Named Person Policy

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at on 8 September 2016.

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Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Since the Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999, there have been a number of issues on which it has spoken with one voice. One example of such an issue is the importance of ensuring the best possible start in life for every child in our country.

Parliament has agreed on a number of occasions over a number of years and under different Administrations that the getting it right for every child policy—GIRFEC, as it is known—is the best way to promote the best interests of our children and young people. I take this opportunity to set out the principles that underpin the GIRFEC approach and why they are so crucial in driving Scottish Government policy on children.

GIRFEC is the national approach to improving outcomes and supporting the wellbeing of our children and young people, through offering the right help at the right time from the right people. It supports children and young people and their parents to work in partnership with the services that can help them. It puts the rights and wellbeing of children and young people at the heart of the services that support them—early years services, schools and the national health service—to ensure that everyone works together to improve outcomes for the child or young person. It is an agenda that enshrines the principle of early intervention that was championed by the Christie commission and embraced by the Parliament and several of its committees over many years of inquiry.

Those are fundamentally decent aims that Parliament has endorsed repeatedly on a cross-party basis—aims that have been welcomed by children’s charities and by the teaching and nursing professions. It was against that backdrop of a shared commitment to children’s wellbeing that the named person service was developed. That was done through the recognition, based on real life experiences and expert advice, that a timely and early offer of advice or help can prevent troubles from becoming crises and, in some cases, crises from becoming tragedies.

The GIRFEC approach works. It was taken forward in the Highland Council area, where the value of the named person as a central point of contact was first identified by parents, and it was rolled out across the authority between 2008 and 2010. Since then, more families have been receiving additional support, and more quickly. That means that there has been less need for compulsory measures and that the needs of many children have not escalated. Between 2007 and 2013, the number of referrals to the children’s reporter in Highland dropped from 2,335 to 744—a drop of 68 per cent in what are complex, sensitive and costly processes.

The number of children on the child protection register and the number of looked-after children have been sustained at levels 15 to 20 per cent lower than they were prior to the GIRFEC approach being introduced. Moreover, social workers’ case loads have been reduced by up to 50 per cent from previous levels, and now average about 15 cases at any one time. Accordingly, early intervention is getting more support to more children, and those who need higher levels of intervention are receiving it.

Those figures represent progress, but the arithmetic represents something far more valuable—it represents the opportunity for young lives to be improved at an earlier stage, and significantly so. Those are the benefits that we want to bring to the whole of Scotland.

Although I accept that political support has not been universal, there has been, and continues to be, broad political and stakeholder support for the policy. However, the named person service has been subjected to a legal challenge, which has cast uncertainty over its scope and legality.

Although both the outer and inner houses of the Court of Session upheld the provisions of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, on 28 July the Supreme Court determined that ministers needed to provide greater clarity about the basis on which health visitors, teachers and other professionals who support families will share and receive information in their named person role. It ruled that the information-sharing provisions of part 4 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 are incompatible with article 8 of the European convention on human rights, and that changes are needed to make those provisions compatible with article 8, to ensure respect for a person’s

“private and family life, his home and his correspondence”.

In recognition of the changes that are required in the legislation, I laid the necessary orders to pause commencement of the relevant parts of the 2014 act, to ensure that all those provisions were not commenced, as had been intended, on 31 August.

Since the Supreme Court judgment, I have provided Parliament, key stakeholders and practitioners with regular updates on procedural progress with regard to amending the legislation. I welcome this opportunity to bring Parliament up to date on the next steps.

Crucially, the Supreme Court ruled definitively that the principle of providing a named person for every child does not breach human rights and is compatible with European Union law. The Supreme Court described the intention of the policy as

“unquestionably legitimate and benign”,

and rejected the petitioners’ argument that the legislation relates to reserved matters. Therefore, the attempt to scrap a service that can bring benefits to young people and their families in Scotland failed. This Parliament, which passed the necessary legislation on a cross-party basis, with no votes cast against it, was vindicated.

For the avoidance of doubt, the Government remains absolutely committed to the named person service. The Supreme Court judgment does not dilute our commitment, but it has required us to revise part of the legislation to ensure that it is compatible with the European convention on human rights. We want the legislation to achieve exactly what the Supreme Court says it needs to achieve: compatibility with article 8, along with greater clarity around the information-sharing provisions.

I am keen to commence the provisions of the 2014 act as early as possible. However, I am also keen to pursue an inclusive approach—one that takes Parliament, stakeholders and the wider public with it. We recognise that information sharing has been an important issue for practitioners and the public alike, and we want to ensure that there is a clear consensus across Scotland on how information sharing should operate. That must include the essential principle of consent, and the rare occasions when it is not appropriate to require or seek it.

The matter must be addressed through open dialogue. For that reason, the Scottish Government will undertake a three-month period of intense engagement. We will take input from practitioners as well as from parents, from charities as well as from young people, and from those who support the named person policy and those who have concerns about it. I intend to involve the offices of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland and the Scottish Information Commissioner as we look to address the Supreme Court judgment effectively.

In order to address the concerns that the Supreme Court raised, we will discuss the principles that should underpin the legislation and the development of a code of practice to set out how information should be shared under the legislation. The Minister for Childcare and Early Years and I will take that work forward.

Once that engagement ends and we have agreed a way to proceed, I will return to Parliament and announce the next steps, in terms of legislation. However, it is my ambition to work towards a commencement date of August 2017 for the legislative provisions.

Let me address one final point: the judgment itself does not require current policy to change. The judgment relates only to the information-sharing provisions that were intended to come into force under the 2014 act; it does not relate to current practice under GIRFEC. Any sharing of personal information that takes place now or in the future must be done in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998. A local authority or health board can nominate a person as the named person for a particular child, and can arrange for that person to be responsible, within the local authority or health board, for the provision of services to that child. Organisations can, within the framework of the existing law, continue to deliver or engage with existing or developing named person services.

My message to local authorities and health boards is clear: please continue to develop and deliver a named person service in your area in order to make the benefits of the service available to every child who needs it. I am all too aware of the debilitating impact that the peddling of misinformation has on practitioners and stakeholders, so I say to them today: thank you for your efforts in providing the best support network possible for every child in our country; ministers know that what drives you every day is doing the best you can for the children with whom you interact.

The commitment to the provision of a named person service has not wavered. The commitment to enshrining all aspects of the service in legislation at the earliest possible date following appropriate and inclusive consultation is absolutely resolute. As a Parliament, we have made significant progress on the GIRFEC agenda. That progress has been enabled and facilitated by cross-party consensus on what is important and on how improvements to the life chances of Scotland’s children and young people can be achieved.

The Supreme Court judgment provides us with an opportunity to amend the information-sharing provisions in the 2014 act in a way that will improve the named person service and reassure parents and practitioners and the wider public. It provides us with the opportunity to continue, in the spirit of shared purpose and consensus, getting it right for every child.