Legal challenge warning to child guardian plans

Plans to appoint a named guardian for every child are almost certain to be subjected to legal challenge if they are approved at Holyrood, the Tories have claimed.

The controversial proposal to assign all youngsters a “named person” to monitor their wellbeing is one of a number of measures included in wide-ranging legislation expected to be passed by MSPs.

The Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill has been put forward by the Scottish Government in a bid to support its aim of making Scotland the best place in the world to grow up.

It includes measures that will increase the amount of free childcare available to three and four-year-olds and vulnerable two-year-olds to 600 hours a year.

In addition the Bill will allow teenagers in foster, kinship or residential care to continue to receive this support up until the age of 21, and will strengthen the law on school closures, particularly in rural areas.

But it is the proposal to appoint a named person – such as a health worker or headteacher – to safeguard children’s welfare and liaise with their families that has proved most controversial.

The Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates, Free Church of Scotland and the Evangelical Alliance have all spoken out against the move.

The Tories are also opposed to the measure, and have put forward amendments to go before MSPs which would mean the policy would not apply to all children, arguing this would allow resources to be better targeted at those in need of support.

Liz Smith, the Tory spokeswoman for young people, urged MSPs to “listen to the experts and ensure this blanket plan is not allowed to go any further”.

She warned the Scottish Government: “If this goes through, it will almost certainly be subject to legal challenge.

“That is because it is a measure that will intrude on family life, and divert resources away from those who really need help.”

Ms Smith said ministers should have paid heed to the “extensive opposition” to the proposal, but said instead they seemed ” intent on turning a blind eye and pursuing a policy that would be extremely damaging and undermine the role of parents and families”.

Children’s Minister Aileen Campbell said the Bill was the result of ” extensive consultation and discussion with a wide variety of individuals and groups, all with the best interests of Scotland’s children at heart”.

She added: ” The Bill will support children and families across the country, securing Scotland’s place as the best place to grow up and helping the next generation to achieve better outcomes in life.

“It will boost funded childcare provision from this August, saving households hundreds of pounds each year, and strengthen procedures, providing improved transparency for parents and others, when school closures are proposed.

“By improving how adoption agencies work to find homes for children, by enhancing support available to kinship carers and by extending the rights of ‘looked-after’ young people – both to remain in care longer and to receive aftercare support for longer – it can also help transform the lives of many of our most vulnerable children.”

The Scottish Government is confident the proposals in the Bill are compatible with existing legislation and best practice.

Ms Campbell has already argued appointing a named person for every child would help ”provide a safety net for those who need one”.

Earlier this month she said: ”No child should fall through the net, whether because their parents don’t know where to seek help or because professionals aren’t clear where responsibilities lie and whom they should be speaking to when concerns emerge.”