Christian charity battles Scottish law assigning a state official to every child
EDINBURGH – A Christian charity in Scotland is calling for a judicial review of a controversial bill the Scottish Parliament passed in February that mandates the government to appoint a state official for every child from birth to age 18, regardless of the child’s or the family’s perceived need for public intervention.
While the government insists that the bill, which takes effect in August 2016, is only a way to make public services more available and efficient, it has come under heavy criticism from legal experts who have said it is a grave violation of the legally guaranteed human rights of parents and families.
"Every child in Scotland is to be assigned a named person whether or not problems are on the radar.”
The Christian Institute has raised over £30,000 towards their case for a judicial review against the bill. Colin Hart, the organization’s director, said on BBC Sunday Politics Scotland June 29 that the bill will grant “huge powers” to the government, and noted that it allows the “named person” to intervene with children without parent’s consent or even knowledge.
“The same state bodies will be involved in looking at all these families where there’s no issue at all,” said Hart. “So instead of finding that needle in the haystack,” of cases where outside intervention is genuinely required, “they’re actually making the haystack much bigger. And that’s going to make it much more difficult to find the vulnerable children.”
At a conference titled “No To Named Persons” last month, the Christian Institute said the government has acted illegally in setting up the programme to “appoint so-called state monitors or guardians in direct contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
Aidan Quinn, QC, will argue The Christian Institute’s case in court. In a written opinion on the bill, he says, “Although the Bill talks about ‘making available’ the service, the Bill in fact creates a duty on health boards … and separately on local authorities … to provide a named person to ‘each’ child in their area. In other words, every child in Scotland is to be assigned a named person whether or not problems are on the radar.”
Quinn wrote that the law would empower the Named Person “to ‘advise’ and ‘inform’ the child or discuss or raise matters about the child with the relevant authorities. The extent to which the named person engages in these functions for any given children will be so far as ‘the named person considers it to be appropriate’.”
The law may contravene the provisions for protection of private life in the European Convention on Human Rights, he added. “It would appear that the role which the Scottish Government envisages for the Named Person is one which might be thought to cut across and directly impact upon the rights and responsibilities of parents in relation to their own children, which are fundamental rights recognised within the legal order, notably under and in terms of Article 8 ECHR.”
Meanwhile, the scheme is already being tried as a pilot project in the local council of South Ayrshire in the Scottish Highlands. A document released jointly by the council said that there is a “named person” to supervise the progress of every child in the areas of health and education. This single supervisor can be expanded into an entire team of health care professionals and social workers.
The law provides for “information sharing” among government bodies, saying that the “role of the Named Person will depend on the successful sharing of information between relevant public authorities where there are concerns about the wellbeing of individual children and young people.”
The Scottish government has promoted the scheme with their “Getting it right” campaign, telling the story of “Cameron” a child whose Named Person brought him to the attention of social workers over concerns about his “social and emotional development.” In the end, Cameron was put under the supervision of a “Lead Professional” and a “multi-agency plan was agreed.”
The story goes on to say that “Cameron’s health and home situation deteriorated” in his first year of primary school and after “a multi-agency review of his plan” it was decided that “a social work disability team would need to be involved.”
“So Cameron was allocated a social worker, and she took on the role as his Lead Professional, while the primary head carried on being his Named Person throughout his time at primary school."
Hart’s warnings have already become the reality for a mother of two teenage boys, Donna Mackie, who says in a video for The Christian Institute’s campaign against the law that she fled the Ayrshire area with her sons after the Named Person organized “secret” meetings to decide on the health care plans for her 18 year-old son, Joseph.
“Our concerns about Joseph weren’t taken into consideration and Joseph’s own concerns weren’t really taken into consideration,” said Mackie, whose son suffers from “a complex physical illness” called Situs Inversus that requires special treatment, and for which he has suffered from misdiagnosis. Mackie moved with her sons to Edinburgh, where the scheme is not yet in force, while her husband remains in the Highlands to work.