Tuesday, 4 August 2015

A question and answer session

Suzanne Kelly, writing in the Aberdeen Voice, a weekly independent online news and information source, has a post about the Named Person scheme. Having placed some questions to the Scottish Government and having waited some weeks for their response, the answers provided to the questions were less than satisfactory.

How do you square this scheme with the opinion of the Law Society, which warns that the move could be illegal under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), which protects a parent’s "private and family life".

"The legislation was recently the subject of a challenge in court, heard in November and December 2014. The challenges to the legislation were rejected in their entirety by the Court. The Court found that Part 4 (Named Persons) of the Act does not contravene the ECHR, EU law or the Data Protection Act (DPA)."

Notice that the government spokesperson does not mention that the court consisted of one judge and no jury and the decision is being appealed. Whoever is dealing with this query might be sticking to the letter of the law, but they are certainly not trying to be helpful with the FOI request. 

Do you intend to compel children to answer questions?

"No. As we have said before, there is no obligation for a parent, child or young person to engage with the Named Person. The legislation brings no new powers for teachers, or any other professionals."

Ah !  This looks a bit dodgier. The point about this is that the Named Person does not have to question the child. According to this new Act, all adults who have contact with the child have a responsibility to look out for his or her wellbeing and if they have a concern, to pass that on to the Named Person. That may be a nursery worker, class teacher, youth worker, a neighbour or somebody volunteering in the brownies - it does not matter. Any one of them can engage in a conversation with the child in order to satisfy themselves that they understand what is `going on` with the child. In other words, regardless of the waffle about consent and proportionality, a child in all innocence could be subjected to an informal assessment without the child or the family realising it.

That information can then be passed on to the Named Person who makes the final decision about whether or not there is a wellbeing concern. If they are unsure, then they might have to request more information. So the Named Person is really the `first point of contact` for all the data on the child. All of that can happen without questioning the child or informing the parents.

In this sense, the answer above to an important and legitimate question is misleading. As for the powers enabled by the Act, these come from the data and the duty of the Named Person to make a decision based on it. Difficult to define, perhaps, because the data comes from all sources but this joined up way of working will overwhelm many families.

The evidence so far indicates that schools will also accommodate more formal assessments, for example, by way of surveys and interviews with community nurses. They are prepared to obtain data in an underhanded manner without giving parents the opportunity for informed consent and make it difficult for parents to gain access to the information that they have obtained about a child. One way they do that is to say that it is the child`s consent that is required, not the parents. The spin about schools working together with families proves to be a load of nonsense.

It should also be remembered that `health and wellbeing` pervades the whole of Curriculum for Excellence which begins at birth and goes on into lifelong learning. It is an ambitious programme.

Suzanne Kelly goes on to say:

If there are no set questions that can be published, then how can a child or a family possibly know what questions and what subjects are covered under this scheme? The absence of set questions leaves this sensitive questioning of a child open-ended, and can be seen as a carte blanche open to abuse.

The child will be embedded in a social fabric that forever questions and assesses it, via Curriculum for Excellence and the wider community and according to the vagaries of certain adults` interpretations of the eight wellbeing indicators. For that reason, there cannot always be set questions and it certainly will be an open-ended scheme ripe for abuse. A private life will be impossible.

Having said that, there are questions to peruse which have been published which reveal how shockingly intrusive the Named Person scheme actually is. Schoolhouse, an organisation for home educators which has long been wary of the Named Person scheme, has a post on its forum outlining the parental capacity to provide wellbeing assessment. 

 Parents are judged on their capacity to care for the wellbeing of their unborn child and the assessment is used to make predictions about their future parenting. The assessment is done slyly by the maternity staff at the first meeting with the pregnant woman.  See HERE

Based on the outcome of the assessment, a man and woman may have an easy transition into parenthood, or they may have to jump through many hoops, or they may have no opportunity to parent at all. Adoptions will rise because there will be more babies to take away at birth. That is one of the planned outcomes of the Named Person scheme.

Suzanne Kelly asks another question:

What forms of records school, medical, police, other would a named person be allowed to look at?

"There are no powers in the Act plans to routinely gather and share information, or records. If there is a concern about wellbeing then relevant public bodies will share information proportionately and if relevant to addressing a concern. The child or young person will know what is being shared, for what reason and with whom and their views will be taken into account."

The child cannot do any of this when it is yet to be born or it is very young. Notice there is no mention of parents. The trick here in dismissing the question is to use the words: `routinely gather and share.` The gathering and sharing of data is a lifelong possibility which depends as much on parental engagement as it does on opportunity. However, the parental capacity to provide wellbeing assessment shows that when a pregnant woman engages with maternity services she will be routinely assessed. It is also the case that if she later complains to her GP about postnatal depression and the doctor becomes concerned about the effect of that on her baby, or if she calls into Accident and Emergency with her toddler, her data will be gathered and shared. Again, the question has not been answered honestly. To obtain services these days, is to have to give up your privacy to the Named Person, and it is as much about the parent, as it is about the child.

Suzanne Kelly is rightly unimpressed.

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