election debate

Thursday 30 April 2015, Stuart Waiton

A state-appointed guardian for every child? No thanks.

Scotland's 'named person' legislation means constant intrusion into family life.

In Scotland, we have a new law that means every child from birth (in fact, before birth) will be given a state-appointed guardian – a ‘named person’ - to oversee his or her interests – in particular to oversee their ‘wellbeing’ and to ensure they are ‘safe’.

What is interesting about this new legislation is the extent to which the role of the parent is being confused with state employees – health visitors, then nursery staff, then senior teachers – who are taking on a much more substantial ‘caring’ role regarding children.

Indeed, the process of this legislation coming into being is telling in itself. The Children and Young People Act, for example, had over 50 mentions of ‘corporate parents’ but only one mention of ‘family’ or ‘families’. Elsewhere, we have found that research being carried out in schools to assist the development of the ‘named person’ system has not adopted the usual research benchmark of asking parents for ‘active consent’ before their children fill out surveys. Consequently, many parents have had no idea that this research is taking place – with their children being asked a range of intrusive questions about their lives and relationships with their parents. Again, it is telling that some of these surveys have asked children outrageous questions and appear to have little or no regard for the appropriateness of what they are doing. So for example, one survey aimed at 12-year-olds asked: ‘Have you ever had anal sex?’

Similarly, a concern has recently been raised by an Aberdeen parent about her 13-year-old daughter being called for an interview with a nurse where she was quizzed about the nature of the relationship with her mother and father. It is yet to be made clear if this was a one-off interview, but I have been informed that every child of this age group will be interviewed in this way. If this is true, it is possible that this initiative could begin to become a significant problem for the SNP government, as this universal ‘service’ begins to hit middle-class parents who are perhaps more likely to find this type of state scrutiny – something that poorer sections of society are, unfortunately, more accustomed to - unacceptable.

The key problem with the ‘named person’ initiative is that it encourages the named individual to have a legal responsibility for the ‘wellbeing’ of children. Previously an investigation into a child and a family’s life would be initiated only if it was felt that a child was at ‘significant risk of harm’. Now ‘concerns’ about ‘wellbeing’ have become a broader and more subjective basis for investigation and sharing of information (including medical information) about a child. Wellbeing itself is, in a typically procedural way, broken down into eight different categories, covering whether a child is Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Nurtured, Active, Respected, Responsible and Included. These categories themselves come with a plethora of explanations about what to look out for. So now, everything from how respected a child is by their carers to how much responsibility they are given by them becomes a concern of professionals.

How this will all pan out in practice is unclear, but if the early signs are anything to go by, the ‘named person’ initiative is particularly intrusive and irresponsible, even by the standards of the intrusive, clumsy, bureaucratic modern state in the UK. It would be far better to scrap the whole thing and give parents and caregivers the autonomy they deserve to raise children.

Stuart Waiton is a sociology and criminology lecturer at Abertay University and a supporter of NO2NP.



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