Opinion: Named Persons Act

What are they going to think of us?

Published in SCO: 4 Aug 2016

By Shannon McGurin

LAST week, I dropped my son off at nursery at 8am and it wasn’t even 8:30am when I had a phone call to say my son had fallen pretty badly and we would need to take him to the hospital. When I called my partner, he joked: “That’ll be the third fall this month they need to see him for. What are they going to think of us?”

Although this was said in jest, it’s true that sometimes as a parent these thoughts do go through your head. Now two of these falls happened at nursery and the other in a restaurant so they are clearly down to my 17-month-old acting like a clumsy newborn giraffe and not down to our own negligence.

However, on paper it doesn’t look great. That’s where my concern lies: ‘It doesn’t look great’ to who? Who is it that makes us think in the back of our minds ‘Oh no, what are they going to think?’

I don’t know about anybody else’s child but I know on average Aodhan trips (over his own two feet) about ten times a day. Now, if you work out how many days are in a month, that’s a lot of falls. Thankfully the majority of them aren’t serious, but all it takes is one stumble too many like last week and my son ends up with a black eye.

As a parent, no wonder these thoughts go through your mind—it’s hard not to with some of the stories you read. For example, not long ago I read a harrowing story about a family whose kids were put up for adoption as they were suspected to have harmed them. Three years down the line it was proven in court that they did not do this. Despite the not guilty verdict, the children had already been put up for adoption, and in English law that cannot be reversed. Heartbreakingly, those parents will never get their kids back.

I can’t understand why that was allowed to happen, but it did. Yes, I know this is an extreme example, but it is understandable why some people worry how that egg lump on their child’s forehead from an innocent fall may look to other people.

With the news that the Supreme Court in London has deemed the SNP’s controversial Named Persons scheme ‘unlawful’, it got me thinking about its true purpose. If anything, the authorities should be there to support parents, not monitor their every move.

 

The Supreme Court has stated that the SNP must amend the law within 42 days. The SNP have said they would move to ‘provide greater clarity’ about information sharing, but will this be enough to give the act the go ahead?

Over the past few months I have heard an increasing number of people complain about the Scottish Government’s Named Person legislation.

I didn’t realise just how much power it hands to the state until I looked into it. Essentially, the Scottish Parliament has proposed a bill that appoints a Named Person for every child in Scotland. Which means a state official is tasked with looking after a child’s wellbeing and happiness.

At first I thought this doesn’t sound that bad…until I read the next part. Apparently a state guardian—generally a health visitor or a headteacher—will be put in place regardless of whether or not the children or parents wish to have one, and regardless if there is a need for intervention. Some of the duties of this Named Person seem a bit bizarre. For example, the person has to check if a child gets a say on how their room is decorated and what they get to watch on TV.

I do believe the main objective of the bill is to protect Scottish children from abuse and suffering that generations of children have endured through negligence, but I can’t help question the intentions behind the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.

Something about this legislation just doesn’t sound right. It undermines parents and gives the state unlimited access to pry. The Government have argued that there is no need for families to use the Named Person, but this is deceitful in my opinion, as the scheme is compulsory regardless.

Every child will have a Named Person who has the power to access confidential data on the family and can talk to the child without their parents agreeing to it. Don’t get me wrong—I am all for helping vulnerable children that social work services are aware of and are trying to protect. But, stretching this legislation to all children regardless of need is giving the state unnecessary powers.

 

I also think that this new law is wasting valuable resources and taking away funds that can help those truly vulnerable children in need. Surely, appointing a Named Person for every child in Scotland will involve a vast amount of time filling out forms for thousands of children at no risk at all.

The current law says that social services can get involved when a child is at risk of significant harm, but Named Persons can get involved when there are concerns about a child’s happiness. I know there have been times growing up where I wouldn’t describe myself as happy, but I don’t think that would have merited a state intervention.

I completely agree that any form of suspected neglect or abuse should be addressed by experts. In terms of this legislation there is a clear lack of research and consideration for the repercussions of automatic information-sharing whenever children go through some troubles and unhappiness in their lives.

Something just doesn’t sit right with me that in the near future somebody may be able to access confidential information about Aodhan without my permission or regardless if he is in need of intervention.

The Children’s Scotland Act 2014 does diminish the rights of parents, which isn’t necessarily where my problem lies, as I know there are some children who are in danger in their own home. I think there should be protection there for children if they need it.

However, I am not convinced that the Scottish Government should have an automatic right to know everything about children, and I don’t think I ever will be.

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