The Children and Young People Scotland Act 2014 calls for the appointment of a single "named person" to every child and young person in Scotland between birth and age 18 (or longer, if the young person is still at school). The named person can theoretically be anyone who is not a parent of the child but it is envisaged that the named person will be a health visitor or senior teacher. The named person will be the single point of contact for the child or young person and indeed the family in the event of any concerns arising relating to a child / young person's wellbeing. The named person is to be a source of help and support.
Reading between the lines it seems as if the theory was to try to streamline services for children and young people in the sense of providing a "joined up service" which could theoretically minimise children and young people falling through the gaps where provision of support and child protection measures are concerned. To the best of my knowledge no other jurisdictions operate or intend to introduce a similar scheme.
The proposals have been very controversial indeed, with many commentators expressing concern around violation of the human right to family life and unjustifiable interference by the state, as well as concerns around practical implementation of the legislation, clarity around definitions and the impact upon already scarce resources.
From a legal perspective there are issues around unnecessary state intervention and proportionality. Less widely publicised issues include conflict of interest between the child / young person and other family members, conflicts of interest between the child / young person and their named person, continuity of service and definition of the actual role of the named person; for example, is it envisaged that the named person will have a locus to enter court proceedings or children's panel proceedings? Are they going to be able to represent the interests of the child / young person?
The most obvious impact of the scheme upon local authorities and social services relates to resources and funding. Implementation of the scheme will inevitably cost money and many critics of the scheme have focussed upon the apparent irrationality of introducing a system or scheme which will cost money where existing services are sometimes inadequate or lacking due to being under resourced. On a more positive note, it may be helpful for social workers and other agencies to have a single point of contact with whom they can liase about a multi disciplinary approach to issues affecting the wellbeing of individual children and young people.
In January 2015 an initial legal challenge to the scheme was dismissed by Lord Pentland, who commented "in the great majority of cases the practical effect of allocating a named person to a child or young person is likely to be minimal". He urged a sense of proportion and balance. The coalition of interested parties known as "No To Named Persons" is keen to escalate the issue to a three bench decision. There has been a significant degree of public opposition to the scheme and I strongly suspect that political pressure may lead to the scheme being modified if not abandoned in its entirety.
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