I wonder how many of our politicians have sat with families of children and young people with additional support needs and heard their tales of fighting through a morass to try to get access to services as their situation worsens and their energy is sapped?
Scottish politicians have done a poor job of explaining the Named Person policy, and their clumsy and ill-informed descriptions, and their language, have fed fears and given its opponents fuel to intensify criticisms. This was compounded during the recent election by posturing for political gain. We need all our politicians in Scotland to rediscover the shared commitment to our children and young people that has existed in Parliament before.
Highland Children’s Forum describes the consultees in their research as seeking a single point of contact, or “someone a family could go to where they did not have to retell their story from the beginning; someone who saw their child as a person with a family living in a community”.
Under the old system, carers were often passed from pillar to post as services sought to protect budgets by suggesting that it was a matter for another department or service. The desire to change this evolved into the Named Person policy. Having a named person means that when families seek help, they go to one person, tell their story once and the Named Person has the duty to identify the most appropriate person to address the families’ queries or needs.
I have taken testimony from folk who were driven to the edge of mental health crisis and perhaps beyond by having to chase support and to have to constantly repeat their tale. That has to stop.
There are thousands of families across Scotland who have concerns about their children and young people, who are worried that they may have additional support needs and, as carers, they need a simple system with a single point of contact that reduces the risk of their wasting precious time and energy that should be spent on their child or young person, or on their own needs.
The Named Person policy forms part of the Getting It Right For Every Child (Girfec) framework, developed over the past decade and enshrined in law in the Children and Young People Act (Scotland) 2014. When forming the legislation, key issues had to be codified so that services could not avoid implementation.
The power of the named person to seek and appropriately share information is given to allow them to progress the help required for the child while at the same time reducing the impact on the family. It is there to allow the named person to take a single statement and then share that with other professionals in a common format, removing the bureaucratic need for families to constantly repeat their story. It also places a responsibility on professionals to be accurate, proportionate and appropriate in their reporting.
Named persons are not an additional layer of bureaucracy – they already exist in the form of health visitors and headteachers. But we need more health visitors and additional capacity in the management time of headteachers. There are practicalities to be resolved around how access is maintained to a named person in the school years during the long summer break. But these are not insurmountable if we truly put children and young people at the centre of our search for viable solutions.
Linking Named Person to the recent Liam Fee case in Fife is wrong. There are families whose failure results in harm to children and young people. The children and young people in those families are entitled to society’s protection. That need existed before the Named Person policy – it is child protection. The case review will have to determine how childprotection services failed Liam.
The named person is a point of contact to be approached by families and/or young people. It is not about poking into families’ business and denying them the right to set family frameworks. It could be argued that the recent history of child deaths at the hands of parents proves that there are not enough staff to adequately discharge serious child-protection work. It follows, therefore, that there aren’t enough staff to create an intrusive surveillance system of ordinary families.
This fallacy appears to have been promoted by those opponents who see a civil-liberties dimension to the proposal. When I discussed the Named Person policy with families, and explained that some people may object to the proposal on civil liberty grounds, one parent asked me if it was not their civil liberty to get a night’s sleep – since, without help, they were up all night, every night, attending to their child.
Many of those vociferously opposed to the concept of the named person seem to be linked to organisations for families who want to home educate their children. There is nothing in the Named Person policy that interferes with the current right of a family to do that. By campaigning against the Named Person plans, they risk denying families with children and young people who have additional support needs a simpler way of accessing services. Many home educators will say that they have gone down that route only because they could not obtain the services that they needed for their child.
Without a single point of contact, carers face being passed around from service to service, as has happened so often in the past. Scotland has an opportunity, by introducing a simpler system, to address the longstanding wrong of adding extra burdens to the families of children with additional needs.
However, the Named Person policy has to be properly staffed with people who have the correct attributes, attitudes and training, and who have access to adequate resources to address needs when they are identified.
The Named Person policy will only bring real benefit if Scottish politicians from all parties are made to live up to their rhetoric about seeking all that is best for Scotland’s families – and agree to properly fund services for all our children, young people and carers.
Calum Munro MBE was formerly policy lead to the Highland Children’s Forum, 2004-14