AS A MOTHER and Minister for Children and Young People, my overriding priority is to improve safeguards and protect Scotland's children.
The Children and Young People's Bill, to be voted on in Parliament next week, will go some way to helping us to meet the aim of giving all of Scotland's children the best start in life.
The bill will increase childcare provision; give greater rights to young people leaving care; strengthen the role and support for kinship carers looking after loved-ones; and improve how we match adoptive parents with kids in need.
We engaged around 800 people and received responses from 300 organisations to our consultation on the bill, which includes a "named person" service available for all children. We have continued to engage a wide range of interests and parties to develop and improve the legislation. We tightened information-sharing rules during the parliamentary process, receiving a broad welcome from the Information Commissioner's Office and Law Society.
However, misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the named person role have given rise to extraordinary claims that the legislation will introduce "state snoopers" with a legal right to "order monitors into people's homes". The bill gives the named person no such right.The individual, usually a health visitor and later a senior or headteacher known to the family, will ensure every child, along with his or her family, can access some extra support if they need it.
We know this works. As Highland Council, which first introduced the service in 2010, has said, the named person emerged from families' requests to have a clear point of contact for services to support their child's wellbeing or development.
This also allows agencies to respond more promptly to parents who raise concerns about their child's wellbeing and reduce any risks of greater problems later. According to Barnardos Scotland, social workers have smaller caseloads and there are fewer referrals to the children's reporter where named persons are in place. This enables social workers to spend more time with the families that need most support.
I have consistently said that parents and carers are the best people to raise their children. Professionals and parents may identify where concerns about a child's wellbeing are emerging and the named person can offer initial help. But the parent is under no obligation to engage with the named person or the service offered.
Nor is there any "national database" with children's personal information. Proportionate and appropriate sharing of relevant information, which happens already, will continue to be governed by the Data Protection Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.
At the same time, we do not presume to determine which child or families may need access to help through a named person. As Children in Scotland has said, universal access to a named person will provide a safety net for those who need one, improving information sharing around vulnerable and potentially vulnerable children.
No child should fall through the net, either because their parents don't know where to seek help or because professionals aren't clear where responsibilities lie and whom they should be speaking to when concerns emerge.
Clearly, there will still be child protection cases, but there is already a clear role for services to intervene to safeguard the child. The bill does not change that.
Our approach, including the named person role, has strong backing from MSPs and those who have seen it in place already, including a range of children's groups.
I don't doubt that, among those who still have concerns, there is a shared desire to do the best for our children. As we work to implement the reforms, I am committed to doing everything I can to allay any remaining concerns.
The bill puts children's interests at heart, recognising their rights and supporting families.