Muddled and dangerous - assigning a state person to every child in Scotland

The Scottish parliament is on its way to passing a law that would assign a state 'named person' to every child in Scotland until the age of 18. Not only is this an unacceptable intrusion on liberty but it could actually harm the state's ability to track genuinely at risk children like Mikaeel Kumar.

Mel Kelly
27 January 2014

Alex Salmond. Image: Flickr/Ewan McIntosh

Reports claim the family of 3 year old Mikaeel Kular had moved from Fife to Edinburgh, but no files had been transferred between the relevant social work departments. Edinburgh social workers had no knowledge of the family prior to Mikaeel’s death - allegedly at the hands of his mother. What is the Scottish government doing to ensure life and death mistakes like this will not be made again?

In 2012, the SNP government undertook a consultation on their proposed Children and Young Person Bill which set out a range of ambitious proposals for children’s rights and services. This far-reaching bill passed its first reading in November 2013 and will cover children’s rights, adoption, nursery provision, child protection, child detention and a clear definition of “Corporate Parenting”. Will it address the failings in the current child protection system which failed to stop the death of 3 year old Mikaeel Kular?

The Scottish Faculty for advocates warns the Bill has some “potentially insidious aspects”. A petition has been set up warning that this Scottish parliament bill “seeks to establish a universal surveillance system in respect of every child and associated adult in Scotland

Rather than focusing on fixing a system that is failing so many children identified as at risk, the Scottish government has decided to place every child in Scotland on a register from birth until the age of 18 – effectively monitoring every single parent and child in Scotland. All parents in Scotland, under this bill, will be monitored by the state and have files kept on them for what could be 24 years or more – with no right of appeal. Convicted paedophiles will have more freedom and protection in law from state intervention in Scotland if this law is passed; they can be free of state monitoring after 6 years or less. 

Part 4, section 9 of the bill, “Provision of Named Persons”, will assign to every child in Scotland a state “named person” from birth until the age of 18.  If this bill becomes law, every Health Board must appoint a “named person” to every child at birth and the health board is responsible for keeping records, not only on every child but on their parents too, who will be assessed against the new National Risk Framework. This can be used by “any practitioner in any circumstances where agencies are exploring a child’s needs”. Section 23 of the bill, “Communication in relation to movement of children and young people” also ensures that if any family in Scotland moves home, their local health board/authority current “named person” must pass on all the information held on each adult and child to the “named person” in the area you move to.

The Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society of Scotland, as well as other organisations including the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, all warned MSPs before the first vote in parliament that the universal provision of a named person clearly undermines the role of some parents, families and communities, and instead places professionals in the frontline when it comes to responsibility for the child.

Scottish Conservative MSP Liz Smith thinks these “state guardianship plans  will actually place the most vulnerable children at risk”. They shift the focus and resources away from children deemed to be at risk, sharing them instead between every child in Scotland at significant cost.

The Faculty of Advocates have stated government plans to provide every child across the country with a ‘named person’ “undermines family autonomy” and “could fail to comply with European law” because “It proposes an assumption by the state of functions that have historically in Scotland been the responsibility of parents”. The state will now presume every child is at risk from birth. Senior lawyers in Scotland also warn the “named person” law, makes “indiscriminate provision for possible interference in the lives of all children, rather than providing for focused intervention when the need arises, the Bill risks enshrining a structure that has potential to be used to undermine families”.

Despite all these warnings, from the best legal minds in Scotland, not one Scottish MSP voted against this bill at the first reading in November, with the bill passing this stage by 104 votes to nil – with 14 abstentions.

This bill is proposed by the same SNP government who admitted in parliament last week that another Bill they are trying to push through the Scottish Parliament, their Criminal Justice Bill, is actually flawed but Alex Salmond and his Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, actually asked that MSPs vote for it any way and not to worry – just “trust” them to fix it later. The Bill would remove the long standing legal requirement of ‘corroboration’– evidence from more than one source – in criminal trials.

Any government perceived to have a track record of introducing shoddy law, and which tries to persuade MSPs to vote through legislation they know to be flawed, is not a government fit to appoint itself to be the guardian of every child in Scotland and give itself greater rights over those children than their parents. And with an investigation just set up in Northern Ireland to investigate the abuse of children in institutional care by the state and 3rd party providers, this also demonstrates exactly why no state government is fit to be the over-riding guardian of every child in any country. History has proven, time and time again, that an overzealous state, with too much power over families and children, has repeatedly resulted in many children experiencing years of horrendous abuse by state appointed “carers”.

The death of 3 year old Mikaeel Kumar demonstrates that when children are identified as at risk and social work departments are involved it is vital there is a “named person” in every authority area to which at risk children’s files can be passed when families move home. But there is more chance of families like Mikaeel’s slipping through the net if a system is overzealous and overburdened by tracking every child in Scotland – whether they are at risk or not. Not only is this Bill an intrusion on liberty it will likely have the opposite effect to that intended.


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