named person for every child

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A bill currently going through the Scottish Parliament seeks to appoint a “named person” to each child in the country. This person, outside of the child’s parents, would “promote, support or safeguard the wellbeing of the child or young person.”

The Children and Young People Bill, which would be part of the already widely adopted Getting It Right For Every Child approach, has been met with backlash by some who have called its provisions “dystopian.”

Here are some of the functions a named person would provide, according to the bill:

  1. (a)  doing such of the following where the named person considers it to be appropriate in order to promote, support or safeguard the wellbeing of the child or young person—
    1. (i)  advising, informing or supporting the child or young person, or a parent of the child or young person,
    2. (ii)  helping the child or young person, or a parent of the child or young person, to access a service or support, or
    3. (iii)  discussing, or raising, a matter about the child or young person with a service provider or relevant authority, and
  2. (b)  such other functions as are specified by this Act or any other enactment as being functions of a named person in relation to a child or young person.

The U.K.’s Express reported more on these roles back in May:

Marion Samson, headteacher at Westquarter Primary and Nursery in Falkirk, is a ‘Named Person’ who says her role is to “challenge” families who are not bringing up their children properly.

A “named person” would need to be the employee of a service provider, such as a health, social or school worker. The proposed legislation states that someone would qualify for this position only if they meet the requirements of the bill’s subsection 3 in part 4, which includes they be employed by a service provider, but notes that they don’t fall within subsection 3 “if the individual is a parent of the child or young person.”

Christopher Booker with the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph criticized the bill (emphasis added):

We are familiar with the idea that state employees are expected to take an interest in a child’s welfare, from health visitors to teachers at school. But this proposal that local authorities should be empowered to appoint an official to act as a personal “guardian”, or social worker, to oversee every aspect of a child’s life from birth onwards is a world first.

[...]

In too many of the cases I have followed where children have been removed from their families for what seems to be no good reason, their nightmare began with a report by a teacher or a doctor that got some overheard remark or slight injury absurdly out of proportion. Too often, such suspicions then harden into allegations that are never properly tested against the evidence, and the damage is done. However admirable, in theory, the thought of appointing a “guardian” to watch over every child might seem, experience suggests that, in practice, this may exacerbate those weaknesses in our existing “child protection” system, which make a mockery of the noble aims it was set up to promote.

The Iona Institute, a conservative think tank, reported sociology lecturer Stuart Waiton calling the legislation “dystopian.” He said that while researching the “issue of the ‘autonomous family,’” he has noticed that “at the level of policy this idea has completely disappeared.”

Although some are concerned about the rights of parents, lawmakers question the logistics of assigning a person to every child. Here’s more on that perspective from the Iona Institute:

Labour’s Anne McTaggart, herself a former social worker, raised concerns over the looming workload facing the profession.

“Have you got quotas as to how many (children and young people) that named person will have?

“In my last job within social work, there were cases there of up to 70, so that named person may well have up to 70 young people under their jurisdiction.”

Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw suggested the measure is “a very huge enterprise”.

“How many named persons do you anticipate there will be? What will the turnover be in named persons? And how in practice does that really establish a bond of confidence on which people feel they can rely?” he asked.

Booker, the Iona Institute and some lawmakers are not alone in their concerns over the legislation either. The Express pointed to a petition with more than 1,200 signatures asking member’s of Scottish Parliament to not sign the bill later this summer.

“The fact that every child will be subject to this intrusion by a stranger without opt-out, regardless of his or her wishes (or those of his or her parents in the case of a young child) renders it a disproportionate measure in that most children have no need of state ‘intervention’, compulsory or otherwise, in their family lives,” the petition stated.

Children’s Minister Aileen Campbell has said that although under the legislation every child would have a named person, not every child would require interaction with them.