Thursday, 23 April 2015

Nicola Sturgeon questioned about Named Person

Ruth Davidson asks a question about the Named Person scheme at about 16 minutes which is defended by Nicola Sturgeon. It is a pity she was not asked a more penetrating question.

Having a rant about vulnerable children is always an easy way to dismiss the opposition.

According to Eric Stoddart in Surveillance and the wellbeing of children and Young people in Scotland, if important concerns about the Named Person are to be addressed, a more nuanced understanding of surveillance is required:

"This paper focuses on the Named Person and the paucity of debate in the parliament around the surveillance dimensions of this role. Politicians—and it seems advocates of the Bill within the social services—conceive of surveillance solely in terms of ‘Big Brother’ and reject this as a caricature of themselves. In the absence of nuanced understanding of surveillance, the surveillance aspects are summarily dismissed."

"The roots of attending to wellbeing, not only welfare, are found in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) 1989. In Scotland, this vision unfolded in a policy of ‘Getting It Right For Every Child’ (GIRFEC) that was piloted in Highland Council with the intention of eventually embedding it in nation-wide practice and legislation. Integral to GIRFEC is a model of wellbeing (encompassing eight distinct, but inter-related, indicators), the ‘my world triangle’ and the ‘resilience matrix’."

"Wellbeing is understood as being safe, being healthy, achieving, being nurtured, being active, being respected, being responsible and being included. The initial letters of the indicators form the acronym SHANARRI. The significant shift in policy is to place an important emphasis on wellbeing, rather than only upon welfare. As part of this development, wellbeing is, for the first time, given a statutory definition (SHANARRI)—part 13 of the Bill...

The controversy around the Named Person service has lain not in its role in the welfare of particular children at risk but in the Named Person’s place within a system that watches out for all children’s wellbeing. Government ministers—and indeed other supportive politicians and lobbyists—studiously avoid the word ‘surveillance’ but, as we will see, prefer terms such as ‘the bigger picture’ or ‘pieces of the jigsaw’; all such references are located within a discourse of responsible care. ..."

"Whilst supporters of the Named Person talked about early intervention not being the same as early compulsion (SP OR EC 3 September 2013, col. 2701) and the Minister emphasised a light touch regime (SP OR EC 8 October 2013, col. 2945), some did not help to assuage parental anxieties over intrusion into family life with statements such as that of Alex Cole-Hamilton (Aberlour Child Care Trust), ‘if a child presents and their indicators in the SHANARRI triangle are not being met, we need to act’ (SP OR EC 10 September 2013, col. 2726). It is unlikely that critics of the Named Person concept would have found much to quell their concerns when the government’s official GIRFEC magazine carried an article in its August 2013 issue entitled ‘Parents as Partners in GIRFEC’ (Woolnough 2013)."

" In a magazine clearly aimed at the community, rather than welfare or educational professionals, such a title could be misconstrued to present GIRFEC looming over parents. Parenting, so this article’s title could imply, is to be subject to GIRFEC. Enlisting parents to GIRFEC subtly shifts the balance of power towards the system at the expense of families. (It is important to remember that GIRFEC is about wellbeing, not only the welfare of children. Evaluating parenting in terms of the welfare of children is supported universally; testing against wellbeing is potentially much more contentious.)"

"The only MSP who acknowledged surveillance language was Fiona McLeod (SNP) who seemed genuinely shocked that any credible concerns could draw on this discourse. Speaking in the final debate after which the Bill was passed McLeod observed: "

Some of the emails I have received have bordered on the offensive. Indeed, some of them talked about ‘state surveillance’, ‘1930s Nazi Germany’, and ‘Big Brother’. I have to wonder whether some of those emails have been orchestrated. (SP OR 19 February 2014, col. 27793)
"The politics of wellbeing are discussed in the Scottish Parliament with a weak understanding of surveillance, resulting in the too-ready dismissal of concerns. The Parliament’s failure to interrogate SHANARRI meant that this discourse was placed beyond criticism. Whilst SHANARRI will find considerable, and warranted, support it should not be considered apolitical and incontrovertible. SHANARRI expresses a particular vision of wellbeing. If this is not acknowledged then Statutory Guidance on the thresholds of wellbeing (as distinct from welfare) will not adequately respect the legitimate range of interpretations of concepts. "

"As Lynne Wrennall has observed, the notion of a child being ‘at risk’ is far from a stable category. Whereas for some it might more precisely raise a flag of concern about abuse or neglect the ‘risk’ could rather too-readily be ‘redefined to mean, a child at risk of not meeting the government’s objectives for children’ (Wrennall 2010). In order to avoid the unwanted attentions of the Named Person service such families (with nothing to hide except their non-exact coherence to SHANARRI), will have to comply or find themselves ‘dangerised’. The extent to which a family has the social/cultural capital to negotiate between the expectations of the Named Person service and their own, perhaps but not necessarily, idiosyncratic approach to parenting is worthy of future discussion."
"The issue of thresholds of wellbeing are hugely significant for the intervention by a Named Person who perceives a cluster of jigsaw pieces to be forming a picture of harm to a child or young person’s wellbeing. This raises questions over what information a Named Person will need to collect about each young person. In other words, what isolated jigsaw pieces, that are of no consequence in themselves, will be required to be recorded lest—at some time in the future—a picture of harm were to emerge?"

nature of the information was scarcely discussed during the consideration of the Bill. The focus was upon the appropriate sharing of what had already been authorised for collection. Furthermore, it remains unclear how information is to be retained. Where is the box of accumulating jigsaw pieces to be kept so that it can be passed to successive Named Persons? The impression conveyed by supporters of the Named Person service is that, generally, four figures are in play, consecutively the midwife, health visitor, primary school Named Person then secondary school Named Person. But, as everyone knows, staff move, become ill, retire and resign. If the Named Person service is to function (with its individually insignificant jigsaw pieces) then how these are retained to be passed to the next Named Person is a significant issue. In a school with a high turnover of senior staff this could be a quite frequent scenario. The proposal for the development of Statutory Guidance (as at April 2014) makes it clear that ‘information will not automatically follow the child’ but will be subject to a number of tests:"

"that it is likely to be relevant; that it ought to be shared; that the holder of the information has, where practicable, elicited the views of the child; and that the sharing will not produce a greater adverse effect on the child’s wellbeing than not sharing."

(Scottish Government 2014: para. 32)

"It is all well and good to have rhetoric that asserts the safety and wellbeing of Scotland’s children and young people to be of paramount importance—but such loose talk is problematic. As a primary consideration it would warrant enthusiastic support but not trumping all other rights. This might not be the intention of the Scottish government or welfare service professionals but precision is vital. The Parliament’s attenuated understanding of surveillance, conceiving of it solely in ‘Big Brother’ terms has led legislators to easily dismiss important concerns over the Named Person service."

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