Liz Smith, Conservative: Scotland’s named person policy ‘was both universally unpopular and unworkable.’
“Through children and families knowing who to contact, their access to help is made easier. This is an essential feature of a child centred approach.” South Ayrshire council policy in 2016https://sourcenews.scot/scottish-tory-council-has-run-named-person-scheme-for-5-years-without-problems/
There is a new (May 2022) report on the findings and recommendations of an important independent review commissioned by the Westminster government. It considers child safeguarding practices in England following yet more tragic incidents.
Source: The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel (2022) Child protection in England – National review into the murders of Arthur Labinjo- Hughes and Star Hobson.
The extracts below from this document may bring back memories. Discussed at length are issues that were at the centre of the campaign in Scotland against a child safeguarding initiative introduced by the Scottish Government! This is a sensitive, complex and hugely important topic: I have opted to reproduce material directly from the report to avoid inexpert interpretation by me.
Extract 1) ’What went wrong? … we have identified a set of issues which hindered professionals’ understanding of what was happening to Arthur and Star. These are (among several):
• Weaknesses in information sharing and seeking within and between agencies.’
The report notes: ’These are not new issues; they recur across the reviews of serious incidents that the Panel sees on a fortnightly basis. They come up in all analyses of serious case reviews and thematic practice reviews; and they have featured in all previous inquiries into child deaths.’
2) ‘Protecting children from abuse is intrinsically complex and challenging work. It requires great expertise in finding out what is happening in the intimate realm of family life. It involves intruding into very private spaces to evaluate and make professional judgements about parenting, the development and wellbeing of children, and whether a child or infant is experiencing harm.‘
3) ’What needs to change? …. The child’s story is often held by multiple people in multiple places, the detail of which is constantly evolving. This means that it can be extremely difficult to build and maintain an accurate sense of what life is actually like for a child, without a forensic focus held by a consistent set of multi-disciplinary professionals who are charged with pulling together the disparate parts of the jigsaw of a child’s life.’
4) ’Lord Laming described to us how, during his inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie (2003), many professionals reflected on how they would have acted differently: ‘if only I’d known’. Arthur and Star’s stories tragically illustrate how critical information from multiple sources becomes rapidly fragmented leading to a partial and siloed understanding of children’s experiences and lives. Our recommendations seek to address these issues.’
5) ‘Professionals did not always hear Arthur’s voice. Arthur’s voice was often mediated by his father in contact with professionals.’
6) ‘Most importantly, practitioners need to be given the space and time to do quality work with the child and to critically reflect on the child’s experiences, including putting together the jigsaw of information they hold about them and the network around them. Otherwise, there is a risk that the child will become invisible.’
7) ’In order for professionals to make good decisions about children in need of protection, they have to have a full picture of what is happening in a child’s life. Part of this is about having access to all the information known about the child. But just as important is seeking out missing information, considering disparate pieces of information in the round, and asking what bigger picture is being painted about a child’s experience’.
8) ’Problems with information sharing have been raised by every national child protection review and inquiry – going back as far as the inquiry into the death of Maria Colwell in 1973. … Time and again we see that different agencies hold pieces of the same puzzle but no one holds all of the pieces or is seeking to put them together. As Eileen Munro summarised in her 2011 review of child protection, ‘abuse and neglect rarely present with a clear, unequivocal picture. It is often the totality of information, the overall pattern of the child’s story, that raises suspicions of possible abuse or neglect.’’
9) ’… the behavioural biases that can impact upon information sharing within and between agencies, which need to be addressed. This includes:
- Diffusion of responsibility – the tendency for people in groups to fail to act on the assumption that someone else is responsible, an issue identified as a frequent contributor to children’s deaths or serious injuries.’
10) ‘With regard to consent, legislation is clear that sharing information without consent for the purposes of safeguarding is permitted; and guidance, such as Working Together to Safeguard Children, should reinforce this unambiguously. Locally, child protection practitioners need to feel empowered to share information without consent but we recognise that this is not commonplace.’
11) And finally, and notably when thinking back to the Scottish cexperience: ‘ Schools, colleges and other educational settings have a pivotal role to play in protecting children. In seeing children every day, they are in a unique position to identify concerns early, to recognise when concerns are escalating, and to share key information with Safeguarding Partners.’
On the topic of schools the report adds: ’Professionals also frequently have an insight into family life that would otherwise be unknown, through their contact with parents and carers. Arthur’s school was the last to have contact with his father in the days leading up to Arthur’s death. The critical role schools and other educational settings play is highlighted in previous reviews of serious incidents.’
‘… there must be full involvement of schools and education services at both the strategic and operational level. …. strengthen educational settings’ role in shaping child protection systems, including the critical sharing of data and the establishment of the proposed Child Protection Units. At the same time, it will ensure that they are consistently engaged as an equal partner at both an operational and strategic level and that they are held to account in the same way as other Partners.’
On 28 July 2016, in the case of The Christian Institute and others v The Lord Advocate (Scotland) five UK Supreme Court judges unanimously struck down certain provisions of the Scottish Government’s (SG) Named Person scheme.
While the Court said the aims of the SG’s bill were “unquestionably legitimate and benign”, it raised concerns about information-sharing plans for how named persons would share details about children with other organisations or professionals such as GPs, where they believed it was likely to help safeguard the child.
The judges said specific proposals about information-sharing “are not within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament”. And they said the legislation made it “perfectly possible” that confidential information about a young person could be disclosed to a “wide range of public authorities without either the child or young person or her parents being aware”.
The Court stated that the data sharing provisions in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act were in breach of the right to a private and family life under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. (See summary in https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-36903513)
Recall also that the Scottish Conservative Party leadership campaigned against the Named Person scheme: Tory MSP Liz Smith in 2015 referred to it as ‘sinister’!
And this was despite at the time this from South Ayrshire council on Named Person, a Tory-led administration partnering with local Labour Party councillors: “South Ayrshire Council has been introducing the approach gradually since 2011. We’ve worked closely with other agencies such as health and social work. The local authority currently has 90 named persons on our websites. For pre-school children these are health visitors and for school aged children they are head teachers, depute head teachers and principal teachers of guidance.
“… it has been felt the changes have been generally positive. At the core, the policy is putting into law what was good practice from the ‘Getting it right for every child’ (GIRFEC) approach which has been promoted for a number of years and was itself emerging good practice.’
We don’t yet know how the Tory Westminster government will respond to the findings and recommendations from the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel. Will it face up to the challenges posed and the need for change highlighted, not least over information sharing and seeking? Or will it dodge these difficult issues? Are the lawyers of the Christian Institute on stand-by?