During this election campaign, there’ve been the usual bouts of political sparring, the tit-for-tat point-scoring frenzy played out through a plethora of media. One particular battleground, though, had a special resonance for me – the “Named Person” scheme.
I’m a former “looked-after” child. I’ve suffered the abuse and neglect that this scheme is intended to help protect children from. Having scrutinised the details for myself, I fully support it.
Scottish Labour and the Lib Dems voted in favour of the Scottish Government’s proposals for the NP Scheme in 2014, while the Conservatives abstained. Yet just a few weeks before the election Kezia Dugdale performed a U-turn, calling the policy a “mess” and demanding it should be paused.
But child protection isn’t a political game, and those who choose to wilfully misinform and indulge in scaremongering tactics with such an important subject for the sake of petty party advantage are as far as I’m concerned engaging in nothing more than blatant opportunism of the most despicable kind.
Many children find themselves in the care of their local authority as I was – the vast majority of looked-after kids have become so for care and protection reasons. They’ll probably have experienced neglect or mental, physical, sexual or emotional abuse. To them the thought of a “state guardian” is not a derogatory sneer, as used by campaigners like No2NP, but a symbol of hope.
The NP scheme is not taking away the rights of parents to raise their children, but merely formalising measures already in place to try to help ensure children are protected from harm. And the uncomfortable truth is that most of that harm happens within the family home, from family members.
Nobody wants to talk about the abuse that comes from parents and relatives. I know because it happened to me years ago, and it’s still happening right now in homes up and down the country. When I was being neglected and abused as a child, teachers, neighbours, family friends all looked away. They heard the shouting from my house, they saw me walking to school in dirty clothes and they witnessed my mum’s many drunken rages in public.
Why didn’t I speak up as a child and tell an adult when Mum threw me downstairs because she was angry? Why didn’t I tell anyone when I felt frightened, hungry, lonely or hurt? Because I was ashamed and I felt isolated from an adult world that seemed to look away, with fleeting glances of occasional embarrassment or pity. I didn’t think any adults would listen to me and I feared the consequences of breaking the “what happens in this house” rule.
If I’d had a named person, a point of contact I trusted and whom I knew had to listen to me then I would without a doubt have opened up to them and perhaps prevented years of suffering in the privacy of my home. Those who want to play politics with the issue of child protection should perhaps give a thought to the children at the heart of this matter. Or they could just ask us.