Church safeguarding review suggests progress, but work remains

22 January 2016

KEITH BLUNDY

"Committed to being open": the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler

"Committed to being open": the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler

A REVIEW of the Church of England’s efforts to protect children from abuse has reported good progress, but it gave warning that more still needed to be done to ensure that every level of the Church was a safe place.

In a pilot scheme, four dioceses — Blackburn, Durham, Portsmouth, and Salisbury — volunteered to have their safeguarding procedures examined by an independent agency, the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE). The rest of the dioceses will be checked throughout 2016 and 2017.

Most of the “audits” were positive, and all four were praised for appointing competent and ef-fective safeguarding advisers and beginning to put in place systems to risk assess clergy and lay workers.

The reviewers reported, however, that every diocese, in particular Salisbury, needed to make changes to bring their safeguarding procedures up to standard.

The reports were released on Thursday of last week, and, in a statement, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who leads the C of E’s safeguarding work, said that everyone had lessons to learn.

“The audits show how each diocese can improve, while also commending good practice that is already in place,” he said. “We have published these pilot audits as we are committed to being open about where we have got it wrong and where we need to improve.”

The diocese of Salisbury came in for the most criticism. The report called for immediate action to draw up a plan to ensure that everyone in the diocese had received the latest training. SCIE said that it was “concerned” by how many parishes were unwilling to answer questions on safeguarding during archdeacon’s visitations.

The diocesan safeguarding adviser (DSA) admitted that she was not confident that she would always be informed of cases that required her attention. In one instance, she was slow to discover that a convicted abuser had moved into a new area, even though a “member of the senior clergy” knew about the man’s presence.

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Moreover, the DSA’s advice was ignored when another senior cleric gave a character reference at the trial of an offender in 2014, which could have been seen as a public demonstration of support.

Some individuals were said to have refused to attend safeguarding training, and “there were suggestions in conversations with the auditors that the focus was sometimes still more on the needs of the perpetrator rather than the victim.”

Although there is a diocesan policy never to appoint clergy until their record had been checked with the Government’s disclosure and barring service (DBS), the flouting of this rule had been accepted by the diocese for some time, SCIE said.

Blackburn diocese was com-mended for embedding the culture of safeguarding, so that it was seen as “everybody’s business”.

Record-keeping should be improved to ensure that it made sense to future readers, SCIE said, but the audit also praised the DSA’s negotiation skills — in particular, where she had persuaded an unrepentant offender who wanted to return to church to give up all official positions in a parish.

The diocese of Durham also received broadly good feedback, and its DSA’s work was described as showing “sound judgement”. It was told to create a complaints policy and develop a database of safeguarding cases.

Likewise, Portsmouth diocese’s safeguarding arrangements were given a qualified stamp of approval. The auditors were “very impressed with the openness and desire to learn evident in the diocese”. They, too, could work on their record-keeping, and also needed to ensure that all clergy had a DBS check every five years; more than 30 in the diocese had missed this standard.

In a summary report for the national safeguarding team, SCIE said that each diocese needed to improve its management of information and records.

The chief executive of SCIE, Tony Hunter, said that his team had been impressed by the approach of the staff in each diocese.

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