Named Persons: Legitimate, Logical and Long Overdue

This week John Swinney addressed the Scottish Parliament Education and Skills Committee to discuss Named Persons. Following the Supreme Court case which ruled the purpose of the Named Persons scheme entirely legitimate, the SNP Scottish Government plan to roll out the scheme in 2017 after intense engagements with stakeholders and amendments to data sharing provisions. Below, SNP Youth’s Christopher Adam describes why Named Persons needs to be supported and why we need Named Persons.

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Named Persons: the hatred it has attracted from some is misguided. This most endearing policy passed the Scottish Parliament unopposed, has been ruled legal and legitimate in its purpose, and is supported by scores of children’s charities. Yet it has been brutally misrepresented to the point it is now a political mine-field. Named Person is needed urgently and we must defend it.

The Scheme Itself

The Named Person Bill, introduced in Part 4 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act of 2014, is an act designed to ensure the wellbeing of children across Scotland. It works like this: every child up to 18 years of age will have a designated ‘Named Person’ who would act as a single point of contact between services if they are in the best interests of the child. The family is not obligated to follow the advice of their child’s Named Person, who is the child’s Guidance Teacher (or Depute-Head or possibly Head-Teacher) in the vast majority of cases and would fulfil their role as a supportive coordinator for the child; their role is only made more official by the scheme.

The scheme is designed such that cases of child abuse and other horrors, along with issues such as coping with disability, possible difficulties at home, or bullying, are all addressed in double-quick time. For example, say a child suffers a speech impediment and is being mocked by some of their classmates. Their Named Person would take the child aside, deal with the bullies and advise possible courses of action to help the child’s wellbeing and confidence, in this case speech and language therapy, which the child is not obliged to take; it is only advice. If the child wishes to attend speech therapy sessions, their Named Person would coordinate the appropriate services. In other words the Named Person would act like any qualified Guidance Teacher in ensuring the child’s welfare. It’s as easy as that.

Its Opposition

“when it comes to Labour’s stance on Named Person you are as clueless as me.”

Named Person has faced opposition from political parties. For example, Ruth Davidson has rallied her troops against the bill, claiming it is “unworkable” and “confused”; David Cameron labelled it “absurd”; Liz Smith, Conservative spokeswoman on Young People described it as “wrongheaded” and “an assault on the responsibility of families”. Scottish Labour’s stance has been far less concrete: the party voted in favour of the named person bill in 2014; Kezia was an avid supporter of the scheme, calling the bill’s opposition “ignorant”. Then last year Ms. Dugdale called for it to be “paused”, having since dubbed the policy an “absolute mess” and is supporting a legal challenge led by the Christian Institute. In other words, when it comes to Labour’s stance on Named Person you are as clueless as me. Just this last week, as John Swinney set out plans to consult on the scheme, Labour has maintained their ‘maybes aye, maybes no’ stance; the bill was a good idea, but shouldn’t be used for 16 and 17 years olds, the purpose was legitimate but the public has to be persuaded. Perhaps if Labour spent more time convincing the public and less time explaining that the public had to be convinced, they would not have to worry about the scheme being misconceived.

As you can see, the policy has been twisted and abused by both Labour and the Tories in order to frighten parents into voting for them. It looks as if Labour have used this policy in scare tactics – why else would their stance invert so dramatically, and in the run-up to the Scottish Parliamentary Election earlier this year? The same goes to the Tories; after two years of being quietly sceptical of Named Person (note that they didn’t vote against it; the bill passed parliament 103 votes to 0), it was instantly the bogeyman-bill.

There also exists a campaign: ‘NO2NP – Say No to the Named Person’, which transcends political lines to unite against the Named Person Bill. This campaign commands a brilliant website teaming with articles, information and upcoming events, its main centrepiece a petition with over 33,000 signatures. The only fault with the whole thing was the latent sense of paranoia which pervaded absolutely everything. Every article, every backer, every resource had a kind of manic twinge to it, the kind of mild psychosis commonplace at an emergency PTA meeting staged against the dangerous rise of funkyfresh American hip-hop. You know what I mean? Manic-mothering. Para-parenting. For example, one article released at the end of April this year was titled:  GPS, HOUSING OFFICERS AND CHARITIES RECRUITED TO SPY ON FAMILIES. I needn’t say that the article drew very broad and creative conclusions concerning the ‘invasive’ nature of the scheme, being slightly deranged all the while, quote: “they know you don’t like what they are doing – but they are going to do it anyway” unquote.

“In this twitching tirade of traditional values, opponents to Named Person have lost sight of what’s important: children.”

I challenge the NO2NP campaign to consider this: isn’t their family’s precious privacy violated every time their child attends school, or hospital or indeed any other institution for that matter? Guidance Teachers (i.e. Named Persons) already have access to pupils’ sensitive information concerning mental illness, home life – you name it – so what’s the big hoo-ha about? For argument’s sake, signing a consent form; discussing a teenager’s career prospects – where exactly does one draw the line on the privacy of a family, especially when the welfare of a child is at stake? Furthermore, aren’t Guidance Teachers, General Practitioners etc (soon to be Named Persons) in their respective professions because they actually want to help young people? They aren’t the baddies, believe it or not. You are woefully mistaken and inordinately anxious to believe that children across Scotland are at the mercy of a bunch of uncaring, glaket-eyed nutcases with the collective emotional capacity of a baked quiche.

And in this twitching tirade of traditional values, opponents to Named Person have lost sight of what’s important: children. Kids who turn up to school under-equipped or in ill-fitting, unwashed clothes; who are mocked and mimicked due to disability by their peers; who sometimes go to bed hungry – who else is reforming policy for them? I writhe in anger that these religious and traditionalist institutions pipe up: ‘no – you’re invading my children’s privacy – you’re destroying the family unit!’ when anyone dare try to shake things up, to reform change for the better when all the time they rest on their laurels and do absolutely hee-haw.

“The resistance from the traditionalist opposition will, over time, be more and more disregarded, and the Named Person Act will be proved essential.”

Then again, is this resistance to be expected? The NO2NP campaign’s main backer is the Christian Institute, a religious-right body which ‘believe[s] that the Bible is the supreme authority for all of life and we hold to the inerrancy of Scripture’. Organisations such as this, who command a very traditionalist viewpoint on the family unit, have a track record of opposing progressive policy. From observation, a pattern emerges: religious organisations oppose progressive policy; the policy is shown to be beneficial to society as time goes on. Take same-sex marriage for example: the legalisation of same-sex marriage was seen as progressive; the policy faced resistance from religious groups such as the Christian Institute; the societal consensus now is that same-sex marriage was a pivotal milestone for equality and was the right way forward. The same thing will happen with the Named Person scheme: the resistance from the traditionalist opposition will, over time, be more and more disregarded, and the Named Person Act will be proved essential.

This very pattern was perfectly demonstrated on the 3rd of September 2015 when the Christian Institute and several other organisations and individuals challenged Named Person in the Court of Session, Scotland’s highest civil court. Their contest was on the grounds that Named Person was heavy-handed in its approach; invasive of family life; its implementation would breach the privacy of children and would ultimately interfere with the structure of the family. The proposition headed by the Christian Institute presented the aforementioned arguments; the Scottish Ministers presented their defence of Named Person, and the Court of Session ruled the following:

“The mere creation of a named person, available to assist a child or parent, no more confuses or diminishes the legal role, duties and responsibilities of parents in relation to their children than the provision of social services or education generally.  It has no effect whatsoever on the legal, moral or social relationships within the family.  The assertion to the contrary, without any supporting basis, has the appearance of hyperbole…the [proposition’s] challenge was speculative and premature…

“The legislation does not involve the state taking over any functions currently carried out by parents in relation to their children. For these reasons, the [proposition’s] challenge…must fail.”

The Court of Session has ruled in Named Person’s favour. And the UK Supreme Court has agreed that the purpose of the Named Person is entirely legitimate with data sharing being its only concern. In light of this, I challenge this opposition: what is your alternative? You are ludicrously paranoid. What is your solution to ensuring the welfare of every child in this country? Well? Some of Scotland’s leading children’s charities suspect you might be running clean out of things to say…

I recall an open letter, published 9th March 2016 in newspapers across Scotland:

‘Supreme Court must throw out appeal against Named Person.’

The letter stressed that the Scheme was not a ‘State Guardian’; “health visitors or promoted teachers,” would fulfil the Named Person roll and that they “are already looking out for children…they already handle sensitive information and offer support when needed. They don’t snoop…or share information inappropriately.” In other words, the letter was chock-full of common sense. It was signed by nine of Scotland’s leading charitable organisations and others: Barnardo’s; Parenting Across Scotland; Action for Children; the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association; the Scottish Child Minding Association; the NSPCC; the Royal College of Nursing; Aberlour; Social Work Scotland; One Parent Families; Children in Scotland and Children 1st.

“Social Work Scotland or the Scottish Conservative Party? I know who I’m more inclined to believe.”

Literally hundreds of established children’s charities and organisations have shown their support of the Named Person Scheme. Barnardo’s, Scotland’s largest children’s charity have highlighted that “Named Person is central to making sure that we get it right for every child in Scotland”. Jackie Brock, chief-executive of the charity Children in Scotland and an avid supporter of the scheme, wrote a brilliant article for Third Force News showing her enthusiasm for the scheme and her frustration with the opposition: “I have argued,” she writes, “and will continue to argue, that there is no evidence of increased state intrusion into family life”. Chief Executive of Aberlour Alison Todd, one of Scotland’s largest children’s charities with a 140 year pedigree, has confirmed “we have always viewed [Named Person] as strengthening existing practice to ensure children get the help they need when they need it.” The Scottish Police Federation supported Named Person in their official press release, asserted the scheme would “help keep children safer”. Alistair Gaw, President of Social Work Scotland writes in the Scotsman: “it’s not about creating a nanny state, it’s about supporting children and their families”. The director of the Royal College of Nursing (Scotland) Theresa Fyffe writes in the Holyrood Magazine: “we fully support the named person role and believe its intention to promote, support and safeguard the wellbeing of children and young people in Scotland is the right approach”.

All the supporters above work with children and young people day-in day-out, they grapple with child policy every working day. They know what they’re talking about, and they support Named Person avidly. The Christian Institute or Barnardo’s? Social Work Scotland or the Scottish Conservative Party? I know who I’m more inclined to believe. But maybe that’s just me.

Finally, the shrieking from the religious and political right has turned this debate, which was once healthy and constructive, sour. People don’t want to stand up for it anymore. It’s too divisive. But when the Scottish Government roll-out the Scheme at the delayed date in 2017, it is in the interest of everyone that it succeeds. After cutting through the noise I learned just how much we need the policy. It is legitimate, logical and long overdue. Hopefully you will realise the same. This policy must win for children across this country and the hour is late.

Christopher Adam, 

SNP Youth West of Scotland

 

 

 

Author: SNP Youth

Young Scots For Independence