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All Scottish Parents on Probation
May 21, 2014 permalink
The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 was passed by parliament on February 19, 2014 and received royal assent on March 27. Every child in Scotland will be assigned a named person at birth. A comment by a scholar is enclosed. Last year Christopher Booker commented on the proposal.
Within a few years of implementing this regime there will be child deaths following inaction by the named person. Public outrage nurtured by social services may result in prosecutions for negligence. Or, if unions protect them, policy and legislation could be altered to provide more powers and immunities for the named person. Either way, he will be taking responsibility for the welfare of the child, a responsibility that can only be exercised by visiting the family home, interviewing the child and investigating the child's contacts in education, religion, medicine and recreation. For parents, the named person will serve the same role that a probation officer serves for convicted criminals.
‘Named persons’: child protection at its most dystopian
About 10 years ago, I decided to write a dystopian novel about a future where the idea of privacy had completely collapsed; where each child born was given a live-in ‘support worker’ who helped the parent manage while ensuring the child was safe from the parent’s problematic behaviour. The very ideas of private intimacy and personal responsibility no longer existed in this futuristic dystopia; safety had become society’s only guiding principle, and all relationships were now mediated through a state-paid professional.
Of course, the book was never written, and now, following the passing of the new Children and Young People (Scotland) Act, it has become almost obsolete. It is no longer a futuristic fantasy that every child will have their own ‘support worker’ assigned at birth. It is soon to become a reality.
The new act will mean that, from birth, each child in Scotland will have a specific state-appointed professional, a ‘named person’, to oversee their interests, and, in particular, to oversee their safety. Initially, this named person is likely to be a health visitor or midwife, the role later being taken over by school teachers who will have the ‘duty’ and responsibility to act as the child’s guardian. The regulation of data-sharing between professionals is also to be loosened, giving the guardians new legal authority to access data from the police, local councils, NHS files and even, potentially, information accessed from Young Scot leisure cards.
The children’s minister, Aileen Campbell, has been dismissive of those people who have criticised the act as state snooping, or, as many Christian groups have put it, an ‘attack on the family’. For Campbell, the new powers and duties being given to the state guardians are simply another service to help families in trouble and further ensure that children are protected in society. Indeed, Aileen Campbell at times appears to be nonplussed by her critics, incapable of seeing why her caring approach is not instantly celebrated. The claims of state snoops undermining the family, she argues, are simply ‘misunderstandings’ and ‘misrepresentations’ of the new law. When someone raised the point that this act undermined the role of parents in child-rearing, Campbell, somewhat comically, replied, ‘we recognise that parents also have a role’.
However, given the increasing ways in which all children are being categorised as ‘vulnerable’, the way in which all professionals are being educated to put child safety at the top of their agenda, and at time in which ‘early intervention’ is promoted as the only rational approach to solving social problems, there is a serious risk that the relationship between the ‘named person’ and parents will become one predicated on suspicion. Given that the red line for when it is appropriate to intervene in a child’s life is also being downgraded, from the child being seen as at serious risk of harm to mere concerns about their ‘wellbeing’, the potential for unnecessary and potentially destructive state intrusion into family life with this law is significant.
The Scottish government appears to be blind to the potential this new act has for transforming the relationship between parents and the state, and for degrading the very meaning of privacy. Likewise, the potential this approach has for sullying relationships between teachers (who will make up the majority of named persons) and parents is ignored. There is also a great danger here that by incorporating every single child in the child-safety rubric, the few children who need state intervention in their lives will get lost in this vast system and not get the support they need. As one concerned parent has noted, when you are looking for a needle in a haystack, why make the haystack bigger?
Stuart Waiton is a sociology and criminology lecturer at Abertay University in Dundee. He is organising the No To Named Persons Conference in Edinburgh on Monday 9 June. For more information, and to reserve your place, click here.
Lenore Skenazy comments.
Every Child in Scotland to Be Supervised by State-Appointed Busybody
Imagine the very worst home a child could grow up in: No food in the fridge, parents strung out on drugs, the children covered with scabs and beaten regularly. You would want someone to step in and save the kids.
And then there's Scotland.
Scotland wants to treat all families as potentially abusive and appoint a "named person" (that is, a guardian) as soon as the child is born and up through age 18 to oversee the parenting. This "shadow parent" would be empowered by the government under the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act, which will take effect in 2016.
It is based on the idea that a person who has been named by the state, touched on the shoulder, has a superior authority and insight to others. Those who have been ‘named’ are seen as better qualified to ‘safeguard’ the wellbeing of a whole nation’s children. Therefore, concern for children’s wellbeing becomes a state-appointed position.
...This is a new kind of parenting-by-surveillance.
The day-to-day role of a named person is to follow ‘reports’ about a child, to keep an eye on their files. They will have rights to see private medical reports, and to request information about that child from other agencies (there is a legal ‘duty to help named person’).... The other aspect of a named person’s role is to propose ‘interventions’. They will have a role in drawing up a ‘child’s plan’ if a child is found to have a ‘wellbeing need’: this plan will outline the ‘targeted intervention which requires to be provided… in relation to the child’.
Therefore, in substance, the role of the named person is not actually to supplant the family, to state-raise children, but rather to insert a surveying, coercive authority – a spy – in the midst of every family.
This idea grows out of the conviction that Free-Range Kids (my book, blog, and movement), exists to extinguish: That all children are in danger at all times, and hence need constant oversight. Sometimes it's the police arresting a dad for letting his kids play outside, sometimes it's the police arresting a mom for letting her children walk to the pizza shop, and sometimes it's even the local library reporting a mom who let her kids, 12 and 15, walk home without coats on a night the authorities deemed too cold.
True danger lies in the notion that the state should decide if you are parenting your kids correctly. The care of your own children is not up to you.
For more stories like this one, check out Lenore Skenazy's Free-Range Kids blog.