Thursday, 19 September 2013

Named Persons

Here we go again. I was interested to read that the Scottish charity, Children 1st, sees the Daniel Pelka case as providing evidence for the proposed role of ‘named person’, currently being debated in the Scottish Parliament. The idea is that every child in Scotland would be provided with a named person, who might be a teacher or a health visitor or a social worker. 

Anne Houston, chief executive of Children 1st, is quoted in The Herald as saying that the lessons of Daniel’s tragedy support the principles underlying the named person idea. She believes the measure will prevent children ‘slipping through the net’. She argued that the named person would act as first point of contact for a child and all the professionals coming into contact with him or her. The named professional, she said, would collate and have access to all the information about the child. Presumably that means in some cases that (say) teachers who are named persons will have access to the whole of a child's health record and to police reports about the child and family members.

This idea reminds me of ContactPoint ( but substituting a person for the computer. I have to say that I can see absolutely no evidence either that it is practicable or that it would achieve its objectives.

We only have to consider what happened to Daniel in order to understand this. It was not as if people were not involved with him, they were. Teachers and other school staff were worried about his condition. They knew about his bruises and his previously broken arm. The error occurred not as a result of an absence of information, but as result of not interpreting the available information as indicating abuse and neglect. The failures were due mostly to poor situation awareness and poor decision-making. And some of the most important communication failures were not between professionals and agencies but with the child himself.

So yet again the wrong conclusions are being drawn from what happened to Daniel, just as they were from what happened to Victoria ClimbiƩ when the then Government argued that the ContactPoint computer system was a necessity in order to prevent a reoccurrence of what happened to her.

And once again ill-considered deductions from a child protection tragedy are being used to bolster policies that seem to run contrary to the rights of children and their families to privacy and family life. I believe that avoiding failures in child protection is most likely to be achieved by improving the quality of services, not by a crude policies which require public officials to try to regulate family life.

So I agree very much with the concerns expressed by Scotland’s Faculty of Advocates. The ‘named person’ idea cannot be justified as a necessary interference with basic human rights.