Legal guardians

6th February 2015 at 00:00

My friend's teenage daughter recently developed an eating disorder. When it began affecting her daughter's experience of school, she decided to tell the girl's guidance teacher so they could offer support. Thousands of girls and boys in Scotland have anorexia so this is not an unusual story. But it highlights how teachers can act in loco parentis, and do it well.

Denounced by some as an "invasion of family life" - and subject to a legal challenge that was rejected by the Court of Session last month - the Scottish government's introduction of the "named person" role will enshrine in law something that is simply part of their job for most teachers.

Under the proposals, named guardians such as teachers or social workers will be appointed for every child. In a small minority of cases, being a "named person" will equip individuals to spot warning signs early, know the right action to take and decide who to refer the child's case to. The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, meanwhile, provides safeguards for children and parents over the sharing of personal information.

Media coverage of the Jay review of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham highlighted many agencies' shortcomings. But the role of front-line workers such as teachers received far less attention. Jay found that teachers sounded the alarm a number of times but were not listened to.

Teachers work every day with vulnerable young people. We need to value their crucial role in identifying these children and addressing issues such as sexual exploitation.

In my recent review of the Scottish child protection system, Safeguarding Scotland's Vulnerable Children From Child Abuse (bit.lyBrockReport), I welcomed policies such as "Getting it right for every child" to improve safeguarding. But I also called for a greater emphasis on the training and development of those expected to undertake the named person role - and teachers are a key group. How confident are they, for example, about handling risk if they suspect sexual exploitation? How clear are they about their school's information-sharing procedures and accessing support from other services?

A range of agencies are involved in providing training. But we need an approach coordinated between national agencies such as Education Scotland and WithScotland, 32 child protection committees and health and social care partnerships, to develop the named person role. A number of schools work very effectively with partners to support vulnerable children. We can build on that to increase capacity across all schools, especially secondaries.

Being a named person reflects a key part of teachers' existing role, capturing in law what they already do well. But it also offers an opportunity to maximise their skills for the security and well-being of the young people they look after.

Jackie Brock is chief executive of Children in Scotland

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