I wrote here back in February about the proposed new ‘named person service’ for children in Scotland. To recap, under the service, every child in Scotland under the age of 18 will have a specific ‘named person’ from the NHS or local authority appointed to look after their well-being. The functions of the ‘named person’ are to:
(1) Advise, inform or support the child or young person, or a parent of the child or young person,
(2) Help the child or young person, or a parent of the child or young person, to access a service or support, or
(3) Discuss, or raise, a matter about the child or young person with a service provider or relevant authority.
As I said in February, the scheme has stirred up a controversy between its supporters and its opponents. For what it’s worth, I felt that I would not be happy to see something similar on this side of the border.
Now those opponents have launched a legal challenge in the Scottish Court of Session, aimed at blocking the plan. The action has been brought by No To Named Persons, a campaign group opposed to the scheme.
The group have four main arguments against the scheme:
(1) That it undermines parents and permits the state unlimited access to pry into the privacy of families in their homes;
(2) That it wastes limited resources on a ‘bloated bureaucracy’, siphoning public money away from the protection of vulnerable children;
(3) That it allows the use of intrusive powers to interfere in family life, by scrapping the requirement to justify such intervention; and
(4) That it ‘blatantly breaches’ European Convention rights to privacy and family life.
The Scottish Government, on the other hand, has said that the scheme was supported by a “large majority” of respondents to a public consultation and a wide range of children’s charities and professionals “working daily to support families across the country”.
I have given the scheme further consideration, and my view has not changed. We all of course want to protect children, but my feeling is that this is a step too far.
Whilst I’m sure that most named persons will exercise their duties in a proper fashion, only becoming involved when required, there will inevitably be some who take a far more pro-active approach, interfering whenever something happens in a child’s life of which they disapprove.
We all hear stories of parents resenting the interference of social workers, feeling that they are under the threat of having their children removed from them if they do anything wrong. Having an interfering named person could have the same effect.
Which brings me to point three of the campaign’s argument. As things stand at present (the scheme is not due to come into effect until 2016), and as things stand south of the border, the authorities cannot interfere in family life without justification. The scheme does seem to do away with that protection for families, enabling the state to intervene on a whim.
Ultimately, though, I agree with the argument of human rights lawyer Aidan O’Neill QC. The primary responsibility to bring up children lies with their parents, not with the state. Whilst on the face of it the scheme seems to acknowledge that, the reality is that at best it erodes the position of the parents and at worst it reverses the roles of parents and state.