Scottish pupils are to be asked a number of invasive psychological questions about their private home lives, under the Scottish National Party's (SNP's) 'named person' scheme.
The Archbishop of St Andrew & Edinburgh Leo Cushley in a statement said:
"We share the widely expressed reservations of many who fear that some provisions of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act could permit unwarranted interference in family life due to the broad nature of the powers of ‘named persons service’ and the low threshold set for triggering the sharing of information about children among state agencies."
"While recognising the good intentions behind such efforts we hope Government will act in a proportionate and focused with due respect to the autonomy and privacy of the family. Many fears could be allayed and the legitimate concerns of many could be addressed by ensuring that Ministerial guidance on implementation embeds a threshold for intervening in family life only when objective and significant cause is shown.”
Ongoing Legal Challenge
The No to Named Persons coalition (No2NP) has said that councils will use the questions to identify which children are potentially 'at risk' at home.
The coalition also warned that answers to the questions are to be stored on a computer database, and children who are deemed to be 'at risk' based on these answers will be subject to future investigation.
Under the scheme, every child under the age of 18 in Scotland will be appointed a 'state guardian', such as a teacher, who is to monitor the child's well-being.
It is to be officially rolled out in August, but some areas are already trialling the scheme.
Since the plans were announced, many have expressed strong concerns over families' right to privacy.
The No2NP coalition is involved in an ongoing legal challenge against the scheme, highlighting that it undermines the role of parents and puts children at risk of overbearing state interference.
'Risk' determined by invasive questioning
Amongst the methods that will be introduced is a prompt card system that was developed by Angus Council, and adopted by other local authorities.
This card system prompts state guardians to ask pupils a number of personal questions about their lives at home. Such questions include details about their diets, where the families buy food and clothes, what the children’s bedrooms look like and whether or not their homes are 'cosy'.
Older children are to be asked about their home life and even about their sexual health, and will be told to rate experiences on a scale from one to ten.
Under the scheme, a system will identify which children are thought to be 'at risk', based on answers given.
Such signs of 'risk' could include a child saying they do not miss their mother whilst staying elsewhere overnight.
Prompt cards have also been produced for parents, stating that they should "behave in a way that sets a good example to your child" and "participate in community activities".
'Biased and partial anecdotes'
Maggie Mellon, vice-chairman of the British Association of Social Workers and a former director of the charity Children 1st, expressed concern about these kinds of subjective assessments.
"The fact that these actually very biased and partial anecdotes will be going on a national database is extremely worrying and should make everyone sit up and say 'no'," she said.
The state guardians must judge each child’s 'well-being' against a government checklist, that includes indicators such as a pupil needing fillings at the dentist, being disruptive in class or not carrying out voluntary work.
Simon Calvert of the No2NP coalition described these latest measures as "Orwellian".
"Parents are going to have to tell schools and local authorities to stop spying on their children," he said.
"Psychologically manipulating youngsters so you can squeeze confidential information out of them is fundamentally wrong – but to store all this information on a giant council database is astonishingly foolhardy.
"It really is beyond time that the Scottish Government called a halt to this whole charade before they do any more damage. It’s Orwellian, it’s immoral and it has to stop."
Scheme puts children at greater risk
Only last month, it emerged that a teacher who had beenregistered as a 'named person' had been struck off the teaching list for sharing sexual fantasies involving children.
At the time, Chief Executive of Christian Concern Andrea Williams commented:
"Not only does this scheme create suspicion and undermine parents' autonomy in raising their children, it also puts the children at greater risk of mistreatment, by placing them within easier reach of those who may wish to exploit them."
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