The Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill that has just started its journey through Holyrood has the potential to be one of the most far-reaching and influential bills considered in this session of Parliament.
At its heart is a vision that we should all share – making Scotland the best place in the world for children to grow up.
Central to the proposals to achieve this is to put the child – their needs and wellbeing – at the centre of how we deliver services to children. This represents a massive culture shift for everyone who works with children. It means rethinking how we plan services for children, how public bodies can share information when something may be going wrong in a child’s life, and how we make sure children know about and can access the services they need.
Unfortunately, some of the fundamental and most important proposals have already come in for criticism, including the proposal for a “named person”.
The main task, as set out in the bill, will simply be to act as the first point of contact for children and families. If additional support is needed then the named person will help co-ordinate the various public bodies involved.
Yet some commentators have criticised the named person proposal as an extension of the “nanny state” and too expensive to implement. Neither criticism is justified. Depending on the age of the child, a health visitor or teacher will usually take on the role and in most cases will do no more than they do now.
The named person role has already been implemented with great success in the Highland Council area. Barnardo’s Scotland staff report that the system has helped ensure that children get the support they need when they need it.
There has also been a significant reduction in the number of non-offence concerns referred to the Children’s Reporter and so less time is spent writing reports.
It is right that the proven benefits of this approach are now rolled out across Scotland to ensure all children benefit.
Barnardo’s Scotland urges ministers and MSPs to be brave, and seize this opportunity to transform the lives of children in Scotland. It would be a shame if misinformed criticism of the bill resulted in us missing this crucial opportunity to make sure we get it right for every child.