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Interview: Justin Humphreys, executive director, the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service

10 February 2017

‘There are new dangers and risks today that did not exist five years ago’


The Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) is a
non-denominational, independent Chris­­tian charity founded in 1977.
We educate the Christian commun­ity and wider society about the imperative to provide safe, sensitive, responsive, and caring environ­ments for children or adults at risk.


We equip people to create safer places, establish preventative prac­tices, and provide appropriate responses to those who are vulner­able and need help, those who’ve exper­ienced harm or abuse, or who’ve been affected by abuse.


CCPAS is an advisory body; so we don’t have legal powers of enforce­ment or authority over anyone. But we are regularly asked by local- and national-government departments and agencies to assist them with safe­guarding matters in a faith con­text. We influence government to focus on developing and imple­menting legislation, and raise stand­ards in safeguarding practice and to stand against harm and abuse. So we are a voice for those who aren’t heard, and fight oppression and exploitation.


Churches have a massive opportun­ity to connect with adults and chil­dren in communities; so they can­not overlook the statutory require­ments for protecting them. If you are in direct contact with young people, you need to have policies for safe­guarding. Those expectations are reinforced by the Charities Com­mis­sion through the Charities Act. Each environment should have its own iteration of the statutory requirement — its own safeguarding policy — probably drawn up in relation to wider policies, but related to what’s happening in that place.


Safeguarding is hugely complicated, fast moving, and ever changing. There is no one safeguarding ar­­range­­ment for all groups: it has to be worked out, because what is needed for a children’s residential camp, say, will be different froma parent-and-toddler group in a church hall. There are still safe­guard­ing procedures to follow, but they will be different.


We currently support 8000 mem­bers with DBS checks, training, help­­line advice, or consultancy ser­vices. We are in regular contact with over 20,000 people to give informa­tion about our services.


We work alongside most, if not all, the mainstream Christian denom­inations in the UK, with a paid team of safeguarding advisers, all of whom bring their Christian faith to bear on their professional back­ground, often in social work or law enforcement.


Our work is very varied, from supporting individ­uals in local churches to advising national govern­ment agen­cies and depart­ments on the impact of faith in safeguard­ing mat­ters. We undertake disclos­ure checks — DBS and AccessNI — and provide safeguarding train­ing, prac­tice guidance, and advice via our website and help­line. Anyone can call with ques­tions, from appropriate ratios of volunteers to chil­dren and young people in group settings to how to deal with allegations of abuse.


I often find myself discuss­ing with people our bib­lical mandate to protect, safe­guard, and look out for vulnerable people. So many are afforded less value and fewer rights by people who just don’t think about the impact of their attitudes and behaviours on others. A Christ-focused and child-centred model of interaction is critical to safeguarding and shaping young lives, and it’ll undoubtedly pay dividends in the long-term.


I entered social work after reading Broken Windows, Broken Lives by Adrian Plass (Angel, 1988). It is about supporting children and young people whose experiences of life have left them with hurts, trauma, abandonment, and fear. It ignited my passion for getting alongside the vulnerable, and giving them voice, at a time when I was searching for purpose in my life.


I worked in frontline social work in a local authority, and then in senior and consultancy roles in the volunt­ary sector for organisations like Action for Children, before joining CCPAS about six years ago.


I have my own story to tell of child abuse, but everybody’s experience is different and unique. What is par­ticularly useful to me now is being able to combine my personal experi­ence with my professional involve­ment in safeguarding. Having been a pastor and trustee in an As­­semblies of God Pentecostal church, I know the issues that face church leaders — which inspires confidence when I’m talking to other church leaders.


There are new dangers and risks posed to children and young people today that did not exist five years ago. The internet is a specific ex­­ample. Technology is developed at such a pace that it is difficult to keep up with the opportunities it provides for some to exploit. Respons­ible media reporting also plays a significant role in raising awareness of the existence and prevalence of abuse. We are learning more all the time.


New things come to light; so we have to be alert and constantly striv­ing to learn more about what chil­dren and adults experience, whether it is child sexual exploitation, hu­­man trafficking, modern-day slav­ery, female genital mutila­tion, child abuse linked to faith or belief, or, most recently, spiritual abuse.


What we must never forget, though, is that the majority of child abuse occurs in families. It takes a range of factors to combat this hidden epi­demic, but awareness, willing­ness, and courage all play a part. There’s still resistance or reluctance to ad­­dress it.


In churches, there are additional factors that result in abuse going un­­reported. Their dynamics and culture don’t always lend themselves to a completely open, inquisitive, and vigilant environment where ques­­tions and challenge are encour­aged. We’ve developed ten stand­ards called “Safe and Secure” for good safeguarding practice in church communities.


I’m a firm believer that prevention is key. There’s no single, identifiable typology for child abusers. They come in all shapes, sizes, ages, cul­tures, religions. It’s about being vigilant about warning signs in a person’s behaviour with and around children — having what Lord Laming, who led the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié, called “respectful uncertainty” rather than suspicion. Accepting the possibility that abuse could occur in our midst is half the battle. Believing that it’s impossible or highly unlikely is where we often go wrong.


Offenders can be worked with, to varying degrees of success. This is often about addressing skills deficits in parenting, but also cognitive-behavioural management techniques for those guilty of sexual of­­fences.


Safer environments reduce the risk of abuse in the first place. Good education and empowerment go a long way, and if it is evident to an opportunistic offender that there is a commitment to safeguarding, it is a deter­rent. We need good preventa­tive practices, and we need good responsive prac­tices. I think we’re always going to be holding those two things in balance.


We know that where aware­ness is raised, skills are taught, and practice changes, there is a culture change. Vulnerable people are valued more highly, and there is a greater willing­ness on the part of individuals to do things right.


I’d love to be able to say that we can eradicate abuse, but the reality is that we are fallen, broken people, and it will probably always be an ordinary part of life for many of us. All we can do is to educate and equip ourselves to reduce it.


I was adopted at the age of three by a loving Christian couple, after having spent my earliest years in and out of care, lacking a safe and stable family environment. I grew up in church, and have many people to thank for the lessons they taught me and the opportunities they gave me.


I married Hayley in 1993, and we have three children. Hayley works for Compassion UK. My elder daughter recently qualified as a midwife, my younger daughter is at Bible college in Bradford, and my son is studying for his GCSEs. I’m happiest when I’m with them, pref­er­ably on holiday.


I’ve known of the existence of God for most of my life — certainly from the age of three — but I made a personal decision to follow Jesus at a summer youth camp in 1982, when I was 11. He’s been with me throughout the darkest and most exciting moments, and I’m learning every day just how he weaves to­­gether the tapestry of my life.


One of my favourite sounds is the birdsong that flows from the wood­land at the end of our garden at home. In the evening, it’s the owls calling; and, in the early morning, it’s the multitude of birds singing to herald a new day.


My favourite authors are Frank Peretti, Ted Dekker, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis. I also listen to a fairly eclectic range of music, from classical to jazz and contem­por­­­­­ary Christian worship, to ’80s pop and rock — much to my family’s disgust.


The last thing that made me angry was seeing images of children being harmed in the military attacks on Aleppo, Syria.


I pray most for justice and courage.


If I was locked in a church with just one companion, I’d choose my wife. She is my friend, my confidante, my soulmate.


Justin Humphreys was talking to Terence Handley MacMath. www.ccpas.co.uk

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