Sunday, 5 June 2016

The lack of transparency around the Named Person scheme

Tam Baillie, Children`s Commissioner

Gordon Brewer interviewed Tam Baillie, Scotland`s Children`s Commissioner, on Sunday Politics Scotland earlier today.

He began by mentioning that questions about whether Liam Fee had a single point of contact had been met by accusations of political posturing.

"You wrote an article in the Sunday Times about it today," said Gordon Brewer. "The third sentence of that says and I quote: `that Liam`s death has been used by some as a means to furthering a campaign against the Named Person service. It`s unforgivable. Because the tragic loss of a child should be above political posturing.` What do you mean?"

"There`s two reasons.  First of all I mean Liam Fee`s death is an absolute tragedy and it affects the individuals involved, communities and indeed the whole workforce that`s involved in that; and the sad fact is that no child protection service in the world can offer assurances that it will be fail-safe. So that`s the first thing..."

"The second thing is... the Named Person service is really a low level early warning system for where things are at an early stage of going wrong in a child`s life; and I can`t comment on the details of the Liam Fee case but what we do know is that this was a child that was going to social work and that puts that case, that incident, that child, way beyond the level of the Named Person."

"I do understand that. I do take your point. But what about the facts of this case? Fife was a pilot area for the Named Person wasn`t it?"

"Yeah, but regardless whether Liam Fee had a Named Person or not... I can`t say, because I don`t know the ins and outs of the case. But what I would say is this is a child who was in a system where it was obvious ... he was way beyond that early intervention and that early warning..."

"Why don`t you know?" the presenter asked Tam Bailie.

"Well, because I can`t comment on the details of the case..."

"You could have contacted Fife Council and said what exactly were the arrangements in place?"

"Well, it wasn`t my job to try and to find the arrangements in place for that. There`s going to be a significant case review and I also said in the article we have to let the people who are running the significant case review... look at the totality of the actions that were taken which identify where the errors were made..."

Gordon Brewer persisted: "Don`t you think that before you wrote an article in a national newspaper saying people were indulging in political posturing and that their behaviour was unforgivable, as the Children`s Commissioner for Scotland it might have been a good idea for you to have contacted Fife Council and the Scottish Government and ascertained the facts of the case?"

"But even if there`s a Named Person for Liam Fee that is really not the point in terms of that child being known to social work which means that there should have been systems in place to ensure the safety of that child rather than ... the Named Person."

"Yes I understand that .... John Swinney, the other day, the deputy First Minister - he said there was a person, a point of contact, but not in terms of the legislation - Do you know what that means?"

"Mm er ... I presume he`s saying there was a person appointed as a contact somewhere with regard to the handling of the child protection case but I can`t comment ..."

"Many people watching will say, well hang on a minute this guy is the Children`s Commissioner for Scotland, he`s writing articles in national newspapers condemning people for asking questions apropos to this case about the Named Person legislation and he hasn`t even bothered to find out what the facts are."

"I`m saying that it`s wrong for us to link the Named Person with instances of children who are well enmeshed in the system and whether there`s failings there or not.  Now there are debates around Named Person whether it`s a good thing or a bad thing or not; but that`s quite separate from those children who are already identified where there are serious concerns and we`ll find from the significant case review as to where those failings actually took place in this instance."

Gordon Brewer pressed further: "The bottom line here is that the Named Person scheme is being piloted in places like the Highlands; it`s being piloted in Fife. If there was a Named Person in this case, even a Named Person but not in terms of the legislation as John Swinney put it, quite clearly it has not worked."

"But the Named Person as I said earlier is not meant to be dealing with those children who have already been identified; where there are serious concerns; where there could be a children`s plan around it; where there should be a number of different agencies. The Named Person is really that early point of contact."

"Again I accept your point that it might not be strictly relevant in terms of this case because this child was known to social services but the fact is what`s at stake here is a flagship policy of the Scottish Government and I fail to understand why first of all, you haven`t tried to find out what is actually happening here, and secondly why it`s simply not relevant to talk about the Named Person. I mean you describe people who`ve been talking about this as behaving unforgivably. What on earth do you mean?"

"In the first instance, it has to be left to the significant case review to establish the facts of the case. Now I also make that point in the article. The second one is that we know, and I repeat, the Named Person is not designed to try to assist those children where we already know there are very serious concerns; that there should be people working around the case who should actually have vigilance in terms of protection of that child."

"As the Children`s Commissioner, had you contacted Fife Council and said I want to know exactly what happened here, of course, quite rightly they would have said -  and you would have agreed with them - no there`s a significant case review ... we can`t prejudge that.  However, if as the Children`s Commissioner you had said: `look, one of the main issues coming up here is the Named Person legislation, can you just tell me what the situation was here?  I`m not prejudging your review...was there a Named Person in this case ? Was it the full service?  Or was it, as John Swinney says, a limited version of it, whatever that means?`  But you don`t seem to have done either of these things."

In response, Tam Bail merely repeated the same arguments he had made already.

"The point I`m getting at," said Gordon Brewer "is lack of transparency. This is a flagship government scheme. Why can`t the government just say this is exactly what the situation was, and that`s that."

"... I think there`s been a lot of expectation placed on somehow Named Person being able to deal with all instances of concern around children and part of the reason I`ve written the article is that it`s just not the case. What it will do is it will flag up at an early stage..."

"I still don`t understand who`s behaving unforgivably by the way."

Tam Baillie seemed to suggest it was those people who had been linking the Named Person with the Liam Fee case.

"Last point: Some charities have claimed that the Named Person scheme, at least in the Highlands area has been a success... How are the public supposed to judge whether these pilot schemes are a success or not? How on earth can we know?"

"I think there is an issue about presentation about what the Named Person service is meant to do. It`s there as an early pick up."

"But how are we the public meant to judge if it is a success or not?"

"I think there is a presentation issue that the government needs to address in terms of presenting the expectations of the Named Person and what it will reasonably do. We have concerns about children who we don`t pick up early enough and problems then  exacerbate. We get in early then we can actually assist children and families at that stage."

The interview begins  about 59 minutes into the programme.

It`s a bit clearer why the publicity campaign to win over critics needs a lot more work.

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