At the very heart of Scotland’s approach to supporting children and families is a statement which is more than just the title of a policy. It is an aspiration. It is a driver of all of our actions. It is a way of working. It is a way of collaborating.
It is ‘Getting it right for every child’ – GIRFEC.
Over the last 15 years or so, teachers, social workers, early years workers, health visitors, midwives, nurses, community workers and other practitioners, have developed outstanding practice to turn the aspiration of Getting it right for every child into a practical reality for children and families.
I have had the privilege of meeting people across Scotland who are passionate about providing that help and have been effective in its delivery. And I want to encourage that excellent practice to make a difference in children’s lives.
I accept that work has not been able to reach its full potential recently due to uncertainties arising out of the Supreme Court judgement on the named-person issue.
I updated Parliament on how we intend to address that judgement and clear the way to support good, collaborative practice focused on Getting it right for every child.
We intend to repeal Parts 4 and 5 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, meaning that we will not be placing the named-person and child’s plan into law. But in taking this action, I remain absolutely determined to ensure that families can get the help they need, when they need it and in a way that respects their rights. That is why I said the named-person approach will continue as an approach which is now well embedded and can be delivered within existing legislation in partnership with parents.
‘A cutting-edge approach’
This Government’s commitment to Getting it right for every child is therefore undiminished.
I agree wholeheartedly with the chair of the independent panel, Professor Ian Welsh, who looked at how we address this complex issue when he recognised that Getting it right for every child “continues to be a cutting-edge approach to delivering a safe and protective, challenging and inclusive cross-sector partnership programme for children and families with international respect. All of us, across the parties and communities should be proud of and invested in the approach”.
Community Planning Partnerships across Scotland already deliver GIRFEC and a named-person service and child’s plan. These services are provided within their existing statutory functions, and have evolved over the last ten years to provide early help, high-quality planning and the coordination of services. I want all of that to continue and to further develop.
In taking this agenda forward, we have to remember the origins of this thinking. When the Scottish Government initiated the development of GIRFEC practice tools more than a decade ago, the named-person role was not one of the identified components. It was families who said that they wanted to know who it was in the system that they could talk to, if they had any concerns about their child’s wellbeing and development.
They said that the system appeared complicated and confusing. While they knew there were social workers and psychologists, they preferred to talk to someone they knew and already trusted – and if they wanted help, it was advice and early support that they often wanted, not a major intervention.
Appropriate information sharing
Families asked if they could have a ‘named person’, who they could go to for advice, and who could help them contact other services, if that was the right thing to do. That is how the named-person service developed, and that it is how it has grown across most of Scotland.
I want this to be something that more families can benefit from, along with the child’s plan and other aspects of our GIRFEC approach. Having addressed the information-sharing controversy, we must now move on, to sustain and fully embed Getting it right for every child across the country. I have tasked officials to work with stakeholders to develop materials to support and promote proportionate and appropriate, information sharing practice.
Together, I believe that these measures will give practitioners the confidence they need to share concerns within the law, and to work in partnership with children and families. That means children, young people and families will get the support they need, when they need it.
These measures will build on the real advances we have made in culture, systems and practice in children’s services, that have already improved lives the length and breadth of this country. It is vital we build on this work to ensure we are Getting it right for every child.
John Swinney is MSP for Perthshire North, Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary