Named person proposals open up a can of worms
Monday, September 2, 2013
The Daily Express (Scotland) proclaimed: "Hundreds of parents have already signed an online petition demanding the Big Brother-style proposals are ditched." The Faculty of Advocates said the proposal has "the potential to be used to undermine families". The Law Society of Scotland warned it amounted to "disproportionate state interference" because it could conflict with the right to respect for private and family life as set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.
What were they all getting so exercised about? Simply this. The Scottish government is planning to legislate for something that is already operating widely across Scotland: assigning a "named person" for every child from birth until they reach 18. You may question the wisdom of the government legislating on something that is already in place. However, its reasoning is that legislation will result in consistent practice across Scotland, which is not there at present.
As a result, the proposal is contained in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill. The legal bodies are arguing in their written evidence to Holyrood's education and culture committee that the provisions are ill-considered and state that they want law that is "clear, proportionate and enforceable". But I support the principle behind the named person proposal.
The named person is a way of allocating responsibility for the first point of contact for children and families where there are concerns they may need additional assistance. The rationale is that this professional will be in a position where the child or family will already know how to access them in the pursuit of their ordinary duties. For children aged up to five,the named person will be a health professional. This is expected to be a health visitor. For children and young people of school age, it will be a professional from education. This is expected to be a teacher. It is anticipated that the named person will be in a position to assist with low-level concerns and record relevant information on the child or young person.
Where a child or young person requires the involvement of more than one agency, a "lead professional" will be identified as the professional having the responsibility for co-ordinating the assistance given. This could be a much more diverse range of professionals than the named person, so it is left open as to who would fulfil that role - and the government is not legislating on this.
Although I am happy in principle with this approach, I have voiced concerns regarding the resourcing of the implementation, particularly in respect of health visitors. More resources will be allocated for health visitors through the bill, but it is not sufficient and not immediate, and the government needs to address this if its ambitions are to be realised.
I am also concerned about how the role of the named person is being developed. For instance, the Scottish government has introduced information-sharing duties into the bill, which are located in the named person role and have a very wide reach. The duty to share information is triggered when it "might be relevant to the exercise of the named person functions" and where there are concerns about the "wellbeing of individual children and young people", which is a significant departure from the present thresholds for information sharing.
It is a vexed issue. The Scottish government would have been better informed had it consulted on the information-sharing proposals before introducing them. As it stands, in its desire to legislate on matters of process, the government has just opened up another angle of criticism for the named person proposals that could jeopardise the main aim of bringing in a wider and more consistent application of the role.