A Cautionary Note for Implementing the Named Person Scheme

by Harla Sara Octarra
PhD Candidate, Social Policy, the University of Edinburgh

The Scottish Government’s public service reforms for children are increasingly committed to promoting interagency working. Interagency working is often prescribed as a way to overcoming complex bureaucracy and delay in public services. GIRFEC (Getting It Right For Every Child) signifies such reform. It aims at improving outcomes for children by improving services; that is a shift from working in silos into partnership (Stradling and Alexander, 2012). Some considered GIRFEC as a policy, others a framework or approach. However, in practice, there has been questions so as to its effectiveness in improving outcomes for children (Davis and Smith, 2012; Education Scotland, 2012). Through the ‘landmark’ children’s legislation (Tisdall, 2015), which is the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, the Scottish Government continues to improve implementation of GIRFEC. In Part 4 of the Act is the Named Person Service. Consistent with the reforms and GIRFEC, interagency working is also key to implementing the Named Person service, which provides a single point of contact for children and families and services when there is a concern for a child’s wellbeing (Scottish Government, 2014).

Is the Named Person a person or a service?

Since its introduction, the Named Person has raised objections particularly because it is perceived as interfering family lives and violating parental rights (Christian Institute, 2014). Those who object to the scheme (as well as in some media coverage) see a Named Person as a state guardian (NO2NP, 2016). Also, the UK Supreme Court recently found that the information sharing provision of the Named Person scheme was unlawful. The lack of consent seeking and insufficient guidelines that could lead to professionals making a disproportionate judgement without parents or children’s knowledge was the basis for the Supreme Court objection. The controversies focus on the Named Person as the professional, the person, while not enough attention has been given to the Named Person as a service.

Drawing on ethnographic research in one local authority over a period of eight months, I found that the introduction of the Named Person service appears to be problematic in practice. I present three reasons. First, implementing the Named Person is changing relationships, and therefore creating tensions, between professionals in their ways of working together. Second, for professionals who become the Named Person, there are tensions between this role and their usual remit. Finally, the Named Person role brings extra bureaucratic work for those who would take up the role.

I argue that the Named Person is both a service and a person. The Act and the Named Person guidelines assume that the service will ensure existing approaches to interagency working are more efficient. The single point of contact, a person, is thus expected to coordinate services and responses to ensure wellbeing concerns are addressed timely and appropriately. The professional who is going to be a Named Person is an employee and also a practitioner; s/he is bound to follow the rules set by their organisation and to deliver the service based on their professional training. The Named Person service works through organisational work mechanisms and procedures that influence the day-to-day work of professionals. In the context of interagency working, such influence extends to the ways professionals work together. Understanding this complexity, and the dual nature of the Named Person scheme, is paramount to make progress in the Scottish Government re-design in the coming months.

References

Christian Institute, 2014. ‘Named person’ scheme. Available from: http://www.christian.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/namedpersonbriefing.pdf [Accessed 11th December 2016]

Davis, J.M., Smith, M., 2012. Working in multi-professional contexts : a practical guide for professionals in children’s services. SAGE Publications, London.

Education Scotland, 2012. Getting it right for every child: Where are we now? Available from: [Accessed 11th December 2016]

NO2NP, 2016. Round Up of Media Coverage of Named Person Plans. Available from: http://no2np.org/media-coverage-of-named-person-plans/ [Accessed 11th December 2016]

Scottish Government, 2014. Named Person. Available from: http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0046/00465711.pdf [Accessed 11th December 2016]

Stradling, B., Alexander, B., 2012. Getting it right for children: promoting effective change, in: Hill, M., Head, G., Lockyer, A., Reid, B., Taylor, R. (Eds.), Children’s Services: Working Together. Pearson, Harlow, England, pp. 62–74.

Tisdall, E.K.M., 2015. Children’s Rights and Children’s Wellbeing: Equivalent Policy Concepts? Journal of Social Policy 44, 807–823.