MSPs call child protection plans into question

Aileen Campbell: move aims to 'cut through bureaucracy'. Picture: Robert Perry
Aileen Campbell: move aims to 'cut through bureaucracy'. Picture: Robert Perry
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THE prospect of every child in Scotland being given their own state-appointed overseer to guard against the threat of abuse has been called into question by MSPs.

The measure will be a UK first and is at the heart of legislation going through the Scottish Parliament.

But MSPs on Holyrood’s petitions committee warned it will be a “huge enterprise” and voiced concerns over the workload facing social workers who already face caseloads of up to 70 children.

The Children and Young People Bill contains a legal requirement to provide children with a “named person” from birth, such as a health worker, to safeguard and support their well-being.

Children’s Minister Aileen Campbell told the committee that the responsibility for providing a named person will belong to health boards until the age of five when it would be transferred to councils. She was appearing before an inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Scotland.

But Nationalist John Wilson asked how children would be made aware that they have a named person and how that named person would be identified to the child.

“How do we make sure that this named person is actually identified to the young person, and the young person has the confidence and the ability to actually directly speak to that named individual?” he said.

Labour’s Anne McTaggart, herself a former social worker, raised concerns over the looming workload facing the profession.

“Have you got quotas as to how many (children and young people) that named person will have?

“In my last job within social work, there were cases there of up to 70, so that named person may well have up to 70 young people under their jurisdiction.”

Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw suggested the measure is “a very huge enterprise”.

“How many named persons do you anticipate there will be? What will the turnover be in named persons? And how in practice does that really establish a bond of confidence on which people feel they can rely?” he asked.

But Ms Campbell insisted that part of the implementation of the Bill involves the drafting of regulations and guidance on the expectations and responsibilities of named persons.

“Certainly the idea, as has been said, is about trying to cut through bureaucracy to make sure the child truly is at the centre of the services that are being delivered around them,” Ms Campbell said.

“It is important to realise that while there will be a named person for every child, not every child will need interaction with that named person.

“There has to be a way in which we can make sure that there is someone having an overview of what is happening to that child, to make sure that the early indicators of anything that would pose a threat or risk to that child are flagged up as soon as they can be.”

The role of the of the named person will be pick up all the “clues and signs” from the various agencies like school, social work or health that a child may be at risk, according to Phil Raines, Head of Child Protection and Children’s Legislation Policy at the Scottish Government. He told MSPs this has “not happened before in the UK.”