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State Guardian or Head Gardener?

Author: Robin Jackson

The Children and Young People Act of the Scottish Parliament introduced a policy that all children and young people from birth to 18, or beyond if still in school, would have access to a Named Person from 2016 onwards. This sounds like a good policy and its intentions are certainly positive. But there are serious concerns about the underlying thinking and the unintentional consequences of the policy.

Some of the major questions include:

  1. How is this policy consistent with the rights of the family as defined by the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights?
  2. Will this policy waste the time and energy of the limited number of professionals whose central role is to ensure the safety of those children who are at real risk of abuse?
  3. Does the policy signal a kind of state paternalism that will undermine personal responsibility and the role of the family in Scotland?

The title of the discussion paper, "State Guardian or Head Gardener?" is drawn from the revelation that, in teaching children about the concept, some children have been encouraged to think of themselves as plants, their parents as gardeners and the state as Head Gardener. This reveals a lack of clear thinking about rights, ethics and the role of the family.  

As Dame Anne Begg notes:

To me, the Named Person scheme has become a huge mallet to crack a small nut. Yes, some children “fall through the net”. Yes, for some families no-one is joining up the dots to see that the family is in crisis and the children are in a vulnerable situation. But I find it hard to believe that the answer to either of these is to appoint an external Named Person for all children, especially when resources are already stretched to provide the support for the families who need it.

Hopefully this paper will encourage wider critical debate about the concept of the named person and the question of human and family rights that it raises.


The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.

State Guardian or Head Gardener? © Robin Jackson 2016.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.

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