Named persons: spies in the family home
The Scottish government’s plan to provide every child with a ‘state guardian’ is downright scary.
Those concerned about state surveillance and intervention should direct their sights less to CIA bunkers, than to Edinburgh, and specifically to the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act.
This act – one of the most significant of the past decade – will mean the state appointment of a ‘named person’ for every child, from birth to the age of 18. These have been dubbed ‘state guardians’, which is not a bad description of their role. They are not practicing a particular profession or service, such as education or healthcare, but instead will have a general interest in the ‘wellbeing’ of their allotted child or children, as do parents or guardians. And not just in cases where a child is at risk, but in all cases, for all children.
The scheme – which is due to come into force in August 2016 – has sparked a vigorous opposition under the banner ‘No To Named Person’ (NO2NP), led by individuals such as academic and spiked contributor Stuart Waiton and organisations such as the Christian Institute, the Scottish Parent Teacher Council and the Schoolhouse Home Education Association.
In effect, the state is appointing shadow parents, a competing authority for every family in making decisions about the welfare or wellbeing of children. The scary implications of this are starting to dawn on Scottish families. One mother-of-five commented: ‘the thought of having five named persons for our family horrifies me’. Another said that the scheme made her and her husband feel ‘belittled’ as parents.
Indeed, the views of the named person are privileged over those of the parents and the child. The law says that when drawing up interventions local authorities must ‘consult the named person’, but only ‘so far as is reasonably practicable to ascertain and have regard to the views of (i) the child, (ii) the child’s parents’.
Scottish government guidance suggests that named persons hold a privileged insight into the life of the child in their care. ‘Sometimes children can be in a position of risk or harm without their parents or others being aware until it is too late. The Named Person is the single point of contact for every child so that no one is left without support.’
So who are these people with such incredible powers of perception that they can know something is gravely wrong with a child, even when the child’s parents – who wake them in the morning and put them to bed every night – do not realise themselves?
Unlike other child professionals, the named person’s claim to authority lies not in their training or special abilities, but merely in the fact that they have been named, appointed, by the state. It is merely because they are official that they are seen as more trustworthy than parents or other members of society.
The named person may be a professional – a health visitor or teacher – but the role they are dispatching is not related to this duty. Instead, it is based on the idea that a person who has been named by the state, touched on the shoulder, has a superior authority and insight to others. Those who have been ‘named’ are seen as better qualified to ‘safeguard’ the wellbeing of a whole nation’s children. Therefore, concern for children’s wellbeing becomes a state-appointed position.
This scheme is fundamentally different to previous forms of state intervention in the family. This is not an attempt to actually raise or to socialise children by the state. There are no Hitler-style youth groups, or Spartan-style state nurseries. Instead, this is a new kind of parenting-by-surveillance.
The day-to-day role of a named person is to follow ‘reports’ about a child, to keep an eye on their files. They will have rights to see private medical reports, and to request information about that child from other agencies (there is a legal ‘duty to help named person’). One couple – in an area where the scheme is already up and running – were told by a paediatrician that their named person would be informed if they missed their child’s hospital appointment. The couple were furious: ‘we have not given our consent’.
The other aspect of a named person’s role is to propose ‘interventions’. They will have a role in drawing up a ‘child’s plan’ if a child is found to have a ‘wellbeing need’: this plan will outline the ‘targeted intervention which requires to be provided… in relation to the child’.
Therefore, in substance, the role of the named person is not actually to supplant the family, to state-raise children, but rather to insert a surveying, coercive authority – a spy – in the midst of every family. One thing we can be sure of, as one mother put it, is that ‘no good can come about when someone else is a cooperative parent for your own child’.
In case studies from the areas where the scheme is up and running, named persons appear to work against the interests of children as well parents. In one case, a named person helped to report a young man to the police, for comments he made about his deputy headmistress on a blog. In another, a mother had to flee the Highlands (where the Named Persons Scheme is already operating) because officials were holding secret meetings to determine the fate of her sick teenage son.
NO2NP is planning a judicial review to take on this legislation in the courts. As the Scottish government prepares to recruit the first 500 named persons for this £40million scheme, NO2NP is busily raising funds to pitch against the might of the state machinery whirring into action. They need our support.
Josie Appleton is convenor of the Manifesto Club, which campaigns against the hyperregulation of everyday life. Visit the Manifesto Club website.