THE BROAD principles of a protocol for systematically reviewing past child-protection cases have been agreed, the Church of England confirmed yesterday.
The Archbishop of Canterbury announced the review in May, when he acknowledged on the BBC's Today programme that errors had been made in the period before 1995, when the current guidelines were issued (News, 1 June).
He said on that occasion: "We don't just want to look good: we want to do this properly; and so we need to have the best professional advice on how we might review these historic cases."
The House of Bishops has been guided by the Church's Central Safeguarding Liaison Group, and a drafting group has done more work as requested after the presentation of its first text.
Each diocesan bishop will initiate a review of files, including those of retired priests, diocesan lay employees, and Readers. An independent reviewer will be appointed to assess whether any "cause for concern" exists. Diocesan bishops will also write to previous bishops, archdeacons, bishops' chaplains, and secretarial staff.
Concerns expressed by clerics or congregation members will be included in the diocesan files. Any urgent issues that arise will be dealt with immediately by reference to the statutory authorities.
The Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Anthony Priddis, who chairs the Liaison Group, described the protocol as "belt and braces". He said on Wednesday: "This gives us a focus to let us review any cases that have come up in the past. We want to make sure that if we look at them through the eyes of today's best practice, we can satisfy ourselves that they've been dealt with in the best possible way."
There was no backlog, he said. Most cases had been reviewed in a rolling process when a new bishop or child-protection officer had arrived in a diocese. "Certainly all those that have come up recently, we are confident have been dealt with in the best possible way. But there may be some others that haven't," the Bishop said. "The Church wants to be as upfront and open as possible, to make sure we look at it as thoroughly as we can."
The Liaison Group, made up of child-protection experts, has taken advice from agencies such as the NSPCC, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, and the Churches' Child Protection Advisory Service.
The first policy document from the House of Bishops was produced in 1995, and updated in 1999 and 2004. It expects to finalise the protocol by January 2008. Dioceses will be encouraged to complete the process within 18 months of publication.
"Children deserve the very best care, nurture, and teaching the Church is able to provide, whatever the context of their contact with the Church," said Bishop Priddis. "The House of Bishops is deeply committed to the safeguarding of all children, based on our understanding of the value and dignity of every human being, and Christ's own example of treating young people with status and respect."