There is a poignancy in blogging about the subject of Named Persons as the twentieth anniversary of the Dunblane Massacre rolls by.
No Named Person could have prevented the events of that awful day – but a better co-ordinated Police and Social Services response to the Thomas Hamilton problem could have. That Hamilton was known to both is well-documented and I happen to know in the case of Social Services there were Social Workers drawing attention to Hamilton’s increasingly alarming behaviour right up to just before he shot his victims.
That is not a criticism by any means. The truth is, it is extremely difficult to predict an atrocity when dealing with bizarre lone nutters like Hamilton clearly was. However, we have to try.
The job of trying falls to the Police and Social Services. Better policing. More resources. Increased vigilance. A standard of competence in practice below which it cannot be tolerated. Social Workers and Police do a brilliant job in Child Protection. But there aren’t enough of them and they are under-resourced.
The Named Persons scheme is the wrong approach to what is one of the greatest challenges facing our society – the safety of our children from abuse and harm. It is like taking a sticking plaster to a shotgun wound. Too much power is given to Named Persons and the focus they have been given is in the wrong place. Of course, parental or familial abuse is a problem but the stark truth is that while immature and unworthy Named Persons – and please don’t tell me there won’t be plenty of these – are trying to prove perhaps struggling parents are Fred and Rose West, the Thomas Hamiltons and Robert Blacks of this world will be roaming free to perpetrate their sick acts. Neither of these men had kids.
Child Protection must be of paramount importance to our society, in my opinion. But we need effective ways of keeping children safe, not half-baked ideas which have the potential to create a virtual Gestapo in our education system.
I know people who will be Named Persons who I would trust implicitly with my childrens’ wellbeing and who I am sure would not abuse their power. But I know others that I would not ask to watch my kids while I put money in a parking meter. A very powerful reason for some kind of parental choice or discretion to be factored in to any guardianship scheme if there needs to be one.
For me, a security guard augmented by regular Police presence patrolling would be an absolute must for every school. This will help prevent terrible events like Dunblane but also tragedies like the recent Bailey Gwynne stabbing. The security personnel could actually be a branch of Police like the British Transport Police are. For those who think this is cost-prohibitive, I have one question: What price is too high to pay to make sure your kids go to school and come home safe?
The real problem with Dunblane is not that it was a once in a generation atrocity and thus has a low risk of being repeated. It is that it was an eruption of a problem which simmers and seethes under the facade of our “civilised” society.
The horrifying thing we must face is that twenty years on from the terrible day life was ripped from sixteen pupils and one teacher at Dunblane, our children are still not nearly as safe as they should be.
If child safety is not a top level priority to us all, you really have to ask why.