Gina Davidson: Welcome John - Now scrap this named person farce

IF there was one subject which was raised time and again during the Holyrood election campaign it was the SNP's plan to introduce a 'named person' for every child in Scotland as of August.

Thursday, 26th May 2016, 11:03 am
Updated Thursday, 26th May 2016, 12:07 pm
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Toxic became the word most used to describe this plan and every attempt at answering vital questions was so cack-handed that it further undermined parental faith in the whole idea. Nicola Sturgeon indicated it wouldn’t be compulsory – which is not the case. Humza Yousaf on BBC Question Time declared that a named person would only give advice when a parent asks for it – again not what is written in the legislation.

And now this sorry saga falls to John Swinney, the new Education Secretary. He must be thrilled.


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Just to recap, the named person, or “head gardener” as the government has described the role, will be a de facto state guardian, the supervisor of the other gardeners (parents) in a child’s life as it buds then blooms into adulthood. This is for every child, not just those children considered vulnerable or at risk and already known to social services.

Unsurprisingly many thousands of parents are furious at the idea that a person appointed by the government could ultimately have greater authority over their child than they do; can have access to any private medical or legal documents regarding the family without their knowledge; can intervene in family life when they see fit and keep dossiers on what goes on. There’s anger, too, that any parental resistance to having a named person can be deemed a “risk factor”.

Unsurprisingly health visitors and headteachers are furious about the extra legal responsibility which will be heaped upon them and the ad-hoc way it will work especially during school holidays. Midwives, too, will also be “named persons” during pregnancy, planning and ensuring women follow “the correct pathway of care”. Whatever that may mean.

The arguments for named person are this: not every parent is a good parent; that no-one wants a repeat of tragedies such as the deaths of Baby P or Mikaeel Kular; that parents asked for this scheme.

The first point is true. But the vast majority of parents are doing the best they can with the resources they have – and it’s the amount of the latter which might at times impact on the “wellbeing” of children (defined by the government as happiness, though there’s no definition of how that is measured and whether letting your child watch a particular TV show – or not – might count).

It’s also true that no-one wants to read of another terrible case where a child has died at the hands of their parents while society does little but wring its hands and look for scapegoats. But this legislation would have done nothing to stop these past tragedies – the families and their problems in these cases are always already known to the authorities, information was already being shared.

And yes, some parents of children with issues ranging from health problems to special educational needs have indeed asked for a single point of contact when they need help, but the legislation makes the case for a lead professional in such cases. The named person isn’t really needed here either.

Of course everyone wants vulnerable kids to get all the support they need from education, health and social services. You might think that investing money in these areas might help – especially in child and adolescent mental health, for instance, where waiting lists are rising at a rate of noughts – rather than creating a universal state guardian whose role starts from the very wrong idea that all kids are at risk. It surely removes the focus on those who really are.

The Scottish Government should perhaps look at the research done by the University of Central Lancashire out yesterday which showed that staff were wasting time on innocent families and possibly putting vulnerable children at risk by over-reporting to social services. One in five of all children born in 2009-10 in England were reported – that’s 150,000 – but only 25 per cent were formally investigated and of them only ten per cent led to protection plans.

The named person legislation will undoubtedly lead down the same path.

It’s in John Swinney’s court now. He needs to either revise this bad legislation which fails to recognise the significance of parents’ relationships with their kids or just let it quietly die off. But he needs to do something quickly.

Eviction U-turn is like a cup win

GREAT news for Leith this week – and I’m not talking about Hibs winning the Scottish Cup, though despite being a Hearts fan I’m delighted for them (especially my long-suffering eldest sister who’s spent her life working for the club).

No, the really good news is that the Agnes Hunter Trust has told the tenants of its flats that there will be no evictions.

Earlier this year the charitable trust had said it would sell the 120 flats in Lorne Street to bolster its funds. It caused an outcry and a major campaign by the families living there, who would like to see their homes transferred to a housing association.

So far that hasn’t happened, but the Trust has said it’s open to the idea and in the meantime there will be no evictions. Agnes would be pleased.

Your tee’s oot

APPARENTLY the few old buffers at Muirfield golf club who prevented the admission of women members in a vote last week did it “to prove a point”. I think they certainly managed that. Just maybe not the one they wanted.

Rough ride for rural bus links

I KNOW what it’s like to be dependent on the vagaries of First bus services – though those living in East Lothian have it slightly easier given that they do also have a Lothian Buses service.

However, the news that First is to pull out of the region and shut down depots in Musselburgh and North Berwick is terrible for those about to lose their jobs and also for those who are dependent on the service.

It underlines how difficult it is to run a profitable service in rural areas – and why public subsidies are important to keep vital transport links going.