Government commitment to children remains as vital as ever

Written by: Professor Ian Welsh OBE, Chair, Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) Practice Development Panel

Published: 20/09/2019

Ian welcomes the response to the report of the Getting it Right for Every Child Practice Development Panel.

The most significant thing that John Swinney, Deputy First Minister, announced yesterday in response to my Panel’s report was not the withdrawal of the Children and Young People Information Sharing Bill nor the repeal of Parts 4 and 5 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 but the reaffirmation of the Government’s commitment to the Getting it right for every child policy, a policy that successive Governments over the last 14 years have championed and for which they have maintained significant cross party support.

It takes time to change culture and attitudes but we are now seeing the Getting it right for every child programme deliver across Scotland. It continues to be a cutting-edge approach to delivering a safe and protective, challenging and inclusive cross-sector partnership programme for children and families, with international respect.

All of us, across the parties and the communities, should be proud of and invested in the approach.

As well as changes to culture and attitudes over the last few years, we have also seen data protection law undergo a 20-year update, some of that happening as the Panel sat, (with our legal sub-group exploring Scots and UK law, regulation and guidance, as well as relevant European and international law) and it is now much clearer on how, and when, information may be shared.

The key point to be made about the Panel’s view (on developing a code of practice in relation to information sharing) is that we concluded that we can rely on the law as it is now, founded on the Data Protection Act and GDPR. This detailed law brings to the fore safeguards to unwarranted sharing of information while also being more explicit in relation to when information may be shared legally.

Consequently, the clear and direct advice to Mr Swinney from the Panel in relation to a statutory code of practice for information sharing to support health visitors, teachers and others in their roles was that new law on information sharing was neither necessary nor desirable and I’m pleased that he has recognised the significance of that in his announcement.

Although the consequence of that conclusion, as announced by the Deputy First Minister, is that the Government will not embed named persons in legislation, the Panel believes it remains a progressive and humane policy: early intervention to maximise later life opportunities, underpinned by the development of resilience in young people, supported by a responsive and sympathetic named person approach which puts partnership power into the hands of parents and young people.

It is also important to restate that families having a clear point of contact within the system, a contact that works for them, remains part of that strong set of GIRFEC cultural values. An identified health visitor or senior teacher who families can turn to for information, advice or help to get services is critical when they want early support. Equally, those named persons in the system (working for families, having a role to highlight to them when they see an opportunity to improve a child’s life) are enhancing the wellbeing of our nation.

The statement in Parliament from Mr Swinney on scrapping the legislation for named persons for children and young people is, therefore, to be welcomed and so, also, is his continued support for a named person policy approach. Not because it represents a climb-down from providing access to support for all children but that it shows just how far we have come since that legislation was first considered necessary in 2014 when the legislation for named persons was voted through Parliament with no opposition.

In the interim, our public services, shifting further towards empowering, person-centred approaches where trusting, non-judgmental relationships is the foundation of working together, are much more aware of, and responsive to, the societal effects of poverty, health inequalities, the drive for early years improvement, adverse childhood experiences, the need for trauma informed staff and services, coproduction of services with citizens, empowering partnerships with parents, health and social care integration, human-rights based approaches and other health and social circumstances that impact on families.

Finally, I’m pleased that the Government has taken its time to properly reflect on the Panel Report, to examine and assess the work already well advanced in refreshed GIRFEC guidance, to acknowledge the very strong and extensive engagement process the Panel undertook and I’m delighted that it will move now to develop practitioner confidence in working with families, sharing the right information with the right people at the right time, delivering the services they want and need.

This article was originally published in the Herald on Friday 20th September 2019.

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