THE welfare of unborn children will come under scrutiny as part of the Scottish Government’s proposals for a named person for every child in the country.
Guidance on the implementation of the legislation, which was published last week, states that the named person could be involved with families and setting up “planning and support” during the last trimester of pregnancy. The legislation, which is due to come into effect in 2016, covers children from the day they are born up until the age of 18.
But the guidance suggests that the named person, chosen by the state, would become involved at an earlier stage – a move that is likely to raise fresh concerns about the prospect of state interference in family life.
The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 will see every Scottish child allocated a named person, usually a health worker up to the age of five, followed by a teacher.
The disclosure that the scope of the proposals includes unborn babies comes as more details are emerging about how the legislation will work in practice.
The guidance states: “Where additional wellbeing needs are anticipated at birth the prospective Named Person should be involved in planning and providing supports to eliminate, reduce or mitigate risks to wellbeing.”
This would have to be done on a “non-statutory basis” because unborn children are not covered by the Act.
But the named person would play a “lead role” in drawing up ante-natal support when the anticipated needs of the new-born baby are not generally available from routine services, the guidance states.
As concerns grow about the impact of the legislation, teachers yesterday voiced concerns that they will struggle to fulfil the role of named person because of already stretched workloads, and the prospect of recriminations if a major abuse is uncovered where they are the named person.
Liz Hunter, professional officer with the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) said: “Our concerns with it would be the time it would take the teachers to compile the work to support the child properly. It would be the time for task.
“The named person would be the co-ordinator for the children’s plan. In that plan they would have to speak to the parents, they would have to speak to the child, they have to speak to, if they had one, a social worker or a healthcare professional or an educational psychologist or a speech and language therapist.”
Under the guidelines, children who may have behavioural problems may require a risk assessment.
There are also concerns among teachers about the prospect of repercussions if faced with a case of child abuse.
The SSTA is currently “polling” opinion among this issue for a Scottish Government consultation in March.
“There are a lot of concerns among teachers for that,” Ms Hunter said. “They need to be trained in it and they need to know the legislation behind it and what basically is going to happen to them if they cannot fulfil that duty due to something happening within that school.”
It remains unclear if teachers will be able to “opt out” of the role if they find the workload too heavy, but this will be an issue raised in the forthcoming consultation with the government. The Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS) agrees with the principle of a named person to provide a single contact point as a means to enhance children’s access to services and support. But a spokesman said: “We are also very clear that this will have significant implications in cases where a school is expected to be the provider of the named person.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “These suggestions are wrong. The Named Person takes on their formal role from birth – they have no statutory role until then.”
“There will also require to be extensive guidance for named persons regarding their role, responsibilities and legal position with regard to this role.”
Colin Hart, a No to Named Person (NO2NP) spokesman said: “The guidance regarding pregnant women is symptomatic of the general problems associated with this law which undermines parents and stretches already limited resources. Parents will become helpless spectators in the lives of their children and that will start in the mother’s womb as state control is extended there.”
Last night a Scottish Government spokesman said: “The service strengthens the supportive role already performed by teachers and health visitors for families and allows the named person to call on other services to give support if needed. It can prevent early concerns going unchecked and potentially becoming more serious issues. Individual teachers or health visitors will not be liable as ultimate responsibility lies with the health board or local authority.
“In Highland, where the approach was piloted, experience has shown the system reduces the workload on hard-pressed staff and has been welcomed by families.”
Named person debate leaves unanswered questions
Who will the named person be?
Health workers will usually take on the role of named person from birth. The responsibility will then pass to the teacher at school age.
Who is responsible for any legal comeback?
The Scottish Government insists health boards, who employ health workers, and later councils, who run schools, will have legal responsibility in the event of comeback. They insist this means no “additional legal responsibilities” for individual professionals. But the guidance states the named person “will carry out statutory functions” and the lack of clarity on the issue is concerning teachers.
Are they replacing the role of social workers?
Social workers will not be named persons meaning it is down to the named person to pass on any suspicions of abuse. The government says teachers should already be doing this and the new regime should not add to their workload.
Is the named person taking over the role of parents?
The government insists this won’t happen, but this has been at the heart of campaigners’ concerns. The named person is meant to help parents access a parenting programme, or specialist services such as disability-friendly play activities. They can also arrange child bereavement counselling, put mentoring in place for a child who is disengaged from learning, or facilitate access to support for a child who is at risk of being excluded from school. They are obliged to seek the views of the parents unless child protection issues are involved.
What does the teacher do, in their named person role, if they suspect a welfare problem with the child?
It is then up to the named person to discuss the matter with the child, raise the issue with health or social work colleagues and seek further assessment and assistance.
What happens during the school holidays?
It remains unclear how the named person service would operate during holidays. The guidance does say “contingency arrangements” should be in place during this period and should be able to respond to urgent matters such as police or social work involvement in a child protection or criminal inquiry.
Who is the named person for children who leave school before they are 18?
The guidance says each council should agree arrangements for children in this position and the named person should be able to “access and analyse relevant information from the child’s previous named person”. They don’t specify which professionals should do this.