Rhoda's speech in the Scottish Parliament debate
8 June 2016
When the proposal came forward to roll out the named person policy that had been piloted in Highland, I was supportive.
That could only be a good thing.
We need to protect young people and give them a good start in life.
There is a tragic list of young lives that have been lost.
Each of those losses is followed by an inquiry and by subsequent changes to child protection.
These were the circumstances that instigated the named person policy.
Danielle Reid was murdered in Inverness in 2003.
She was not on an at-risk register.
After her murder, it became clear that a number of people had been uneasy about the circumstances that she was living in.
None of them individually thought that she was in danger.
Their concerns were not serious enough for them to phone the police or the social work department.
They were simply concerns.
However, when all those concerns were heard together they looked very different, and collectively they would have led to the instigation of child protection procedures.
How, then, could checks and balances be put in place to protect children in those circumstances?
An easily identifiable central point of contact was required, hence the named person policy was devised to provide an obvious point of contact in a child’s life who could become the repository for concerns.
If only one insignificant concern was received, that would not warrant any action but a number of concerns would.
The policy was designed to stop children falling through the safety nets that were already in place and to allow early intervention.
However, child protection processes would remain in place for serious concerns, or when a collection of concerns flagged up a worrying pattern of behaviour.
As the cabinet secretary said, in Highland, where the named person policy was piloted, referrals to the children’s hearings system fell from 2,335 in 2005-06 to 744 in 2013-14.
That is a dramatic change, which shows that early intervention not only worked to protect the child but prevented escalation of cases.
We cannot say that all those 744 children will be safe or indeed that no others will fall below the radar, but we can confidently say that risk has been cut.
Imagine my disappointment when the roll-out of the policy was so badly handled.
For the policy to work, it needs to have the confidence of parents, family, neighbours and professionals, but the SNP Government has alienated most of them.
The policy should have been welcomed by all who are concerned about child welfare, but it has become mired in confusion, rumour and supposition.
Where are the clear guidelines?
Where is the training for named persons?
Where are the additional staff and resources?
Why are we reading in the press such ridiculous stories of needless interventions?
The First Minister appeared not to have a grasp of her own policy, saying that it was optional.
Of course a parent can opt out of using their child’s named person for advice and information, but they cannot withdraw their child from having a named person.
Child protection is not optional.
It is little wonder, therefore, that there are real concerns about the policy.
To make the policy work we need to pause and take stock, and to ensure that the policy is implemented properly.
A trusted independent person needs to review how the policy has been implemented.
They also need to listen to the real and genuinely held concerns of parents and professionals.
New guidance needs to be issued by someone who understands not only the policy but the concerns of parents.
There are wicked people in the world who cause harm.
Therefore, we need to have protection in place.
The protection systems do not exist for the children of the many great parents who bring up their children well.
Why would we waste limited resources when they are not required?
However, we need to put in place protection and resources to protect children who are at risk and identify them early so that we can intervene.
Sadly, we can have all the policies in the world, but they will not work unless we have enough trained staff to implement them.
One of the real concerns of the situation, and of all child protection, is resources.
Council budgets have been slashed, social workers are in short supply and those who are available are overworked, often to the extent that their health and wellbeing are being put at risk.
If we are to protect vulnerable children, we need well-resourced services.
The Labour Party is clear that the cuts from both our Governments are putting the most vulnerable in our society at risk.
We need to stop the cuts, fund our services and protect our future generations.