No to state parents in Scotland

The Scottish government has passed a bill to appoint a ‘named person’ for every child at birth, with the responsibility of ‘advising, informing or supporting the child or young person’. These parental functions will hitherto be allotted to an employee of a health board or education authority (it is specifically stated that the named person cannot be one of the child’s parents).

This extraordinary Children and Young Person’s Act exemplifies a shift within child protection policy, from focusing on children ‘at risk of significant harm’, to the state assuming responsibility for ensuring the ‘wellbeing’ of every child – as if the entire population of Scottish children are being taken into care.

The named person will be under direction of Scottish ministers, and they will have substantial powers of intervention and information gathering (there will be a ‘duty’ on all other authorities to respond to requests from this named person).

A petition against the bill pointed out that these plans will be to the detriment of children who are actually at risk of harm, since children’s ‘wellbeing need’ is drawn so widely as to include incidents such as pet bereavements:

‘given that the stated…budget divided by the number of 0-18 year olds in Scotland (2011) provides a per capita sum of approximately £13 to gather, store and share data on every aspect of every child’s life, not forgetting associated adults and pets – even before costing in actual interventions – the future looks very bleak for the most vulnerable children in Scotland. Social workers, teachers and medical professionals are already over worked and under-resourced, and by the time the significant case reviews start mounting up, it will be too late for the ‘data subjects’ whose warning signs were lost in a sea of false flags about pet bereavements and assorted trivia, or missed in the age old tradition of multi-agency failure.’

Church and home schooling organisations are protesting loudly against the Act; the Christian Institute is threatening legal action ‘in defence of family life against state intrusion’. In an essay in the Herald, academic Stuart Waiton commented that: ‘one of the profoundly worrying things about the debate surrounding the Bill was the way in which concerns about privacy and parental rights were dismissed with casual abandon. Despite some concerns among Conservative politicians about the new law, even they could not bring themselves to vote against it. Indeed, not a single MSP voted against it’.

This Act takes the worldview of current child protection policy to its logical extreme – and so has sparked a battle over the very question of the privacy of the family and the separation of the family unit from the state.

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