Churches stress protection for vulnerable adults

02 November 2006

by Rachel Harden

Churches should adopt formal practices to protect vulnerable adults, similar to the child-protection policies that are already in place, say new sets of guidelines published by two separate church bodies.

Both Safeguarding Adults, published by the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS), and Promoting a Safe Church from the Church of England say that similar issues arise when dealing with both children and vulnerable adults.

The CCPAS report states: “We now recognise, for example, that adults with disabilities can be equally vulnerable to abuse and neglect, as well as those with mental health problems and conditions like dementia. We are also aware that adults have been abused within relationships of trust, such as counselling.

“As a result of our increased understanding, it is vital that places of worship and other faith groups respond by ensuring measures are put in place to safeguard vulnerable adults.”

This is complemented by Promoting a Safe Church, which contains a Church of England policy on safeguarding vulnerable adults, examples of good practice, and procedures to follow. It has been commended by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

The policy includes a pledge to “care for and supervise any member of our church community known to have offended against a vulnerable person”, and a commitment to protect all vulnerable people. It also states that any abuse of power by anyone in a position of trust will be challenged.

In addition to advice on how to develop a “safeguarding adults policy”, both manuals include sections on safe recruitment and what to do when abuse is known or believed to be taking place, including how to work with known sex offenders who may attend a place of worship. There are also practical sections on how to provide pastoral care for various groups of vulnerable adults, such as those with disabilities, or those living in a residential home. The C of E report has separate sections on how to implement the policy in a parish and a diocese.


David Pearson, the executive director of CCPAS, said that the service’s helpline received calls every day from churches and organisations asking about how to implement policies for working with vulnerable adults. Insurance companies and the Charity Commission were taking the protection of vulnerable adults far more seriously, by pressing for protection policies to be in place, and for Criminal Records Bureau disclosures to be undertaken where appropriate, he said.

New research suggests an increase in reports of adults being abused or at risk. In March, the Department of Health and Action on Elder Abuse published a joint report based on findings in nine English local authorities over a six-month period. It identified 639 cases of abuse involving vulnerable adults, of which more than 200 related to abuse in the adult’s own home. Only five of these cases resulted in prosecution.

The foreword to the CCPAS report has been written by the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, who says: “It is important to realise that manuals such as this one are not ends in themselves, to be placed on a vestry or study shelf with a sense of satisfaction that we have met this or that requirement. Their purpose must be to galvanise us into action, and to ensure that vulnerable adults truly belong and are able to participate in our common life.”

The CCPAS stresses that places of worship can make “a vital contribution”, not just by providing a supportive environment, but by being aware of the issues surrounding possible abuse of vulnerable adults, and by knowing how and where to refer people to.

Safeguarding Adults: A manual for working with vulnerable adults and developing safe practice is published by CCPAS at £17 (; phone 0845 120 4550).

Promoting a Safe Church: Policy for safeguarding adults in the Church of England is published by CHP at £5.99; 0-7151-4109-0; it is also downloadable from

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