Liam Fee, the Scottish Government and an incriminating document


Special Report by Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review: Liam Fee, the Scottish Government and an incriminating document

Earlier this week, the first minister warned her opponents not to make political capital out of the death of Liam Fee. She would be entitled to issue such a warning if she and her colleagues had been completely transparent about the politics of this case. Instead we have had 72 hours of fudge and prevarication on two essential questions: did Fife Council have a meaningful Named Person scheme and was Liam Fee part of it?

If the answer to both these questions is 'No' (as the Scottish Government has claimed), the problem for Ms Sturgeon’s administration goes away – except as a public relations disaster. But if the answer is 'Yes' (as we are about to show), serious questions must be asked about the credibility of the Named Person policy and her opponents are entitled to ask them.

So – did Liam have a Named Person or didn’t he? Ms Sturgeon has declined to say one way or the other. Yesterday, her deputy John Swinney made a statement which attempted to clarify the situation. In fairness to Mr Swinney – even if it does him few favours – here is the relevant part of that statement:

Fife Council have indicated that Liam Fee did not have a Named Person in terms of the legislation that parliament has put in place...In Fife there was a contact point for every child, but what is critical about the Named Person is that the Named Person brings with them the ability to require other public authorities and public bodies to work with them to resolve the issues that are at stake.
Mr Small then singled out for praise the pioneering work of a specific local authority. It is at this point that John Swinney’s statement comes badly unstuck. Here is how the minute records Mr Small for posterity:

Alan [it’s all very matey] offered an example of good practice on information sharing from Fife. Fife already had the Named Person in place and the police had been sharing information since April 2013. 400 cases per month had been raised. Teachers stated that they had not seen any increase in their workload and that there had not been any adverse comments from parents.

Let us disregard the strong possibility that very few parents in Fife actually knew of the existence of the scheme and get straight to the point. This is not the scheme that the Scottish Government has tried to pass off in recent days as some informal pilot. Nor is it the low-key 'contact point for every child’ that the deputy first minister would have us believe. Not a bit of it. This is not 'a' Named Person but 'the' Named Person. In place; in Fife; approved and applauded by the very civil servants responsible for drafting the legislation; and so, we can be sure, remarkably close to the beast that finally emerged on the statute book.

For the avoidance of any remaining doubt, let’s have it one more time from the horse’s mouth:

Fife already had the Named Person in place

Not only did Fife have it in place; why, it was producing '400 cases per month’ as long ago as April 2013. Four hundred a month: think about it. In the small local authority of Fife, in the year before Liam Fee’s death, the council’s Named Persons were generating an annual caseload numbering almost 5,000 – apparently without breaking sweat.

Was Liam Fee part of that impossible caseload? We don’t know – yet. But the official record of a meeting on 10 September 2013 in Victoria Quay, Edinburgh, seems to dispose of any remaining doubt: Liam almost certainly did have a Named Person. It also exposes the shabbiness of the Scottish Government’s attempts to rewrite the history of Fife's Named Person scheme – and the hypocrisy of the first minister’s high moral tone on the subject. If anyone has been politically motivated in the last few days, it is Nicola Sturgeon herself.


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Child Protection Priorities

These concerns exist in all parts of the UK but it's impossible to get people in positions of power to engage in any sensible and rational debate about what is acceptable state intervention into family life. I recently wrote to the Children's Commissioner in Wales but she strongly advocates registration of home educated children and denies that multi-agency risk assessment does not always identify children at greatest risk.

The Liam Fee case has prompted me to write this article about child protection priorities and how to improve child protection arrangements:


Thanks for such an interesting and thought provoking article, Hilary. This bit resonated with me in particular:

Training courses do not prepare social work students adequately for the child protection role. Newly qualified social workers need mature and experienced social workers around them who consistently model how to do the job, enabling them to develop their skills and find satisfaction in the work. However, in recent years the departure of many experienced social workers has left teams without their mentors. It is not surprising that some young social workers soon become disillusioned and leave.
Back in the day (30 years ago), child protection cases were allocated to experienced staff, who had mostly undertaken specialist training, and were closely supervised. They were around as newbies gained experience in what was/is a very challenging role managing sometimes highly charged relationships with families. When public sector cuts began to bite, shortcuts were taken as there weren't enough staff, unmanageable caseloads, increasing sickness absence and a drift towards the voluntary sector which was a less stressful option. Some CP cases went unallocated as there was no one to take them on. It has got progressively worse in terms of inadequate resources and training, and SW has been consistently scapegoated by govt and the public whenever a high profile case breaks. It's little wonder there is a recruitment and retention crisis in the profession.

Many of my friends left senior and management positions in statutory social work after years of CP and mental health work that took its toll on their own health as the support and resources just weren't there. Young inexperienced workers who really didn't deserve to be thrown in at the deep end with hard cases were just expected to get on with it. The loss of highly experienced workers and the use and abuse of newly qualifieds and even SW assistants was always going to be a car crash.

So what is the answer? Data collection and universal surveillance of all children and families, it would seem, with a complete blurring of the boundaries between risk of significant harm and need for services (to meet state dictated outcomes). Children, families and social workers all deserve better, but the profession has been downgraded to one of box ticker (as with teachers). :(