THE introduction of state guardians in Scotland became embroiled in fresh controversy last night when it emerged that the watchdog responsible for overseeing the scheme has raised concerns about its complaints procedure.
The Public Services Ombudsman Jim Martin has written to MSPs to express reservations about the system being put in place to deal with parents who experience problems with the way their children are treated under the scheme.
Nicola Sturgeon’s plans for every Scottish child to be monitored by a named individual has been met by a wave of criticism and has become one of the Scottish Government’s most controversial policies.
Opponents of the “named person” plan described it as the “most calamitous scheme the Scottish Government has ever dreamed up” when told that the latest individual to identify a problem happens to be the public servant with the ultimate responsibility for dealing with any clashes between parents and the authorities.
The Ombudsman’s letter suggests that the regulated system being introduced by the government will not be flexible enough to adapt if changes are needed to the way complaints are handled.
The concerns are based on the Scottish Government’s decision to produce a complaints procedure that is bound by regulations. The use of formal regulations means that if there is an urgent need to adapt the system then legislation would have to be passed to do so – a time consuming process.
Martin’s letter said: “My one concern is about the use of a regulation to set out the details of the process ... Regulations do not change quickly and we have found issues in other areas where procedures set out by regulation have become outdated and out of step with modern complaint handling and, generally, the move has been to move away from this approach.”
He added: “I felt it would be remiss of me not to note that this particular legislative approach of creating the detail of complaints processes through regulations is now out of line with other areas in the public sector and we would recommend it should not be used as a model in the future unless there were compelling reasons to do so.”
Scotland on Sunday understands that the “other areas” mentioned in Martin’s letter refers to the social work complaints system.
In the past, social work complaints were dealt with by a regulated system. However, in 2008 it was decided that the social work complaints system had become outdated and required reform.
But because the system had been laid down in regulations, it is only now – eight years later – that it is getting updated. Last night Simon Calvert of No To Named Person which is spearheading the legal fight against the new scheme, said: “The named person scheme may win the award for the most calamitous scheme the Scottish Government has ever dreamed up. We already know that named persons will accumulate and share secret family data almost at will. And the scheme is so burdensome that the teachers and health visitors who are meant to take on the role are running away in droves. And the police say it can put abused children at even greater risk. Lawyers are against it. Social workers are against it. Parents are against it. Now we get confirmation that the complaints system has been botched. Surely this must be the straw that breaks the camel’s back?”
While supporters argue it will help protect and nurture Scotland’s children, critics are insistent it represents a gross intrusion into family life and an erosion of the rights of parents.
Under the plan – contained in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act every child in Scotland will be monitored by a single named individual, either a healthworker or teacher, who looks after their wellbeing from birth to the age of 18.
The named person will have access to a child’s personal medical records, and will be informed if a child ever misses a hospital or dental appointment.
Last night a Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “It is important that parents, families and children and young people are clear about how complaints can been made.
“The complaints process is closely modelled on the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman’s model complaints process. The Scottish Government has worked closely with the Ombudsman and other partners to make sure we get this important aspect of the Children and Young People Act right.”