SPTC and a diverse range of other organisations have opposed the introduction of the Named Person. It’s not always been a popular stance but it’s one that we believe is right and reflects the feedback we have had from parents.
We have read all the consultation documents, the various drafts of Guidance, the Bill and its amendments very carefully, but we have been consistently worried about NP. There are a number of reasons for that:
- the place of the child within the context of his or her family is mostly ignored. We believe that leads to a context which sees families as being in deficit or even a risk. This is reflected in the consultation responses from many of the Children’s charities. For the most part they deal with families – and children – who are having difficulties or are in crisis. That is their world view, and understandable, but it is not representative (thank goodness) of the majority of children and families. Most families are trying to raise their children as best they can and have their children’s health and happiness at the top of their priorities.
- it places the state where parents should be. If a school teacher or a health professional has worries about a 15 year old, the first point of contact should be the parent(s) because, legally, they are responsible for that young person. Under NP, the first point of contact will be the health worker or teacher who is the NP.
This legislation obliges families to rely on the judgement of every professional to use and share the information they have about a young person or family in a discerning way. That covers the GP who may treat any member of the family, who will be obliged to share information with the NP if they feel it is relevant. Or the school nurse who has a conversation with a teenager, or a youth worker who sees signs of issues.
We believe there is a fundamental right to confidentiality in a conversation between an individual and their GP, for instance. It should only be where there is clear evidence of potential harm that this confidentiality should be breached, and even then the situation should be explained to those involved.
The new Act also lowers the bar a great deal: where professionals previously were obliged to act where they judged there was risk of harm, we are now in a position where information can be shared – with or without permission – where they have concerns about the child’s wellbeing. This is so woolly that we are concerned the judgement will too often be to share information ‘just in case’.
The impact of this could well be that families and young people don’t ask for help when they need it, because they don’t want information to be shared. This is particularly true for teenagers of course, where there is already a difficult balance between the rights of the young person and the responsibilities of parent.
A lot of the coverage has focused on the cases over the last few years where children have suffered neglect, abuse or been killed by their parents. The suggestion is that NP will stop these things happening in the future. We believe this is dishonest, firstly because the average head or guidance teacher does not have the time to do this, and also because there is another role – identified in the Guidance but not in the legislation – which has the potential to make a difference:
Where a child needs different services to be co-ordinated to support them or their family (health, social work, housing for instance) they will have a Lead Professional who will be responsible for doing that. According to the Guidance, the NP will hand over the responsibility to this person (except where they also take on the Lead Professional role because they come from the primary service, ie the one that gives the most support).
In each of the tragic cases that keep being highlighted, had the NP scheme been in place, there would have been a Lead Professional whose very difficult job would be to work across authority and health board boundaries if necessary, with a wide range of services, to make sure the child did not slip between the cracks of different services and that each service is actually doing what is required.
It's the Lead Professional who has the potential to make a difference to what happens in the lives of the children whose lives are blighted by parents or other adults who neglect or abuse them, not the Named Person. In our view the Government should focus its energies on resourcing this role (which is of course another issue, as resources in each and every local authority and public service are under increased pressure due to shrinking budgets).
The government says parents asked for the Named Person as someone who could co-ordinate the various services they need for their child: we would argue that the Lead Professional is the role that meets this need, not the NP.
Finally, the process in place to handle complaints is much like the standard complaints process against local authorities. In other words, it is slow, lacks teeth and is deeply unsatisfactory for families. SPTC was asked what kind of complaints process we would like to see: our response was that it should be local, quick and use a dispute resolution rather than a complaints model. The government chose to do the exact opposite.
We know, because families tell us, that local authority complaints processes are slow and unsatisfactory: families are left with a judgement but no real solution (even if they win). It's a disgrace and against the interests of children and families.