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Named person: Swinney must think again as the fight goes on

This opinion piece is over 7 years old

​Lesley Scott says parents and practitioners didn't want named person - so why is John Swinney trying to force it through?

John Swinney missed his chance this week to do the decent, honourable thing and scrap once and for all the hated state guardian (named person) scheme.

Instead he restated both his and the Scottish Government’s commitment to this authoritarian move against families and vowed to bring forth new legislation before the summer.

Contrary to continued misrepresentation of this legislation, the named person is not a child protection measure.

It is set well below that threshold of a likelihood of serious detriment to the child’s welfare and instead focuses on an, as yet, undefined concept of wellbeing.

Lesley Scott, Tymes Trust

We do not want this, parents did not ask for it and this scornful disregard of opposing opinion by the Scottish Government is an example of the treatment families may expect

Lesley Scott, Tymes Trust

And that’s another thing; after his statement to parliament, the education secretary took questions and was asked by Liz Smith if he would “confirm if wellbeing will be defined in the new bill?”

The deputy first minister’s response was that “wellbeing is defined in the Children and Young People’s Act”.

Not according to the highest court in the land which categorically stated: “Wellbeing is not defined”

It went even further saying that: “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”.

So the revision to the named person legislation will not address the existing subjective nature of wellbeing assessments that form the basis of named person and GIRFEC.

Instead, practitioners will be left in a no man’s land, faced with making decisions on data sharing around the ambiguous and legally obscure concept of wellbeing within a legislative context of welfare.

Over the last few years many families in Scotland have had to face the grave consequences of the conflation of these two distinct terms as the GIRFEC state machinery mobilises against them over practitioners’ gut-feelings and subjective judgments.

The Young ME Sufferer’s Trust (Tymes Trust) has received calls to its advice line from Scottish families faced with such inappropriate and ill-judged interference from the state based on nothing more than wellbeing worries.

None of the families we have advised have, on further investigation, been found to have been at fault, yet they have suffered the harmful and damaging effects of investigation and reporting to and by the state.

Nothing in Mr Swinney’s statement to parliament was aimed at addressing this abuse of power and disparity in authority, that currently take place under GIRFEC, in which parents and families are seen not only as the source of all society’s ills but the very shackles that hinder their own children from achieving their full potential.

The UK Supreme Court made it clear that the aim of the Act, namely “the promotion and safeguarding of the wellbeing of children and young persons”, was “legitimate and benign”.

This, however, is not an endorsement of the means by which the Scottish Government was intent on achieving that aim – i.e. named person.

Hence the references made by the learned judges to totalitarianism, the child not being a mere creature of the state, people being different to one another and only the worst dictatorships try to eradicate those differences, etc.

With Mr Swinney encouraging local authorities and health boards to continue to deliver named person services without any legislative framework, families will continue to find themselves victim to disproportionate state interference with no way to counter such intrusion except lengthy and costly court actions.

And practitioners on the front line, teachers and health visitors, will also pay a heavy price for the government’s commitment to state guardians. These professions formerly held the trust of parents and families but the compulsion is as much on them as it is on parents to comply with this authoritarian assault against the family.

We do not want this, parents did not ask for it and this scornful disregard of opposing opinion by the Scottish Government is an example of the treatment that families may expect under this scheme.

The fight goes on.

Lesley Scott is Scottish officer of the Young ME Sufferers (Tymes) Trust.



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Martin Crewe
over 7 years ago
I am genuinely sorry if callers to Tymes advice line have experienced inappropriate interventions. However the experience of Barnardo's Scotland (which works with over 26,000 vulnerable children, young people and families every year) is that the problem is more commonly the opposite. There are many families who need extra help and it is often difficult to secure this. All of the main children's charities are supportive of GIRFEC and early intervention which is a central tenet of the Christie Commission. As you say, the named person is not a child protection measure - this is deliberate because the aim of the legislation is to provide a context in which early support can be provided to families. Wellbeing is a widely accepted concept and captures the elements of a child's life that matter - a good childhood is not simply one in which there is an absence of abuse.
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Anne MacDonald
over 7 years ago
I have already specifically expressed my concerns about the named person scheme in Scotland. It is interference to the extreme, and indeed deems parents as being incapable of caring for their own children. I was told that it was a protective measure. From what? A childs parents? Whilst in some cases this may be an issue, we have social services to look out for such children. The named person scheme plans to allocate a worker to every child born in Scotland. How can those with genuine needs be helped when one worker can be allocated 200 cases? It's ill conceived and totally unneccessary. Will we end up with a glut of children in care because of people prejudice, fear of risk taking and over reactions to trivia. Those workers need not be trained in social work but could be a school nurse or teacher or even someone untrained. There have already been issues where someone convicted of crimes against children have been designated as named persons. What if a parent decieodes not to have the child vaccinated for good reasons? Will the named person over ride the legal guardian, the parent? Just some thoughts.
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Rose Burn
over 7 years ago
i quite agree with Anne MacDonald's comments - parents, not the bureaucratic state, know best what their children require.
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