Named Person: National Caseworking


By Maggie Mellon

Supporters of the Named Person (NP) scheme, who relied mainly on assurances given by the Government and NP’s architects and supporters, might have been surprised by the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling that the law needed to be dropped or substantially revised. It was, however, not the assurances that were the subject of the challenge and the Supreme Court ruling. Why the Government and its supporters chose not to refer themselves and us to the wording of the Act is for them to explain, but anyone who remains in any doubt that they have been misled should read the relevant parts of the Act, the Guidance and the Supreme Court judgement.

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An Open Letter to John Swinney On Named Person

DEAR John Swinney,

You have asked for engagement on the future of the Named Person following the ruling of the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled the information sharing provisions unlawful and also cautioned that parental or child consent to share personal information should not be obtained by the threat of any possible consequences.

Continue reading “An Open Letter to John Swinney On Named Person”

Maggie Mellon Speaking @ NO2NP Roadshow – Inverness:

Independent Social Services Consultant Maggie Mellon explains her problems with the Named Person scheme to an audience at a roadshow event in Inverness, 1st October 2014.

The ‘Named Person’ debate: The case against – Maggie Mellon

Keywords

Named Person, Getting It Right For Every Child, Children and Young People (Scotland) Act
2014, parents.

Corresponding author:

Maggie Mellon,Independent consultant on social work practice and public policy.

My four main reasons for opposing the Named Person

  • Firstly, there is no evidence to support introducing Named Persons in legislation.
  • Secondly, the legislation does not say what it claims that it does.
  • Thirdly, this is neither early intervention nor prevention, but it is ‘net widening’.The threshold for intervening in children and families’ lives has been lowered significantly from ‘significant harm’ to any concern about wellbeing without justification. The presumption in favour of sharing intimate information on this lower threshold is in itself a big risk to child and family welfare.
  • Fourthly’ the state makes a lousy parent, and it needs to get its own house in order for the children who are looked after and those who are known to be in need.

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Maggie Mellon: Why the Named Person legislation is not a progressive measure

 

 Feminist campaigner and  social worker Maggie Mellon makes the case against the Scottish Government’s ‘Named Person’ scheme

SCOTLAND, like the rest of the UK and much of Europe, is an increasingly unequal society.

Poverty and inequality are what stunt children’s lives and these things cannot be tackled by caseworking the entire population of children. Instead, housing, jobs, income, education, health services and the environment are the basis for the overall wellbeing of children. It is these that are, or should be, the business of government, rather than the micro-management of family life.

However micro-managing is just what the ‘Named Person’ law, and the Getting It Right For Every Child policy it comes from, set out to do. These measures are part of the popular un-progressive dogma that it is predominantly parents’ behaviour and choices that shape children’s lives.

These measures are part of the popular un-progressive dogma that it is predominantly parents’ behaviour and choices that shape children’s lives.

This and the relentless focus on ‘risk’ have created an authoritarian rather than a supportive approach, certainly in social work, my own profession. This has made child and family social work increasingly disliked and distrusted among the very families who should be being helped, and made the job increasingly stressful for social workers.

I believe that this authoritarian approach to families is being extended with the introduction of the Named Person legislation. Not only will there be more families under investigation, but stress and risk aversion will permeate further into education and health services.

They, too, will be judged on factors that they can’t control – poverty, despair, stress caused by structural inequality. What we have with the Children and Young People Act and its Named Person provision is a conflation of need and of risk. It is in essence an attempt to ‘casework’ the whole population of children and families, and will bear particularly on the poor, the different, the most disadvantaged.

It is, in my view, the exact opposite of the progressive universalist measures that are needed. It is worth noting that this idea of monitoring ‘wellbeing’ on a child-by-child case, mainly on the basis of their private home lives, has emerged at a time when more and more children are being deprived of the basic essentials for their healthy and optimum development – not by their parents, but by institutionalised inequality and poverty.

What is the ‘named person scheme’ and why are people worried about it?

All of this investigation falls disproportionately on poor children and families, who are being policed rather than supported as actual support services are cut. Imagine what all those assessments and investigations and meetings cost. And imagine instead an investment in open door help and support.

If you have not experienced the juggernaut of child protection investigations in your or a friends or family members’ lives, or seen the damage done by heavy handed, intrusive intervention, you may be able to believe that ‘services’ are benevolent and that all parents need to be watched very carefully in case one child slips through the net.

I have heard the justification that ‘families are where children are abused’ often, but families are more usually the place that keeps children safe and happy, and parents are more usually children’s defenders and champions against the often casual carelessness or cruelty of services. Children separated from their families in care and in schools are more vulnerable to abuse than children who remain within their families.

Much of the opposition to the Named Person law has been led by the Christian Institute, which has tended to stress parental rights and authority. This has been made much of by defenders of the Named Person scheme as proving the case that it is mainly reactionaries who oppose the law.

The Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates, the Scottish Parent Teachers and Friends, Scottish Child Law Centre and other organisations oppose the legislation. The majority of local authorities expressed opposition during the consultation stage.

The Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates, the Scottish Parent Teachers and Friends, Scottish Child Law Centre and other organisations also oppose the legislation. The majority of local authorities expressed opposition during the consultation stage. The Scottish Association of Social Workers did not support the proposal.

But this opposition does not fit with the narrative that this is a battle between a good welfare state against rightwing Christian fundamentalists and has tended not to get much attention, at least until recently when Iain McWhirter and other commentators began to pay attention and to comment. It seems to me to be the case that many supporters have not read the legislation.

Supporters in government and in the children’s charities who are the main spokespeople continue to insist that the Named Person is an ‘entitlement’ for parents. They point to leaflets and other government material which explains that it is all voluntary and a response to parents’ requests for a single point of contact. They might intend it to be so, they might wish it to be so. It is not.

Those who are in doubt should go and read the legislation. It is online and easy to get hold of. It is unequivocally a no opt-out scheme for all children, with clear powers to override parents’ or children’s views or wishes.

This is not an entitlement, nor can parents afford to ignore the Named Person’s view, as their role does not depend on parental consent or agreement (there were and are already sufficient powers available to override parents’ and children’s wishes or views if a child is feared to be at risk of significant harm).

Those who are in doubt should go and read the legislation. It is online and easy to get hold of. It is unequivocally a no opt-out scheme for all children, with clear powers to override parents’ or children’s views or wishes.

The Named Person role and responsibilities do not come with any power to allocate homes, food, clothes, holidays, home helps, or even just therapeutic or health services. There are fewer services on the ground providing practical help and those that do are facing the biggest cuts.

But the Named Person juggernaut is set to roll on. I think that last paragraph says everything that needs to be said about wrong priorities for legislation and for services.

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Maggie Mellon: Why Scottish Women’s Aid should change course on its prisons position

 Feminist campaigner Maggie Mellon explains why she believes short term prison sentences are unhelpful – even in domestic abuse cases

SCOTLAND may be poised to take a big step away from having one of the highest rates of imprisonment in Europe. 

Eighty-four per cent of respondents in a recent government consultation favoured a presumption against short prison sentences – which basically means encouraging the courts not to hand down short jail terms – being extended from the current three months to 12 months. This would have a big impact on prison numbers – among the highest in Europe – and release funds for alternative sentences and services that work.

Offenders are mainly poor, badly educated, and suffering from all sorts of health and social problems. Women for Independence’s (WFI) Justice for Women Campaign was part of the 84 per cent in favour and had in addition called for remand to be banned for any offence for which there was no reasonable prospect of a prison sentence.

I believe that Scottish Women’s Aid should abandon its demand for the retention of the presumption for short prison sentences for cases of domestic abuse.

However, Scottish Women’s Aid’s (SWA) response was not part of the 84 per cent and made a strong call for an exception to the presumption against short prison sentences in respect of offending associated with domestic abuse. This has caused some debate within WFI.

I believe that the SWA approach is mistaken, and that there are very strong reasons why SWA should abandon its demand for the retention of the presumption for short prison sentences for cases of domestic abuse.

This is not a case against prison for violent offences. Nor does imposing a presumption against short prison sentences mean that they can never be handed down.

Short prison sentences make reoffending more, not less, likely

People who serve short prison sentences are more likely to reoffend on release than those who serve other sentences. This means more, not less, abuse for victims. People on short prison sentences are not eligible for the programmes and group work which are aimed at tackling the reasons for offending: anger management; cognitive behaviour therapy; drug and alcohol addiction; relationship counselling etc.

Therefore, the sentence is wasted time in the sense of rehabilitation or treatment, and usually instead strengthens offender identity.

Sexual and domestic offenders in prison tend to reinforce rationalisation and victim blaming

Prison sentences and remand bring together men who abuse women and children. Men sent to prison meet other men who have committed offences within intimate relationships. Together, they tend to reinforce each other’s rationalisations for their behaviour and their feelings of injustice.

Rationalisations can be: the child or woman asked for it, the women and/or children were lying, the courts are biased; or that they are mad, not bad, and can’t control themselves; ‘a moment of madness’ occurred under pressure.

Some will explain that they were abused as children, their fathers were violent or abusive, or their mothers were cruel or ‘slags’, and so they cant help themselves. In prison on short sentences, these rationalisations are reinforced, not challenged.

Men who are violent and controlling towards women are often passive and unchallenging to other men, so they don’t get into conflict in prison, and are often seen by the prison officers as harmless.

‘Escape’ is, in most cases, not realistic as it means losing family, friends, neighbours and community. It also puts the responsibility on the woman to change her life and not on the man.

That is often the case for men even on longer sentences, too, but they may be offered the opportunity take part in programmes which challenge and not reinforce their ideas.

The SWA argument for retaining short prison sentence for domestic abuse is not that it will improve the men but that it is a necessary expression of society’s attitude to domestic abuse, and a short respite for women victims, and that even a short sentence can present the opportunity for women to escape, i.e. to move house, area, school, job etc.

‘Escape’ is, in most cases, not realistic as it means losing family, friends, neighbours and community. It also puts the responsibility on the woman to change her life and not on the man.

‘Respite’ from violence can also have the effect of increasing the wish to believe the offender’s remorse. Often, a prison sentence will mean a loss of income for the woman and dependence on benefits, and of debt and even sanctions.

Additionally, even if one woman victim escapes, at whatever cost to herself and her children, the man will emerge from prison still posing a risk, probably even a greater risk.

He can and will find another victim, so short prison sentences probably create more victims, not fewer.

Can men who abuse others change?

‘Desistance’ studies of why people stop offending have (among other things) recognised the need for a ‘good person’ identity (‘I have done bad things but I am not a bad person, I can be a better person and not do those things again’) rather than trying to impose or to reinforce a ‘bad person’ identity (‘I am a bad person and can never change, I can’t control my badness and have no right to a happy family or intimate life’).

This is very relevant to people who have perpetrated crimes against other human beings, particularly intimate partners or children. It does not mean letting them off the hook, rather it insists on accountability for harm caused, but allows for hope and redemption.

In the case of violent repeat offenders, lack of accountability and continued risk may mean that they can never be released, or only be released subject to heavy supervision and monitoring.

Women will be affected by any exception for domestic abuse offences and more women will be remanded and sentenced to prison for domestic abuse-related offences

The extension of the definition and understanding of domestic abuse to include threat, coercion and control and the demand for prosecution of all such offences and offenders has had the perverse consequence of drawing many more women into the criminal justice system.

Here are Scottish Government figures for women charged with domestic abuse:

– Incidents of domestic abuse recorded by the police in Scotland with a female victim and a male perpetrator represented 79 per cent of all incidents of domestic abuse in 2014-15 where gender information was recorded. Since 2005-06 this percentage share has fallen from 87 per cent.

– The proportion of incidents with a male victim and a female perpetrator (where gender was recorded) has increased from 11 per cent in 2005-06 to 18 per cent in 2014-15.

Source: domestic abuse recorded by the police in Scotland, 2014-15

A recent paper for Police Scotland estimated that under the broader definition that is now being used, women were responsible for 40 per cent of all cases of ‘domestic abuse’. This is the direct result of a zero tolerance ‘gender blind’ approach and shines a light on the direction we are heading.

A Justice Watch morning in court provides ample evidence. Women appear in the dock for trivial domestic abuse=related offences – where the ‘I will kill you’ threat of a seven-stone woman is treated as seriously as if she were a 16 stone, 6ft man. Women are arrested and handcuffed in front of their children for such trivial reasons. We need to acknowledge and act on the understanding that the criminal justice system from police to prosecutors, from court to prison is often misogynist – it is in itself a form of violence and abuse of women and children.

We need complete reform, not more of the same revolving door of prison, re-offending, arrest, prison – not least because its an expensive way to fail to change anything.

There are therefore strong reasons for SWA to abandon its demand for short prison sentences and support the demand for progressive change which should include:

– Firstly prevention: early intervention freely available for self-referral by women or men whose private relationships are characterised by violence, abuse, coercion and threat.

– Secondly, offer diversion from, or suspension of prosecution for first and minor offences for those willing to undertake remedial therapy and work.

– Protect women’s safety through use of electronic monitoring, bail hostels, curfews, movement orders.

– Use evidence-based progammes, counselling, supervision, mentoring as part of prison and community sentences.

– Increase services for victims (rather than wasted money on courts and short prison sentences).

Published In Common Space September 2016

Women for Indy Justice Watch Blog august 2016

In this blog, I am going to write about not just my own experience and views but also cover some of the issues that we all have encountered and the experiences of women in a number of courts.

A fair hearing?

Readers who have not been in a criminal court will have seen film and TV court scenes. In these the public gallery can hear everything clearly and understand it too.  But its not like that at all. Those who have been in an actual court will probably have had a different experience.

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