The NO2NP roadshow stopped off in Ayrshire on 8 December 2015, attracting a capacity audience to the Carlton Hotel in Prestwick. Nigel Kenny officiated on behalf of NO2NP, updating attendees on the legal challenge and ongoing campaign activities across the country, before introducing speakers Lesley Scott and Alison Preuss, whose presentation is transcribed below.
The Named Person pantomime
Anyone who wants to know more about the background to GIRFEC and the Named Person scheme – along with some recommended resistance tactics – will find various links on our home education forum.
By way of background, as well as having more than 20 years involvement in home education, I co-founded the children’s rights group ARCH in 2001, which produced numerous hard hitting critiques of the early intervention model known as Every Child Matters in England, later branded as GIRFEC in Scotland. They are one and the same policy, and while some of us had been shouting about it for years, it was Kenneth Roy of the Scottish Review, based here in Prestwick, who first exposed the state surveillance agenda that lies behind it.
Anyway, I am pleased to be here in Ayrshire, home of the award winning “AYRshare” model for health and social care collaboration, which boasts that it
provides effective, timely and secure sharing of information between organisations to help address concerns about the well-being and protection of children and young people.
In other words, your children’s personal data and your own can be shared at the click of a mouse across three council boundaries and the NHS, and will soon become available across other systems running elsewhere, some more advanced than others. “Putting sharing before caring”, you might say, and you have no choice in the matter.
In fact it might as well be called “BlairShare” since Tony himself was the architect of the initiative which he claimed would identify weans in the womb who were likely to veer from the path of state dictated righteousness. Tony Benn described is as “eugenics, the sort of thing Hitler talked about”, but it nevertheless gained traction among the many vested interests who stood to benefit from the early intervention industry, not least of all IT providers and grant-grabbing children’s charities.
GIRFEC, which has no V for vulnerable, should really have three Cs (Getting Information Recorded for every Child, Citizen and Community) as it applies to everyone. It fundamentally changes the relationship between citizen and state by fatally compromising the right to individual privacy and family autonomy. The Scottish Government has decided what is right for every one of us and that is so very wrong on so many levels. Micro-managing children and families is a lesson in how not to do things that belongs in a different era and to a different regime, and NO2NP is to be congratulated on sharing the information “Joe Public” wasn’t supposed to know about until it was too late, as confirmed in GIRFEC board meeting minutes (from November 2012).
But things haven’t been going all that well lately for the GIRFEC cheerleaders.
The BBC Call Kaye programme, broadcast from Inverness in October, was a car crash for the Minister Aileen Campbell, who shovelled fog throughout and couldn’t answer the question repeatedly put to her about the lack of opt-out from the Named Person scheme.
Shortly afterwards, the story broke about the Moray Named Person, a principal guidance teacher at Elgin Academy, who had been placed on the sex offenders register.
Then we had the Hopscotch Theatre Company which was touring primary schools promoting GIRFEC and SHANARRI characters with catchy songs about children’s rights which managed to airbrush out the one about privacy (Article 16 of the UNCRC). After admitting they had taken advice from Education Scotland to make sure they were “getting it right”, they later changed their tune to claim they had never heard of the Named Person scheme.
Primary pupils in East Kilbride were meanwhile rehearsing ‘Another Rock n’ Roll Christmas’ by Gary Glitter for their school show, propelling GIRFEC once again to the top of the tabloid hit parade for all the wrong reasons.
Then there was the curious case of the vanishing GIRFEC board, which was supposed to oversee the scheme through to implementation but was scrapped after Police Scotland raised concerns that high-risk children were no longer the focus of the universal approach. The published minutes include this chestnut from February 2013:
A joint statement has been agreed with the Information Commissioner’s Office which should help clarify situations where a child was on a pathway to risk to wellbeing as well as significant risk of harm. The statement should free up the way practitioners share information under existing law. However, there were concerns on how best to disseminate the message in a way that did not produce an adverse reaction for stakeholders.
Therein lies the heart of the problem with GIRFEC: the deliberate lowering of the compulsory engagement / intervention threshold, conveniently rubber stamped by a Scottish data protection “watchdog”, whose views directly contradict those of former UK ICO Richard Thomas, who said:
There are reasons why we need to promote better information sharing where children are at risk of harm, but whether the answer is to database every child in the country should be seriously questioned.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights was even more scathing, pointing out that, while it may be justifiable for children at risk of harm, a system designed to include every child (like GIRFEC)
constitutes a serious interference with children’s right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
They went as far as to say:
We are concerned that, if the justification for information-sharing about children is that it is always proportionate where the purpose is to identify children who need welfare services, there is no meaningful content left to a child’s Article 8 right to privacy and confidentiality in their personal information.
That’s a complete trashing of the Scottish Government’s stated plans for all our children, in which parents are effectively demoted to the status of criminals-in-waiting.
In fact the bizarre interpretation of reserved UK legislation by the Scottish Assistant ICO (which is the basis for GIRFEC practitioner training in information sharing) is the very issue that could not be raised in last week’s Holyrood debate for legal reasons, despite already having being discussed widely in the public domain. Briefly, given that the Data Protection Act 1998 applies across the UK, the question is: why should Scots citizens be afforded less legal protection of their personal data than their English, Welsh and Manx counterparts?
Since it’s pantomime season, I thought I’d run through a few weel kent lines (known as “messages” in government circles) from our favourite SHANARRI characters – audience participation is welcome!
Parents asked for a Named Person – All together now, oh no they didn’t!
Only a small subset of families in Highland whose children had specific needs and disabilities and who had been serially fobbed off by “services”’ felt a single point of contact might be useful. So what happened next? A compulsory Named Person scheme was imposed on every child with no opt-out, allegedly “because parents wanted it”.
Nobody complained in Highland – Oh yes they did!
The evidence from Highland showed GIRFEC to be a great success – Oh no it didn’t!
The Highland pilot was nothing like what has been legislated for as it was small scale, voluntary and targeted, as opposed to compulsory and universal. When an equivalent scheme was adopted universally in the Isle of Man, it caused meltdown in social services due to an astronomical rise in referrals. It was quickly abandoned and its centralised database has since been declared illegal and switched off.
Engagement with the Named Person is not compulsory – But look out, he’s behind you!
Although you may not need to engage with the appointed Named Person, the data held on your children and all other family members by the “services” you do engage with is fair game as they are obliged to pass it on on the basis of any “wellbeing” concern. As one parent said, her son’s teacher knew she was pregnant before he did.
There’s no need to take Named Person advice – He’s still behind you!
The consequences are clearly set out if you don’t co-operate or have a different perception of an alleged “problem”. This is child protection jargon used by social workers dealing with children at risk of significant harm, but has been hijacked to accommodate a much lower intervention threshold based on wellbeing concerns defined by the government.
The majority of professionals and children’s charities supported the scheme. This is where you get the chance to boo loudly!
The loudest cheerleaders – let’s call them the Ugly Sisters – were vested interests who stand to benefit from providing monitoring or intervention services. They belong to the emerging “I Spy” generation of service providers, whose incomes depend on delivering government outcomes. Many of the “Cinderella” charities who are not publicly funded like Tymes Trust, parents’ groups like the SPTC and legal experts did not support the scheme, including CLAN Childlaw who have formally added their concerns about non consensual data sharing to the legal challenge.
Joined up “services” (and data) are good, “silo” working is bad – Boo!
Like Police Scotland, the government’s joined up success story (not!)? Once upon a time it was obligatory to undertake training to reach the required level of competence in, and certification for, a professional role such as teaching, midwifery, nursing or social work. These discrete professions are now disparaged as “silos” in the shared language of SHANARRI, where wheel spinning is the only game in town and box ticking the only qualification needed to assess wellbeing needs. So poor quality or downright dangerous decisions will be made by those without relevant professional assessment skills. We have already heard about teachers pontificating (sometimes dangerously) on health matters and housing officers proffering advice on education matters, with referrals being made on spurious grounds out of ignorance, arrogance or a combination. No wonder child protection experts and the police are worried about the lack of focus on the most vulnerable children.
If it saves just one child. This is the deadly serious pantomime finale.
When all else fails, the government and its cast of cheerleaders play the child protection card – something we used to call “Mornington Crescent syndrome”. The fact is we have already seen two child deaths in Edinburgh since the scheme was rolled out there: Mikaeel Kular, a child known to be at risk of significant harm, and Chloe Sutherland, whose mother was refused help for post natal depression, with tragic results. Scapegoating individuals is not my intention, but GIRFEC is not the answer when it comes to the deadly serious business of protecting vulnerable children, which belongs with professionally qualified and highly trained social workers.
GIRFEC is actually having the opposite effect to that which was allegedly intended in that it is deterring people from accessing services in the first place, since they know that their information is not going to be treated confidentially. Having dealt with a large number of parents who have had information gathered and later used as evidence against them, most are now exercising the right to remain silent. Booking in with the midwife used to be a happy experience, but is now an interrogation of every aspect of your life, including past relationships and family finances. And that is only the beginning of the intrusive data gathering which will continue throughout the child’s life.
I have recently been supporting a young mum who was being bullied by a multi-agency SHANARRI gang because she decided to home educate her child. Unknown to her, the Named Person had amassed huge amounts of hitherto confidential information on every family member and associated adult in a bid to trump up a whole raft of “concerns” about potential (not actual) risks to wellbeing in order to deny her choice. This included records on an estranged former partner, siblings and even a deceased relative, all presented at a hastily convened multi-agency meeting of complete strangers in the form of a report full of inaccuracies, hearsay and deeply personal information which left her feeling “violated” and “humiliated”. It became a bitter power struggle, with the education tail wagging the social work dog and insisting on assessment without grounds (essentially wasting the social worker’s valuable time). All because a Named Person happened not to approve of a parent’s lawful educational choice. So much for the helpful point of contact whose services you can allegedly decline.
I’ll finish with a wee anecdote of my own. Last week an annual tax summary arrived through the post from HMRC addressed to my husband, reporting his earnings for 2014/15 as £38673.30 and the tax and NI he had paid as £9024.72. You may be wondering why I would be sharing this sort of personal data with a bunch of strangers after all I’ve had to say on the subject, but it may make sense when I tell you that my husband has been dead for more than two years. The data on the database is completely wrong! At least it wasn’t a tax demand, but it still caused distress. Almost as much distress as the letter sent to him last year urging him to vote a particular way in the referendum by a campaign group illegally using details from an old electoral roll. They never even bothered to acknowledge my complaint, let alone apologise. I have yet to tackle HMRC, but sometimes it’s best to let sleeping data collectors lie, no matter how inaccurate their sources!
The data mountain is increasing exponentially, a bit like Jack’s beanstalk (which grew and grew from Jack McConnell’s original integrated services and early intervention beans). Let’s chop it down to size, kill the Giant Database State and take the Big Ugly Sisters SHANARRI and the Named Person with it!