Getting it right for every child: ministerial statement

Deputy First Minister John Swinney updates the Parliament on Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) Practice Development Panel's final report.

Presiding Officer, there is wide agreement across this Chamber that we want to get it right for every child, so they can grow up loved, safe, respected and able to reach their full potential.

However, too often we have all heard cases where children and families have not had access to the support they need.

The named person service was designed to help address that and make sure that every child, in every part of Scotland would be able to get the support they need, when they need it.

That is a key characteristic of Getting it right for every child and I reaffirm the government’s commitment to that policy direction today.

I believe everyone in this chamber shares our aim of promoting the wellbeing of Scotland’s children, even if sometimes we disagree on how best to do it.

Naturally, parents are the biggest influence on a child's wellbeing, as caregiver, role model, teacher and guide.

Yet sometimes, a child or their family may need some additional help.

I have had the great privilege of meeting people across Scotland who are passionate about providing that help. And I have seen powerful examples of the difference they make to children’s lives.

I want to make sure that support is available to all who need it.

Legislation to support the named person service was intended to help do that.

The aim has always been – as set out in the policy memorandum of the Information Sharing Bill – to “act as a clear point of contact for children, young people and their parents to go to, should they wish to seek support, information or advice.”

This function has never really been controversial.

Where there quite obviously has been significant controversy is around when and how information should be shared by and with a named person.

Legislating to support and safeguard something as individual as a child’s wellbeing has its challenges, and, we believed, the Supreme Court judgement required us to make changes to legislation on information sharing.

The result was the Children and Young People Information Sharing Bill.

Since we introduced the Bill in 2017, however, there have been significant changes to the data protection legal landscape, such as the introduction of GDPR and the new Data Protection Act 2018.

And, of course, the scrutiny of this Parliament, through the Education and Skills Committee, has resulted in the pausing of consideration of the Bill.

In order to chart a way through this complexity, I established a Panel of experts to explore the development of a statutory Code of Practice for Information Sharing.

And, there was a critical point in relation to their work: I charged them with ensuring that the code was – to quote their remit – “workable, comprehensive and user-friendly for children and young people, parents and practitioners.”

I asked the Panel to produce a code that everyone – not just lawyers specialising in data protection – could understand and use.

I would like to thank Professor Ian Welsh OBE, and the Panel members, for taking on this complex task.

GIRFEC Practice Development Panel’s Report

Today I have published the Panel’s report.

They have concluded that to achieve all the aims I set them in a single statutory code is simply not possible.

In light of this, I have had to consider how best to proceed.

Foremost in my mind has been how to ensure families can access the help they need, when they need it, in a way that respects their rights and gives them confidence that personal information is handled correctly.

And, in considering this, the Panel’s work has proven invaluable.

They reviewed the data protection legislation that came into force during 2018 and concluded that the world has moved on significantly since the Bill was drafted.

Now that we have a new statutory framework, including through the introduction of GDPR, they conclude that we should not introduce a statutory code of practice.

The Panel concluded that we can rely on the law as it currently stands, founded on the Data Protection Act and GDPR.

In practical terms, that means that we will not produce a binding legal code.

And it means that information sharing will only take place in line with the law as it currently stands.

Instead of the code, the panel recommends we provide practical help, guidance and support to help professionals, practitioners, children and families understand their rights under the existing law. We are today accepting their recommendations in full.

This also reflects feedback from practitioners, who have loudly and clearly called for clarity about how and when information can be shared.

My officials will now work with stakeholders to develop a suite of products to support and promote good, proportionate and appropriate, information sharing practice within existing law.

It will include further training and guidance for practitioners, updated Getting it right for every child practice guidance, and material to reassure the public on how the service operates.

The panel report sets out the detail in full but crucial will be the four recommendations on additional investment, an update of the Getting it right for every child policy statement, measures to support transparency of information sharing, and a refreshed suite of practice guidance.

From a parents’ point of view what this means is that:

  • Information about a child or young person will not be routinely shared without their or their families’ knowledge or engagement.

And, from a practitioners perspective it simply means this:

  • Anyone operating these services must handle personal information in line with existing laws and guidance such as those applicable in relation to data protection, confidentiality and human rights.

In taking this approach, I hope and believe we have resolved the information sharing controversy at the heart of named person.

And that we have done so in a way that protects the vitally important policy of Getting it right for every child.

The law on information sharing will not now change.

The way information is shared will be based on existing law.

And we will provide help and support to make sure practitioners get it right and families know what can and what cannot happen to their personal information.

Consequently, I am advising this chamber that we will today be writing to the Presiding Officer to withdraw the Children and Young People Information Sharing Bill.

Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014

This brings me to the Children and Young People Act 2014 and the statutory named person scheme.

Part 4 of the Act makes provision for every child and young person to have a named person.

Part 5 introduced the requirement for a child’s plan when a child’s wellbeing required the support of a targeted intervention.                                     

These elements of the 2014 Act are awaiting the passage of the Children and Young People Information Sharing Bill before being brought into force.

The reality however, is that many Community Planning Partnerships already operate elements of a named person service and child’s plan.

These services are provided within their existing statutory functions, under existing legislation, and have evolved over the last 10 years to provide early help, high quality planning and coordination of services.

I want this to be something more families can benefit from.

Presiding officer, I want to be absolutely clear – this service does not require wellbeing information about a child or young person to be routinely shared without their or their families’ knowledge or engagement.

As I said earlier, this aim of supporting families when and where they need it has largely been uncontroversial.

Having addressed the information sharing controversy, we must now ensure the help and support the named person service currently provides to children and families continues.

This service is already making a massive difference in children’s lives. It should be recognised that in the last 5 years, since we introduced the 2014 Act, we have seen real advances in culture, systems and practice in services that support families and this has improved lives the length and breadth of this country. We must continue to build on this progress to increase confidence in the delivery of the getting it right for every child approach including the named person service. I am wholly supportive of existing good practice continuing.

The child’s plan is also being used across children’s services and has been well received. Children and families are already benefitting from practitioners working closer together in a co-ordinated way to support children in all aspects of their wellbeing.

Our commitment to these policies, and the practitioners who implement them, is reaffirmed today. They are in place. They are effective and they change lives for the better, without the need for underpinning legislation.  

I am therefore giving notice of our intention to seek to repeal Parts 4 and 5 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, using a suitable legislative vehicle in due course.

I believe that today we have taken an important step forward in providing families and practitioners with certainty about how information sharing can support wellbeing in a transparent way which respects the rights of everyone.

The mandatory named person scheme for every child – underpinned by law – will now not happen. We will withdraw our Bill and repeal the relevant legislation.

Instead, existing voluntary schemes that provide a point of contact for support will continue under current legal powers, where councils and health boards wish to provide them and parents wish to use them.

In this way, we will support our children and young people so that they can thrive and rise to the challenges and opportunities that life brings.

Only through continued investment in our children’s wellbeing will we achieve our vision of a prosperous country where everyone gets the chance to fulfil their potential, and no-one is left behind.

That is why we continue to be fully committed to Getting it right for every child.



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