The Children and Young People Bill which has recently been introduced to the Scottish Parliament seeks to establish a universal surveillance system in respect of every child and associated adult in Scotland. Details of the Bill as introduced may be viewed here: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/62233.aspx
Known as GIRFEC (Getting It Right For Every Child), it is already being used, and in some cases abused, by professionals within universal services and other agencies who have been routinely gathering, storing, assessing and sharing sensitive personal data on every child and every associated adult without express informed consent and in the absence of any enabling statutory framework.
Disguised as a child protection measure but nothing of the kind, GIRFEC has spawned a series of ‘wellbeing’ indicators known as SHANARRI which represent a universal prescription for a state approved childhood. It has essentially shifted the threshold for intervention in family life on child ‘protection’ grounds from “at risk of significant harm” to “at risk of not meeting state dictated ‘wellbeing’ outcomes”. Every parent in Scotland is now routinely assessed on his/her “parental capacity to provide wellbeing”, based on government defined criteria which, according to its own ‘National Risk Framework to Support the Assessment of Children and Young People’ (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2012/11/7143/9) places every child under five, and most older children and young people, in the ‘vulnerable’ category (thus liable to ‘early intervention’).
The Bill further seeks to impose a ‘named person’ on every child in Scotland (whose function, it is specifically stated, may not be undertaken by the child or young person’s parent), which is a gross intrusion into family life and completely unwarranted on a universal basis. The fact that every child will be subject to this intrusion by a stranger without opt-out, regardless of his or her wishes (or those of his or her parents in the case of a young child) renders it a disproportionate measure in that most children have no need of state ‘intervention’, compulsory or otherwise, in their family lives.
Given that many parents in Scotland are already struggling to obtain services for their children with additional needs and are often being denied them on the grounds of cost, it is the petitioners’ contention that such a ‘gatekeeper’, having been licensed by the government to interfere in children’s private lives’, will not only add an extra layer of wasteful bureaucracy but is highly likely to become an additional barrier to service access. The named person proposal offers significant scope for children’s rights, parenting choices and family decisions to be undermined and/or overruled by an outsider with boxes to tick, whose views may not accord with those of the ‘named clients’ who have no ‘choose to refuse’ opt-out. This will have (and is already having) a deterrent effect on families’ willingness to engage with ‘services’ whose primary aim is now recognised as being to record clients’ personal details and ‘life events’ to determine their ‘wellbeing’ and pass them on to other complete strangers for possible intervention. The myriad of GIRFEC ‘parental capacity to provide wellbeing’ forms which are used from pre-birth onwards are self explanatory and even have a convenient space to record pet bereavements which, according to SHANARRI indicators, could potentially have a devastating effect on a child’s future ‘wellbeing’.
While such data gathering and sharing by professionals is already lawful and uncontentious in relation to the small minority of truly vulnerable children who are “at risk of significant harm” (a longstanding definition which empowers agencies to make timely child protection interventions), it is inappropriate and entirely misguided to bring every child within a child ‘protection’ regime by shifting the definition of ‘vulnerable’ to include any child deemed (via tick box) to be at risk of not meeting state dictated ‘wellbeing’ outcomes. As child protection expert Eileen Munro observed, “It doesn't get any easier to find a needle in a haystack if you make the haystack bigger”.
Furthermore, given that the stated GIRFEC budget divided by the number of 0-18 year olds in Scotland (2011) provides a per capita sum of approximately £13 to gather, store and share data on every aspect of every child’s life, not forgetting associated adults and pets - even before costing in actual interventions - the future looks very bleak for the most vulnerable children in Scotland. Social workers, teachers and medical professionals are already over worked and under-resourced, and by the time the significant case reviews start mounting up, it will be too late for the ‘data subjects’ whose warning signs were lost in a sea of false flags about pet bereavements and assorted trivia, or missed in the age old tradition of multi-agency failure.
The petitioners contend that the gathering, storing and sharing of sensitive personal data wihout express informed consent on a universal basis is an unacceptable invasion of personal and family privacy in a free society, and deplore the fact that such prima facie unlawful activity has apparently been sanctioned by the Information Commissioner. MSPs are urged to ask why the safeguards for citizens within the Data Protection Act are being swept aside by their alleged guardian without proper parliamentary scrutiny. European and domestic case law does not support the imposition of universal measures such as those outlined in this petition, which would be in clear breach of Article 8 and cannot be deemed ‘proportionate’ when they involve the routine processing of the sensitive personal data of every child and associated adult without express informed consent. The Scottish Parliament is not empowered to enact legislation which fails to comply with the ECHR and such legislation has previously been declared incompetent by the Supreme Court.
GIRFEC, as has been practised to date (in the absence of any statutory framework and thefeore without lawful basis), has already damaged relationships between many parents and professionals and will inevitably place the most vulnerable children at greater risk of harm if parents seek to avoid contact with services which are seen to be staffed solely by state snoopers. The Children and Young People Bill is a Trojan horse piece of legislation which seeks to undermine parents, abolish the right to family privacy and confidentiality, including medical confidentiality, since all records are to be shared (http://www.ehealth.scot.nhs.uk/wp-content/documents/Information-Architecture-Review-Final.pdf), and introduce a national identity register, cleverly disguised in ‘chilld protection’ clothing, by the back door.
The petitioners urge Members of the Scottish Parliament to reject all measures contained within the Children and Young People Bill which allow for the routine gathering and sharing of the personal data of every child and associated adult without their express informed consent, and to reject the imposition, without opt-out, of a ‘named person’ on every child in Scotland.
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