The Named Person: parent licensing by the back door

Published in the Scottish Review, 1 June 2016.

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the Scottish Government’s named person scheme, due to be steamrollered out in August, is set to add a whole new layer of tarmac to the national re-surfacing project known as GIRFEC (Getting It Right For Every Child).

For families who prefer byways to highways, the designated path to Getting It Righteousness – under the supervision of a state-appointed minder – feels more like a forced march to the communal midden. Although the Scottish Government and its paid cheerleaders like to claim the controversial policy is simply about providing a single point of contact for families, the legislation paints a very different picture. Confidential information can now be shared, and interventions triggered, whenever a teacher or health visitor considers a child to be at risk of not meeting the Government’s desired wellbeing outcomes. In other words, it represents a seismic shift from the established threshold – risk of significant harm – at which the state may interfere in private family life.

Unlike welfare, wellbeing has no precise legal definition and is to be arbitrarily measured against a checklist of more than 200 risk indicators, which even include being under five. The pass mark for individual parents will largely depend on the appointed box-ticker’s interpretation of life events, significant or otherwise, such as losing the pet hamster.

The scheme is underpinned by the Government’s unhealthy obsession with Getting Information Recorded For Every Citizen, since we just can’t be trusted to do the right thing by ourselves. No matter what the problem – even if it there isn’t a problem, but there just might be in the future – the preferred solution is invariably to collect and crunch more of our data. Acquiring a single view of each and every citizen, they contend, will not only help identify those in need support, but also flag up any outliers for remediation.

The flaws in the argument are obvious to anyone who is concerned about the relationship between citizen and state. What has been legislated for in Scotland is a mass surveillance system, starting with the children, while simultaneously gathering details of every other family member and associated adult from myriad sources, mostly without their consent or even knowledge.

When it comes to human rights and data protection, Scotland declared UDI long ago, and Getting It Right training for the past several years has underlined the new ‘just do it’ approach to information sharing. Never mind the duty of confidentiality, just grab the data – oh, and don’t tell the lab rats as they might think they have a choice. It’s easy to see how minority groups will be deemed disproportionately dodgy by the new algorithm when ‘capacity to provide wellbeing’ is subjectively assessed in terms of the Government’s preferred outcomes for children.

At a recent event, one home-educating father of five realised he was in trouble after perusing the extensive list of risk indicators. His children, including two under-fives, were all born at home, the family don’t vaccinate, they are vegetarian, and he was brought up in care. He wondered if getting a telly might improve their family’s score as the health visitor was becoming more persistent than a double glazing salesman.

Forget the good intentions, the named person scheme is paving the way to parent licensing in Scotland. Too many penalty points and you’ll be sent on a well-behaving course to learn the error of your child-rearing ways, so try not to get caught too often speeding through Asda with a trolley full of ready meals. Under the totting up procedure you could lose your licence, and maybe even your kids.

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