The Named Person Service

A roundtable event to consider the implications of the Scottish Government’s proposed Named Person service (Act 2014).



Practitioners from voluntary, public and legal sectors were involved, along with academics and faith community representatives. Issues at stake include definitions and understanding of key terms, including wellbeing and vulnerability; concerns about data gathering and surveillance; the balance of responsibilities between family and state; confidentiality and thresholds for intervention.

The event was chaired by Dr Lesley Orr (CTPI) and Dr Eric Stoddart (St Andrews) gave an introductory presentation. Eric also produced a note of the discussion, which follows: ‘In Opening Remarks, attention was drawn to the (new?) requirement for irrelevant details to be archived at transition points rather than destroyed/deleted. The creation of such an archive, it was suggested, needs to be seen in the context of questions over the funding at local authority level for robust cyber security. (A recent survey of 5500 commercial networks found a disturbingly high number of malware and other unapproved applications “hiding in plain sight”.)

Some participants raised fundamental issues around the family and the state. This relationship, some perceived, is being shaped by a discourse of vulnerability connected to the language of asset/deficit. The Named Person service is, for some, an example of this wider phenomenon. The perspective of practitioners suggested that limited resources and pressing needs would leave no time for “nosing into people’s business”. The potential for white noise obscuring important information about young people in serious risk (in terms of welfare) was acknowledged. In this respect, easier availability of case studies (such as the Isle of Man) would be helpful. The possibility that the universal service was being instituted in response to notorious serious cases of child abuse gave some participants cause for concern. The subjectivity around “well-being” contributed to the serious questions being posed by some participants over the wisdom of such a law threshold being set for Named Persons to gather “pieces of a jigsaw”. The requirement for recording of information to be evidence-based was offered as a counter to such concerns. The political motive for the named person service was cast in the light of more threatening dangers to children in Scotland, e.g. road traffic accidents, inadequate nutrition, alcohol abuse, and in adequate housing. One participant considered that addressing these dangers through legislation would not require the undermining of family rights that he believed the Act embodied. In response to the big Family v State question, more than one practitioner referred to the Christie Commission Report on the Future of Public Services in Scotland (2011) as both reflecting a philosophical position and recommending a shift away from the notion of the State solving social problems Even where the principles and outcomes of the service were supported, some questioned whether legislation was actually necessary or desirable – happening in practice anyway 16 and 17 year olds out of school (and more generally straddling definitions of child/adulthood) – who is their NP? Issues around under 18s with children of their own (significant on case loads) Other aspects were raised, including: the use of services being inhibited when confidentiality to young people is compromised, the unintended consequences of information sharing, and the security of both computer and written records on school premises. There was a general, if not universal, consensus that the intended ends are good ones, even where concern about this legislation as the means and that taking up polarised and simplistic positions is neither necessary nor helpful.’