The Named Person policy is an important part of trying to ensure that when things are not going well for children, something is done about it. The policy was passed into law unopposed in 2014 and was again backed by a cross-party vote in the Scottish Parliament in June 2016.
Parents and carers are, with very few exceptions, the best people to raise their children. The Named Person policy ensures that parents have a single point-of-contact if they need it – someone they can go to if they are worried about their child in any way and need advice, information, help or support – and it’s aimed at protecting children’s well-being. A Named Person will be a known point of contact in local services – normally a health visitor for pre-school children and a head, deputy-head or guidance teacher for school-children.
It is not always possible, however hard we might try, to predict in advance which children might become vulnerable. The Named Person policy is an important part of trying to ensure that when things are not going well for children, something is done about it.
Most children and young people will never need to draw on this resource as the majority get all the support they need from their parents and carers, and wider networks. Parents are entitled to advice from a Named Person but they are under no obligation to follow that advice, and a Named Person isn’t there to monitor family life. It is in no way an attempt to take over any aspect of the role of the child’s parent or carer and nothing in the legislation changes parental rights and responsibilities.
A Named Person service already exists in many councils, including Highland, Fife, Dundee and South Ayrshire. The new scheme simply extends this good practice consistently across Scotland so that all children, young people and their families can benefit from the same support.
The UK Supreme Court stated in July 2016 that the aim of the legislation, in promoting and safeguarding the wellbeing of children and young people, is “unquestionably legitimate and benign” and does not breach either human rights or EU law. The legislation was previously upheld by the Court of Session, the highest court in Scotland, which said the policy had “no effect whatsoever on the legal, moral or social relationships within the family”.
The UK Supreme Court ruling on the scheme required the Scottish Government to make clearer the basis on which health visitors, teachers and other professionals supporting families will share and receive information in their named person role.
Following this ruling, the Cabinet Secretary for Education John Swinney undertook a three-month period of intense engagement with 250 organisations and groups, including around 700 young people.
The Scottish Government brought forward a Bill including new guidance on when and how information can be shared by and with the Named Person service, to address the Supreme Court’s judgment.
The Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee have voted – by majority – to extend the period of Stage 1 scrutiny to provide them with the opportunity to scrutinise a draft Code of Practice alongside the Bill. However, a number of children’s organisations have called for the Committee to approve the Bill to allow time for the Scottish Government to demonstrate its commitment to making improvements to it, and the proposed Code of Practice.
The Scottish Government will now establish an independent panel to lead the development of a Code of Practice, statutory guidance and other support materials for people working with children and families, ensuring the Scottish Government’s named person service is workable.
The SNP remain absolutely committed to the Named Person service as a way to support children and their families.