing to be. This seems to be spreading resources thinly, instead of concentrating it where it is needed. There has not been a significant ‘social work’ case lately that has involved a child that was not already known. Focus there, not everyone else.

    There are hundreds of unanswered questions, as you have stated. The complaints procedure is a tiny part of it. The issue is that this legislation is coming, there is no opt-out, there are legal ramifications for parents yet no clarity. When there is clarity, there are clear issues of government disrespect for parents. Some of the stuff reads like it was written by someone with no children, who has not got the real life experience to even comment. I cannot believe that the money spent on this (upwards of £50 million, it seems, so far) couldn’t be better spent on helping real social workers get on with their difficult task, leaving teachers to do what they do best – educate and guide, not educate and report.

    This is state snooping, and I do not doubt for a second that the minute a parent is penalised for not cooperating, the courts will be getting even further involved.

    1. Here is part of the Act, not what the Scottish Govt wants to tell you the Act says. I find it better to go to the source. Here is an exceptionally important section in relation to the Named Person: sharing of information.

      “26 Information sharing.
      (1) A service provider or relevant authority must provide to the service provider in relation to a child or young person any information which the person holds which falls within subsection (2).
      (2) Information falls within this subsection if the information holder considers that—
      (a)it is likely to be relevant to the exercise of the named person functions in relation to the child or young person,
      (b)it ought to be provided for that purpose, and
      (c)its provision to the service provider in relation to the child or young person would not prejudice the conduct of any criminal investigation or the prosecution of any offence.
      (3) The service provider in relation to a child or young person must provide to a service provider or relevant authority any information which the person holds which falls within subsection (4).
      (4) Information falls within this subsection if the information holder considers that—
      (a) it is likely to be relevant to the exercise of any function of the service provider or relevant authority which affects or may affect the wellbeing of the child or young person,
      (b)it ought to be provided for that purpose, and
      (c)its provision to the service provider or relevant authority would not prejudice the conduct of any criminal investigation or the prosecution of any offence.”

      Now, I’m a legislative drafter. Can I say that the above is the most self-referential rubbish I’ve ever had the misfortune to wade through. Leaving that aside, what this appears to be saying is, if the Named Person wants it, the Named Person gets it UNLESS it will inhibit the investigation or prosecution of a crime. So if the Named Person thinks, I wonder if the people living with Child A are healthy, they can request their medical records. If the Named Person thinks, I wonder if the children are involved with sports, they check up on that.

      Why? Why should a teacher or health visitor have these rights of invading a family’s privacy solely on the grounds that “it is likely to be relevant”? Not actually relevant. Not approved by a higher authority like a search warrant would be. Just subjectively by the Named Person thinking that they might need it.

      And all of this on the basis of the threshold test of “well-being”, which is an unspecified, non-legal notion.

      A list of the “Relevant authorities” is

      1 NHS 24
      2 NHS National Services Scotland
      3 Scottish Ambulance Service Board
      4 State Hospitals Board for Scotland
      5 The National Waiting Times Centre Board
      6 Skills Development Scotland Co. Ltd (registered number SC 202659)
      7 Social Care and Social Work Improvement Scotland
      8 The Scottish Sports Council
      9 The chief constable of the Police Service of Scotland
      10 The Scottish Police Authority
      11 The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service

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