Warning this blog could be interpreted as political ! It is not intended as such. I am simply offering some observations that I believe are in the best interests of my autistic son and many others.
Today the UK Supreme Court ordered the Scottish Government to revise a part of their flagship universal child protection/ wellbeing policy – GIRFEC / NP (Getting it Right for Every Child and the Named Person. ) The contentious part that was flagged up by the court concerned the sharing of information about families between different agencies. In this the legislation was perceived as an infringement of Article 8 of the ECHR that is concerned with a person’s right to respect of their private and family life.
Depending on where you read or hear about this ruling it is either a fatal blow to the policy or an endorsement of the main aims of the policy! Everyone is entitled to their interpretation but I have to say that making any political capital from the wellbeing of our children is completely unacceptable to me.
I believe then that as a stakeholder in this both as a parent and advocate to other families living with autism I am entitled to give an opinion.
Here are some of the key points I would like to make based on experience of this policy that despite the court hearing has already been adopted by most local authorities throughout Scotland.
1. Without major SIGNIFICANT additional investment in services no major improvement will be forthcoming. In this respect GIRFEC and NP ( as well as the Scottish Autism Strategy) are more akin to rearranging the deckchairs on a sinking ship, regardless of the flowery acronyms and laudable aims.
2. Appointing teaching staff to be NP and take a lead role in coordinating the wellbeing of children is flawed on several levels in practical terms. My principal concern being that I want teachers to do what they are trained to do – educate our children. To expect that they will now effectively manage a large caseload of children, many with complex needs while continuing in their role as teachers (or most commonly head teachers )while still working the same hours and without specialist training in for example autism, is simply ludicrous. I have lots of respect for teachers and the wonderful jobs they do but to ask them to become NP on top is simply not viable.
3. The concepts in the GIRFEC system are spurious, vague and will lead to massive variations in application. Eg one families character building past time like climbing could be interpreted as placing a child in danger by a NP, a family home where the hygiene standards are vastly different from the NP’s could be seen as not conducive to nurturing and so on. While such judgements have always been necessary at times the Shanarri Wheel and My World Triangle simply add more complexity and dubiety in my opinion. This part of the policy raises many concerns around privacy for families and young people.
4. In nearly all child abuse tragedies in recent times children have somehow been found to slip through the net. The bulging caseloads of child protection Social Workers have often meant that supervision has not been as frequent as would have been appropriate. While of course every professional has responsibilities and must be both aware and vigilant to potential abuse the insufficient numbers of SW staff must be one of the biggest problems. The universal application of the policy is potentially a waste of already inadequate resources. Recently after the axing of a specialist SW for disabilities a senior SW manager glibly informed us that the NP would now provide such assessment! In reality the NP has neither the time nor the knowledge of disability to carry out such a crucial task.
5. The new protocols around GIRFEC meetings and the NP are time consuming and confusing for professionals and families. In the case of children with disabilities these protocols often delay the crucial assessment needed while working through less relevant aspects of their lives. The structure of the GIRFEC model maintains the same multidisciplinary meeting structure that young people and their parents often find so intrusive and intimidating due to the power imbalance.
While the aims might be well meant the practical problems and lack of significant extra funding will mean that it is unlikely that this policy will serve any of our children better in future and that for me is the only thing that matters.