ON Tuesday the Scottish Government did a very good thing. It listened to the concerns of young people in care and made their lives, and the lives of those younger than them and even those yet to be born, much better.
Before Christmas a group of care leavers working with the Who Cares Scotland Trust spoke to MSPs dealing with the new Children and Young People’s Bill and convinced them of the need to amend it to ensure that those children who spend their lives in care can do so until they reach the age of 21.
At the moment most young people have to leave the care system at the age of 16 or 18, and as a result many face bleak futures because of inconsistent aftercare which can result in homelessness, unemployment, mental health issues, even time in prison.
By changing the system to ensure they are cared for until 21, these young people will in future be able to make their way in the world with a safe and secure environment at their backs – in the same way as their contemporaries who were lucky enough to be born into and brought up in stable families and who never need the help of social services.
It was a truly excellent decision, and one which throws the work of MSPs into a rosy light – they can and do listen, they can and do make positive changes.
Yet, at the same time these MSPs are refusing to look again at a part of this bill which introduces one of the most stultifying, regressive, nanny-state pieces of law imaginable.
The introduction of a “named person” means that every child in Scotland will have a state guardian; a person chosen by the government to look after the welfare of that child – never mind whether their families are a social work or police concern or not.
The idea has come about as a way of making sure that all those agencies involved in children’s lives – but mostly health and education – can act appropriately and quickly should there ever be concerns about a child’s welfare, in a bid to try and ensure that no-one can fall through the safety net.
It is, of course, understandable that the agencies who work with children don’t want to be caught out should something ever happen to a child which is later deemed preventable. But, and admittedly this is a generalisation, the terrible, tragic cases of abuse, neglect even death that we read about involve families already known to the organisations supposed to help these children.
Furthermore those children who are in need of extra support because of physical or mental health issues are, again, already known to educational and social work agencies and therefore should already be receiving the support required.
Why families who are just getting on, bringing up their children without the need of additional support, will now have someone appointed to their kids to ensure their welfare, someone who will have access to families’ medical records – even police ones if applicable – which goes against the Data Protection Act, someone who can quite possibly over-rule their own beliefs and desires if they don’t fit with a wellbeing tick box list supplied by the government. For instance for children to the age of five, the “named person” is likely to be a health visitor, so what happens if parents want to bottle feed their baby rather than breast feed as health visitors demand? Will that go down as a black mark against them?
Similarly if a family doesn’t want to vaccinate their child, but the health visitor does, who gets to call the shots?
And if the named person appointed is a headteacher and a family has opposing views about how a case of bullying has been handled by that teacher or has even just had a heated discussion about homework, does that raise the likelihood of the named person flagging up problems just because they can?
Certainly the Bill seems to be vague about the powers named persons will have. Could they, for instance, arrive unannounced at the family home for an inspection? And what rights do parents have to shut the door in their face?
There are good things in this Children’s Bill, like the care to 21 years, like stronger integration of services for vulnerable children and generally putting children’s wellbeing at the heart of society, but making every family, every parent feel as though someone’s watching their every move is a plan for future antagonism. It pits parents against state, families against government.
Only those working in child protection – from social workers to charities – and MSPs, aside the Tories, seem to be for it. Check any parenting network chatroom and the vast majority are appalled at the plan. A survey by the Scottish Parent Teacher Council found that 74 per cent of parents were deeply unhappy with the plans.
Perhaps, as it seems this will happen by 2015, we parents just have to hope that the usual ineffectualness of such schemes will mean that there’s little chance a named person will ever interfere in family lives.
Thank you to our caring readers
ALL those readers who read about and responded to our Christmas appeal to raise money – as well as awareness – for Edinburgh’s Women Aid (EWA), the organisation which helps women and their children fleeing domestic abuse, should feel very proud. The brief campaign we ran, highlighting the work of EWA, raised just over £2000 for the charity which will make a big difference to what it can offer to the women and children in refuge.
Furthermore 25 children and young people were given a Christmas to remember with tickets to pantomimes. Thank you all.