Christian and family groups in Scotland are making a last ditch effort to stop implementation of a new law that would assign a state guardian to every child in Scotland. While supporters claim the comprehensive legislation will streamline child welfare agency processes, opponents argue the plan to appoint a government-employed “named person” for every child violates human rights and infringes on privacy.
“[The law is] an insult to the fundamental human rights of mums and dads to bring up their children the way they see fit,” said Colin Hart, director of The Christian Institute, one of the plaintiffs in the case. He added that there is no way for parents to opt-out or be the named person for their own child.
The law, approved in 2014 and set to go into effect in August, assigns a guardian—a teacher, nurse, midwife, social worker, or other government-employed person—to monitor the “wellbeing” of every Scottish child from birth to age 18. The named person would have access to school, medical, and legal documents and be able to intervene if necessary. For example, doctors prescribing birth control to teenage girls would be required to tell the girl’s named person, but not her parents, according to Aidan O’Neill, the attorney representing the law’s opponents before the U.K. Supreme Court.
As part of the new requirements, administrators will ask children questions in school designed to flag situations needing intervention, reporting the results to their named person. Younger children will be asked questions using prompt cards, songs, and activities to assess their home life, according to reporting by the Scottish Mail. Older children will be asked questions on topics ranging from sexual health to their relationship with their parents. Answers will be stored on local databases.
Opponents argue normal, caring Scottish parents should not have to fear unwanted investigations into their family life because of doctor’s appointments or school questionnaires.
“A major problem with the named person professionals is that they appear to have lost any sense of the family as an important private institution for society,” said Stuart Waiton, a doctor and senior sociology lecturer at Abertay University in Dundee. “Once we see every child as vulnerable and every family as potentially toxic, the result is that professionals see less of a problem with interfering in the private lives of children and parents.”
But supporters argue the law is a safety net for children and families, and a way for families to access support when they need it. They also claim the named person will be a single point of contact, able to streamline information sharing between various agencies.
“The named person isn’t someone new or unknown,” said a Scottish government spokesperson, according to the Herald Scotland. “It is a person who is already working with the child and family, and simply strengthens that strong relationship.”
Four pro-family organizations, The Christian Institute, CARE, TYMES Trust, and the Family Education Trust, appealed to the U.K. Supreme Court after three judges from the Inner House of the Court of Session ruled in favor of the law last year. Five judges on the Supreme Court in London heard the case last week and will rule in the next few months.
A poll commissioned by The Times newspaper found almost half of Scots are opposed to the law and fewer than a third support it. The Supreme Court has halted implementation of the law until it rules.
— by Kiley Crossland