Scotland to reconsider contentious child welfare plan
Pro-family critics say new watered-down version remains problematic
Scottish officials this week announced they are reintroducing a controversial law that would assign a state guardian to every child in the country.
The announcement comes nine months after the U.K. Supreme Court struck down the “Named Person” law, a plan to monitor child “wellbeing” by having an education or health official track each Scottish child from birth to age 18. The court ruled certain provisions in the proposed law violated human rights and infringed on privacy.
On Tuesday, education secretary John Swinney told the Scottish Parliament that despite the ruling, he remains “absolutely committed” to the scheme. Swinney said he made adjustments to the law based on the high court’s ruling and plans to resubmit legislation this summer, with implementation set for 2018.
Despite Swinney’s plans, critics of the law praised the announcement as a “major victory for parents” because the modified proposal does not have the teeth of the original.
“However they try to spin it, this is a major climbdown by the Scottish government,” said Simon Calvert, spokesman for the No To Named Person (NO2NP) campaign. “After two years of causing fear and confusion amongst parents, they are now conceding that they cannot lower the threshold for non-consensual disclosure of personal information on families. … It’s about time.”
As approved in 2014, the law required state officials to share collected medical, school, and legal records with each child’s named person, often without notifying the child’s parents. For example, doctors prescribing birth control to a teenage girl would be required to tell the girl’s named person but not her parents.
Four pro-family organizations—The Christian Institute, CARE, TYMES Trust, and the Family Education Trust—appealed to the U.K. Supreme Court after a lower court ruled in favor of the proposed law. Weeks before the law’s planned 2016 implementation, the court unanimously struck down the data-sharing provision, ruling it breached the right to a private and family life in the European Convention on Human Rights.
On Tuesday, Swinney told the legislature the new plan would only allow for sharing personal information about a child without parental consent in “exceptional circumstances,” and only if it involved a “risk of harm.”
The law’s supporters are hopeful the reworked plan will pass.
“We know from our service experience that many families need support from time to time,” said Martin Crewe, director of the children’s charity Barnardo’s Scotland. “The named-person policy will mean that families know who to turn to for information, advice or assistance, and will ensure that families have access to help as early as possible.”
But critics are calling on lawmakers to kill the plan.
“It is now left to the people of Scotland to demonstrate to this government just how much this legislation is unwanted by most parents, unnecessary for the vast majority, and will leave the truly vulnerable even more so,” Dee Thomas, a mother of four, told NO2NP.
A 2016 poll found almost two-thirds of Scots opposed the law, calling it an “unacceptable intrusion” into family life. Less than one-third of respondents said they supported it.
“The named person scheme has been strongly criticized by both parents and leading professionals across all spheres of life—education, health, and law enforcement,” said Gordon Mcdonald of CARE, one of the organizations that filed the original suit. “The Scottish government must listen to the majority and not shoehorn in a proposal that is deeply unpopular and serves to undermine the role of parents in family life.”
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