The Stasi spying on children: It’s an Orwelllian new scheme – a State snooper for EVERY child in Scotland compiling a dossier on their family life… and it has chilling implications for us all
Just imagine that you are a parent and one of your daughters cuts the hair off the Barbie dolls belonging to her younger sister. Cue screaming, shouting and tears before bedtime. But it’s the kind of thing that happens in families, isn’t it?
In later years the crew-cut Barbies will be chuckled about over Sunday lunch. ‘Do you remember when . . .’
But now imagine someone else learns about the Barbie incident — during a seemingly casual conversation with that hurt younger sister, say.
Being watched: The one million children in Scotland will be checked over by ‘state guardians’ as part of new laws in Children and Young People (Scotland) Act that comes into force from August
This person is not a relative or friend but an official appointed by the state, without your permission, and allowed to gather information about you and your children — in secret, if it is deemed necessary — and circulate it among other state agencies such as the police and social services.
It so happens that this snooper doesn’t possess the sense of proportion or humour that is essential when addressing the issue of warring children. This hacking-off of synthetic blonde locks appears a bit odd to our ‘state guardian’. Disturbing, in fact.
So, this government-appointed busybody opens a file on you and your family and enters a remark: ‘Older girl exhibiting signs of aggression against younger. Doll disfigurement may indicate deeper issues of anger management within family unit.’
And suddenly it isn’t just about Barbie dolls any more.
George Orwell understood this kind of thing: how the state, always wary, always contemptuous of the people it claims to represent, forever seeks to exercise control over them.
Knowledge is power — and what better knowledge can one have of a person than that pertaining to the inner workings of their family?
It just so happens that Nicola Sturgeon cut the hair off her sister’s Barbies during a childhood spat, according to that sibling, Gillian. The First Minister of Scotland denies the allegation but adds that if she did it — ‘and it’s an “if” ’ — she would have had ‘provocation’.
‘She (Gillian) behaved the way younger sisters tend to behave, but I love her dearly,’ said Miss Sturgeon.
Being British, and lovers of liberty and privacy, we are all glad that Miss Sturgeon never merited a mention in some state dossier for her alleged Barbie-barbering.
The SNP, led by Nicola Sturgeon, has introduced a law that indeed creates a state guardian for every one of Scotland’s one million young people under the age of 18
But the leader of the Scottish National Party does not return the compliment.
Incredible as it seems, the government she leads — newly re-elected, though short of an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament — has introduced a law that indeed creates a state guardian for every one of Scotland’s one million young people under the age of 18.
The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act comes into force in August but is already being trialled across Scotland. If it is seen as a success, inevitably there will be those who will argue for it to be introduced south of the border.
For children under five, this so-called Named Person will be their health visitor; for older children the most likely candidate is their head teacher. These Named Persons are just like the one in the scenario above.
Intelligence-gatherers, imposed on each and every family by the State, they are able to mould perceptions — often in secret — of the families allotted to them.
There is no right of appeal against their findings — indeed, no automatic right to know what those findings are — and no way to prevent their judgments spreading out into the state bureaucracy via a soon-to-be-created mass database.
The idea is that these people will provide a ‘single point of contact’ for those concerned about a child, including its parents. No longer will a boy or girl in distress be allowed to ‘fall between the cracks’ created by different agencies.
But this is a benign interpretation of something regarded by opponents as profoundly sinister in its ambition and scope.
Among others, doctors and dentists will be compelled to surrender information on youngsters in a move that tears down the concept of patient confidentiality.
Taxi drivers, too, if they are employed on council contracts to transport children, will be compelled to relate anything ‘of interest’.
This SNP-inspired ‘McStasi’ is not there simply to stop harm coming to children. Its remit, according to the legislation that has given it life, is to promote child ‘wellbeing’.
In that single, elastic word lies the danger of this project. Because when a Named Person is looking to improve the life of a child, as opposed to saving him or her from abuse and death, there is no end to how he or she may interfere in family life.
Instead of focusing on a few exceptionally vulnerable children, the ‘wellbeing’ test will make every child in Scotland a potential target for official intervention.
Doctors and dentists will be compelled to surrender information on youngsters in a move that tears down the concept of patient confidentiality as part of the scheme
Nicola Sturgeon says her priority is education at SNP manifesto
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‘The Named Person scheme shows how government has lost any sense of the family as an important private institution,’ says Stuart Waiton, a lecturer at Abertay University and vocal opponent of the scheme.
‘Trust, loyalty and privacy, in their warped eyes, are transformed into secrets being hidden “behind closed doors”.’
Already, a bizarre edifice of wellbeing ‘indicators’ has been trialled in areas the length and breadth of Scotland.
Named Persons will inquire into how children’s bedrooms are decorated, how much television they watch and whether they can ride a bicycle at a certain age. It is a bureaucrat’s dream, with its own brand of patronising jargon, such as its goal of GIRFEC (Getting It Right For Every Child) so that every child is SHANARRI — ‘Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Nurtured, Active, Respected, Responsible, Included’.
There is even a SHANARRI song to be sung by Scotland’s hapless youth — one that would make Chairman Mao proud. ‘Hello sunshine, hello blue sky / ‘S-H-A-N-A-R-R-I (repeat) / We’re safe and we’re happy and achieving . . .’ And on and on.
The £60 million of taxes so far wasted on this drivel is surely only a drop in the ocean of what will be spent.
People in the rest of the UK have heard little of the Named Persons scheme, hence the waves made by an edition of Question Time on BBC1 earlier this month. Chairman David Dimbleby spoke for sensible people everywhere when he described the scheme as ‘stranger and stranger’.
Named Persons are already exhibiting a disturbing zealotry in their pursuit of ‘failing parents’.
‘Stranger and stranger’: David Dimbleby spoke for sensible people everywhere when he spoke about the scheme during a recent edition of Question Time
Take Michael (not his real name), an academic at a Scottish university. His two youngest children were removed from his home after his estranged wife claimed she had suffered domestic abuse at his hands. But the boys were later returned to him by a court. ‘Once a stain is made you can’t erase it and these mechanisms begin,’ says the foreign-born lecturer.
Unbeknown to him, a ‘family record’ was kept by his children’s health visitor, a Named Person, for 18 months. It chronicled every minor issue, from runny noses to thumb-sucking. There were 70 pages of comments, but when Michael finally discovered its existence and won his battle to get hold of a copy, much of it was redacted.
‘My colleagues at university thought it was a document from the former Soviet Union,’ he says.
‘It has radically affected my perception of Scotland. I had some naive view that Scottish democracy was different and better, but the Scottish system is highly authoritarian. It is horrible.’
Rebecca Cheeseman collided with the Named Person scheme when her daughter became an alleged victim of a crime and a social worker called at her home. It was concluded that her daughter had made up the allegation and there must be some underlying reason, possibly affecting her ‘wellbeing’.
‘We discovered that medical details about my daughter, my husband and me had been shared with the social worker by way of a health visitor,’ she says.
‘The health visitor was the Named Person for my sons and had recorded, among other things, that I had suffered from postnatal depression following the birth of my daughter in 1998, which was wholly irrelevant, as was a remark about my husband’s current health condition.’
The Cheesemans made a complaint and were later vindicated by a council tribunal.
‘They have put us through hell for 18 months and haven’t even apologised,’ Rebecca says. ‘With “wellbeing” as the criteria, anything can trigger one of these behind-the-scenes enquiries.’
Also chilling is the case of a dentist in Aberdeenshire whose staff have been pressured by Named Persons to release information on young patients.
‘These callers are pushing quite hard for information,’ he says. ‘They want to know the date of the last check-up and what level of decay was found, that kind of thing.
Named Persons will be able to inquire into how children’s bedrooms are decorated. They will also assess how much television youngster’s watch and whether they can ride a bicycle at a certain age
‘When we say we need (parental) permission to comply with the request, it often becomes quite aggressive. They say: “You are being deliberately obstructive. You don’t need the parents’ permission any more because we are acting as Named Persons.” ’
Even taxi drivers are feeling the pressure, too.
The training officer for Scottish Borders Child Protection Committee has already warned cabbies contracted by the council to transport children around the rural area that they must relay relevant information gleaned from their young passengers.
‘You’ve got to tell us because it’s a legal duty,’ says training officer Jim Terras.
So how did the Scots — inheritors of the Enlightenment — come up with this dystopian nightmare?
Well, it was given to them by the English. And in particular those arch-meddlers in New Labour.
Social engineering was the order of the day in the Blair era, and the idea — expressed in its policy Every Child Matters — was that if you intervened early in a child’s life, you could stop it ending up jobless, or in prison, or dead at the hands of an abusive parent. Even the Conservatives are prone to a bit of social engineering; witness David Cameron’s argument that every aspiring parent should attend parenting classes.
But SNP policymakers developed this philosophy into an even more invasive policy. It’s Every Child Matters on steroids.
Scotland’s Faculty of Advocates, the equivalent of the Bar Council in England, argues that in passing the Act the government at Holyrood has confused a policy with a law. You can’t legislate for a child’s happiness, it says, and you shouldn’t try.
The Scottish legislature’s lack of a revising second chamber, weak committee system and sheep-like SNP members allowed the Named Persons clause to remain in the Act and be passed into law — aided by an Opposition that failed to pick up on the peril.
The Scottish people, however, are beginning to wake up to the dangers. Polls show that a majority are opposed to the scheme, and it is thought the SNP may have lost its majority in this month’s election due to this disquiet.
There is also a continuing legal challenge by a coalition of church and other groups called No2NP. The Supreme Court in London is being asked to rule the legislation unlawful on grounds that the Scottish Parliament has exceeded its powers and contravened the European Human Rights provision protecting the right to private and family life. A decision is expected soon.
Experts such as veteran social worker Maggie Mellon point out that the scheme hinders rather than helps the cause of child welfare.
Jenny Cunningham says there is a world of difference between parental behaviour that puts children at risk and that which the state does not deem acceptable
‘This new concept of wellbeing draws in every child in the country,’ she says. ‘So instead of having a few blips on your radar screen to monitor — the real danger cases — you now have thousands of blips obscuring the true picture.
‘We are now asking questions like, “Is a child taken to church too often or not often enough? Are they made to do too much homework or not enough? Are they going to bed too early or too late?”
‘Bloody hell! Leave families alone. They have done quite well over the years — much better than the state, which makes a lousy parent.’
Jenny Cunningham, a paediatrician working in Glasgow, reinforces the point, saying: ‘There is a world of difference between parental behaviour that puts children at serious risk of abuse or neglect and behaviour that does not match up to the state’s expectations.’
Even proposed Named Persons are unhappy. Teachers have said they will not act as such during holidays, and more than half of health visitors surveyed by Unison are opposed to the scheme.
These professionals are being asked to take on what is potentially a huge extra workload for no extra money. Head teachers in particular could find themselves swamped by multiple demands for information from agencies and parents.
One teacher tells me: ‘It is absolutely essential that we forge close working relationships with parents. If we start contacting them to say we have heard their child has missed an appointment at the dentist, that relationship will immediately break down.’
Faced with this growing backlash, Miss Sturgeon has begun to back-pedal, describing the scheme as an ‘entitlement’ not an ‘obligation’. But the Act says nothing about choice.
‘This policy is widely supported by leading children’s charities and welfare organisations, as well as by the Scottish Police Federation,’ says a Holyrood spokesman. ‘It is a policy which is aimed at protecting children’s wellbeing, and is about supporting, not diminishing, the role of parents.’
Rachel McIntyre begs to differ.
On a wet evening this week, the child carer attended an anti-Named Person roadshow in Kilmarnock with her six-year-old son Calvin. Miss McIntyre, 29, is a single parent — a category that tends to attract attention from Named Persons.
‘Calvin and I might be a small unit but we’re a strong one,’ she says. ‘To find out that somebody could be making decisions about Calvin without me knowing, I don’t like that.
‘This is like “Big Brother is watching you”.’
Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute, a main backer of No2NP, puts it simply: ‘The Named Person scheme is a Civil Service tick-box approach to family life, patronising parents, over-assessing children and trampling on people’s right to confidentiality.
‘Do these “experts” ever stop to ask themselves how the family has managed to function for millennia without them?
‘Just who do these people think they are?’
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