Named Person – Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill

09 Jun 2014

A number of people have asked me what I think of the introduction of the Named Person provision.

In particular a number of church and other Christian groups have wondered if this was an unwarranted interference by the state into family life. My first comment would be that there is no clear cut Christian position on this issue. Some committed Christians believe it is a positive step in increasing protection of vulnerable youngsters. However, other equally committed Christians do have concerns.

This plan to have a Named Person is part of The Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill and will see a named official, such as a health worker or head teacher, available to help with a child’s welfare and liaise with their families. This will mean that there is an independent third party who will be able to help every child in Scotland if problems arise.

A scheme like this is already working in the Highlands and appears to have been helpful. In one sense it is just best practice but the legislation should strengthen provision throughout the country. I myself have seen cases where sadly a child’s parents could not or would not provide the care needed, e.g. taking their child to hospital and the youngster suffered as a result. In some cases it seem that the school left it to the GP, the GP left it to the social worker, and the social worker left it to the school. So in the end no one intervened and the child did not get the help they needed.

Another example of how the named person could be helpful is when parents are wanting to access help for their child. There have been cases where the parents are passed from pillar to post and they have been unable to get anyone to take responsibility. The proposed system should mean it is easier for parents seeking help to know where to go.

However, I do recognise the genuine concerns of some people. Of course, the family is the key building block in our society and of course parents have the primary responsibility for their children. And we should all accept that parents will bring up their children in different ways. Just as well – we don’t want every child or every family to be the same as each other! The state already has the ability to intervene if a child is not being properly cared for in the family and sadly we have all seen cases where the state should have intervened and did not as well as cases where the state intervened mistakenly. My hope is that these measures will clarify the position further. Social workers have a hugely difficult job and I have spoken to Christian social workers who welcome this legislation.

One of the arguments against the legislation has been that it applies to all children and not just to those who need it. However, that is the whole point! We do not know which kids are needing our help. Those already known to be having problems will generally already be getting attention. The concern is for kids who are not known to have problems but where the families are not coping. Therefore, the whole point is to cater for kids who could be at risk but there is no reason to think so at present. And the reality is that headteachers and others could not possibly get involved in every single family. There are not enough resources for that to happen.

I am disappointed that church and other Christian organisations are putting scarce financial resources into a legal challenge on this legislation. Surely it would be better if they invested in helping needy youngsters in both this country and overseas?

Overall we need to get a balance and I have become increasingly convinced that this legislation is helpful and the introduction of a Named Person is a good thing. Of course, any legislation could potentially be misused in the hands of the wrong people. But that should not be an excuse for us to sit on our hands while vulnerable children fail to get the help they need.