General Synod: safeguarding presentation

16 February 2018

National Safeguarding Team of the Church of England says ‘this will not be an easy couple of years’

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

The Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, the lead bishop on safeguarding

The Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, the lead bishop on safeguarding

A PRESENTATION on national developments in relation to safeguarding, and on the Church of England’s preparation for the Independent Inquiry into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), took place on Saturday morning.

The Archbishop of Canterbury encouraged members to keep the questions short and not refer in detail to specific cases. These were “difficult, challenging matters”, he said, and support would be available for anyone distressed.

Introducing the session, the Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, the lead bishop on safeguarding, suggested that the presentation might inform a debate during the July sessions.

A short film featuring the voices of abuse survivors was shown, but not broadcast to the general public. It has been used in church safeguarding training. Survivors of clerical, domestic, sexual, and spiritual abuse spoke of their experience of the Church during this abuse; its part in it; and its failure to acknowledge the abuse, or to provide informed and careful support in the aftermath.

The Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, said that giving evidence for the IICSA had been demanding, but he had welcomed the opportunity to review the failures of the past in his diocese. He thanked the safeguarding team for creating a diocese in which safeguarding was a priority; and this, he said, had been achieved through “determined and effective” teamwork.

He asked how much the Church should invest in safeguarding, to include quality training and a proper response. “We cannot expect to be taken seriously if we talk about safeguarding, but fund it inadequately, especially at diocesan level.”

Outlining the steps that Chichester diocese had taken to learn from survivors, he said: “Survivors are people, not problems to be solved. . . There is never an excuse. Nothing excuses the criminal misuse of power in sexual abuse, which can destroy so many aspects of life, including faith in God.”

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Denying abuse could reinforce the damage done, he said. “It becomes double abuse.” The Church must not hide behind formality and status or legal phrases; nor must it be privileged above the “inviolable dignity” of the human person.

“Abuse takes many forms,” he said, “and it is never safe to imagine that only a certain type of person abuses, or that you can predict who is vulnerable and who is not.” Abuse affected not just the victims, but congregations, the community, and the family or friends of the victim, including children.

The diocese had also benefited — “sometimes uncomfortably” — from investigative journalism, Dr Warner said; and the process of rebuilding trust with statutory agencies had made the diocese look at its approach “more honestly and humbly. . . Robust, regularly updated policies, training; and fairness and consistency in safeguarding practice are vital for dispelling fear. And fear is dangerous. It’s what makes people secretive and deceptive; it’s why we tell lies to ourselves and to others.”

The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, spoke of her experience after one of her predecessors, Peter Ball, had been convicted of “horrific abuse”. “I am deeply ashamed of that legacy, just as I am deeply ashamed that the abuse people have suffered across the Church has so often been compounded by a wholly inadequate response and a lack of compassion,” she said.

Safeguarding was integral to mission and ministry, not an “add-on issue” just for a few specialists. Although good work was going on, including “excellent training”, it was a continuing challenge to embed safeguarding in every parish.

When safeguarding was done well, she said, there was “good relationship and strong communication. . . Too many people’s suffering has been exacerbated because someone in authority has been standing too firmly in one position and has not been willing to stand in someone else’s shoes.” Safeguarding was a Kingdom issue: it was everybody’s responsibility, and had to be communicated well.

Sir Roger Singleton, a member of the national safeguarding panel, said that the C of E did have a “shameful record” in this area, but was moving towards a place where it could be “quietly confident” that best practice was becoming universal practice. The national and diocesan teams had been reformed extensively, with better policies, guidance, and training, and were starting to listen and work with survivors, he said. But there still needed to be a broader cultural shift within the Church.

For such a cultural change to happen, strong leadership was required, Sir Roger suggested — not just from bishops and deans, but parish clergy and senior local laity, too. A “tipping-point” had been reached in ensuring that most clergy were informed about safeguarding, he said, but there was still an ambivalent and even hostile minority who rejected the need for sensible safeguarding measures, and who minimised “the adverse impacts which physical, sexual, emotional, and spiritual abuse can have on people’s lives; or who believe that complainants are only in it for the money”.

In his experience outside the Church, the safest places were those where leaders were familiar with the signs of abuse, and understood how abusers groomed victims and exercised power. They also were institutions that had channels to express concerns, and that gave prompt and attentive responses to survivors.

For the Church, this could mean strengthening archdeacons’ enquiries into safeguarding, addressing clergy and lay leaders who refused to engage with training, further investment in ordination training, and including in interviews a “rigorous exploration of attitudes to abuse, neglect, safeguarding, and ways to respond to victims and survivors”.

It was also vital that the occasional “ludicrous” story of over-the-top application of the vetting rules did not become an excuse for dispensing with DBS checks, Sir Roger said. But he remained optimistic that the Church saw that it needed a change of culture, and wanted this to happen. “But analysis should not be confused with action,” he concluded.

Bishop Hancock spoke as having served for past 18 months as lead bishop on the subject. He expressed thanks for people’s prayers, and admiration for the “increasing professionalism” of Church’s safeguarding staff. He wanted to pay “sincere tribute” to victims and survivors of abuse. “I am humbled by their courage. Telling their story helps the Church improve its safeguarding responses, but requires them to relive their experience.”

He acknowledged that, “for too long, the Church has not responded well to those who allege abuse within our church communities. This is now changing, and further change is needed.” Safeguarding was “integral to the mission of the Church, to the Gospel message”, and was “everyone’s responsibility.”

He went on: “What good safeguarding looks like is defined in our policy Promoting a Safer Church.” He urged people to read it. It was “fair to say that we started from a low base”, but there had been a five-fold increase in resources since 2014. Every diocese now had a professionally skilled diocesan safeguarding adviser, and most had a safeguarding team. “They need to be valued.”

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All dioceses should have arrangements to support survivors, and the National Safeguarding Team had commissioned independent research to help identify ways to strengthen this support. The Church was also working with the Roman Catholic Church on the Safe Spaces Project. All dioceses should have in place individuals who could support those who were accused of abuse or subject to a safeguarding allegation. A parish safeguarding handbook was being developed by the national team.

To date, 11,269 people in the Church had completed basic online safeguarding training. Every diocese had been independently audited, and this was being extended to both cathedrals and the Archbishops’ offices. The House of Bishops had asked for more work to “strengthen independent oversight and scrutiny”.

Currently, the Church was dealing with 3300 safeguarding concerns and allegations, of which 18 per cent related to church officers. This included all forms of abuse in and outside the Church. A total of 338 risk assessments had been carried out. He suggested that these figures told “a story of the Church as the ‘ears and eyes’ of our local communities. It also highlights our role as a community of faith that is prepared to welcome all, even those who present a known risk to others, but to do so with safeguards in place.”

Challenges remained, however. There was a need for “greater consistency in what we do”: structures were complex, and there were aspects of the Church’s culture which continued to “stop people from reporting their abuse, or which undermine our desire to respond well”. The pace of change must accelerated, he said.

Turning to the IICSA, he confirmed that more than 25,000 documents had been submitted by the Church, and 36 witness statements. Looking ahead to the inquiry, he warned: “This will not be an easy couple of years: we will hear deeply painful accounts of abuse, or poor response, of ‘cover-up’. We will, as our friends in the Anglican Church in Australia did, feel a deep sense of shame. But we must face this together, as a whole Church, together.”

After setting out some ways in which safeguarding could be improved, including recruiting safely, he said that the Church would know that it had “got there . . . when we hear direct and positive accounts from survivors. In saying this, I am acutely aware that there are survivors in the Assembly Hall who cannot testify to this, and remain deeply mistrustful, suspicious, and angry towards the Church. . . We are all responsible, and need the courage not just to admit our failures, but to make the progress that is needed.”

Kashmir Garton (Worcester) said that, given point 94 in the Bell review, “that dioceses have a very high degree of independence”, how would the Church ensure that safeguarding guidance was applied and followed consistently by all dioceses?

Canon David Banting (Chelmsford) asked about local-authority designated officers (LADO): did they, when part of an independent inquiry, have separate guidelines to deal with claims that could lead to substantiation? He also asked how the signing of a safeguarding arrangement by someone who was subject to an accusation avoided infringing the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

Bishop Hancock said that most of the assurance regarding diocesan independence was captured in the safeguarding-practice guidance of synods in the past. He would respond to the second, technical question afterwards. “We do need to make sure all accusations are dealt with openly, transparently, fairly faithfully, and through the appropriate procedures,” he said.

The Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Revd Dr David Ison (Southern Deans), said that he was struck by the response to intercessions during worship, which, while well-intended and intellectual, did not reflect the vulnerability of survivors and others affected by abuse. “How can we respond with heart?” he asked.

The Revd Jennifer Susan Gillies (Chester) agreed on the importance of parish and professionalism. How would they build trust in parishes without breaking down the trust that they were intending to build, she asked. Was the Church removing trust from parishes by passing it on to professionals?

Canon Priscilla White (Birmingham), referring to point 291 of the Carlile report on the triage system for abuse-related correspondence introduced at Lambeth Palace in 2016, asked: “Can we have assurance that email and telephone calls will not be brushed off by switchboard operators who say it is not their concern?”

Responding to Dr Ison, Bishop Treweek said that any “lack of heart” was not intended. Vulnerability, she said, “starts with me. We all have to take responsibility by willing to be vulnerable.” Safeguarding training in parishes was not about learning the “right answer”, but telling stories, which helped to feed the culture of vulnerability.

It was also about well-being, she said. “How are we encouraging clergy and lay people to take responsibility, and say they are struggling?” The Church needed a culture of vulnerability beyond safeguarding.

The Church’s investment in safeguarding resources and advisers had increased five-fold since 2014, Bishop Hancock said; and that included both Archbishops’ offices. Safeguarding audits were also ongoing in the dioceses. As a result of the Elliott review, which demanded better training for clergy and diocesan officers, 700 people had been through that training.

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The Revd Neil Patterson (Hereford) asked how awareness of the dynamics of power and attention to safeguarding could be established through all theological colleges and courses.

Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) aimed a rebuke at the press gallery over reporting that the disclosure of 3300 disclosed safeguarding requests in 2016 had been all allegations of sexual abuse, which was untrue. Why were diocesan communications officers being included in core safeguarding groups and making decisions on safeguarding matters? They should be advisory only, he said.

Peter Hart (Chester) said that it was simple to identify people who worked with children, but what about identifying vulnerable adults: how could the Church approach that?

Not only were audits being extended to the Archbishops’ offices, Bishop Hancock said, but theological educational institutions (TEIs) were also engaging effectively. He apologised for the misreporting.

Bishop Treweek said that people needed to understand better the part played by diocesan communications. It was not just about making media statements: these officers took part in the safeguarding training.

C1 training covered vulnerable adults, Dr Warner said. Anyone could be a vulnerable adult, and it could be “dangerous” to seek to label and make a distinction between “them and us”. People could go through phases of vulnerability; there were many forms of abuse, and the Church needed to be attentive to those.

Canon Simon Taylor (Derby) asked how to explain to lay people the necessity of going through three rounds of safeguarding training, at both cathedral and parish level.

“Can those clergy who have had extramarital affairs be considered as having imposed spiritual abuse against their wives, and dealt with appropriately?” the Revd Lisa Battye (Manchester) asked.

Martin Sewell (Rocester) said that the way in which the Church treated survivors was as damaging as abuse, and asked what one practical step would be taken to make survivors’ lives a little better before the next Synod meeting in July.

Sir Roger said that there had to be a balance between comprehensive safeguarding policies and training. “Saying more is less.” The national safeguarding team was working on a parish handbook that would focus on volunteers and could be applied to bigger institutions. One practical step might be to listen to victims and survivors in and outside the Church, and provide a source of support which was trusted by the person who was making the disclosure, who could stand alongside them, acting as an “honest broker” by not being part of the church hierarchy, but who would know his or her way around church institutions. “In the context of safeguarding, we could all do more to provide resources of people to command confidence of those disclosing.”

Everybody who was a survivor and was affected needed care and support, individual and tailored, Bishop Hancock agreed. Each diocese had set aside Bishops’ Visitors who had received safeguarding training, to care for clergy spouses.

Judith Rigby (Canterbury) asked that the slides from Bishop Hancock’s presentation could be made available to Synod members.

The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, addressed the issue how long those accused had to wait for their case to go through the police or public authorities’ processes. “Months can go by where we’re told to do things, or not do things,” he said. “We can’t go public.” Was work being done with the police and others to make the procedures faster and better, he asked.

Rhian Ainscough (Leicester) asked why only most, not all, dioceses now had a dedicated safeguarding trainer.

Bishop Hancock said that his presentation would be made available. He also said that the Archbishops were deeply aware of anxieties about the length of processes, which could be frustrating. He would continue to press external organisations to work faster, but said that the Church must remain grateful for the work they did.

It was important to note that the training was still a new thing, and dioceses were trying to catch up. But it was making a difference: there had probably been 25,000-30,000 people in the past few months alone.

Canon Rosie Harper (Oxford) asked how the Church was addressing the culture of “broken trust”: how could survivors be confident that today’s promises would be delivered, she said.

David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) asked how alleged survivors could be responded to when the circumstances meant that their accusations had to be investigated before the Church accepted that they were telling the truth.

Jayne Ozanne (Oxford) asked why it was only a presentation on safeguarding rather than a full debate. Could the Church of England introduce an independent reporting body, or a victims’ charter, she asked.

Bishop Hancock said that he disagreed with the premise of Canon Harper’s question, and that reports received by the Church had been taken seriously and respected. “We build trust by being open and truthful,” he said. He had wanted a debate, but was pleased that the Business Committee had decided on a presentation, because it meant that the Synod could consider properly before drawing up a motion for debate in July.

Elizabeth Paver (Sheffield), the vice-chair of the House of Laity, asked what work was being done to ensure that church schools were beacons of good practice in safeguarding and training.

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The Revd Paul Cartwright (Leeds) asked whether survivors who wanted an independent safeguarding body to be established would be listened to.

The Archdeacon of Totnes, the Ven. Douglas Dettmer (Exeter), asked how much more would have to be ploughed into the safeguarding budget, given that Bishop Hancock had said that the central spending had gone up five times since 2014.

Bishop Hancock said that church-school head teachers were already being trained in safeguarding, and that, when it came to independence, attempts had begun to recruit a new chair of the national safeguarding panel. “Part of that answer will be listening diligently to survivors,” he said.

He continued: “The House of Bishops have been asked to give particular thought as to how more independence can be built into the life of the Church.”

As for money, it was a good question, Bishop Hancock said, but it was ultimately for parishes, dioceses, and the national institutions.

Canon Deborah Flach (Europe) asked whether people in the gallery could ask a question, but was told from the chair that it was not allowed.

Canon Jane Charman (Salisbury) asked how the C of E was hoping to evaluate the impact of all the safeguarding training that was being rolled out.

The Archdeacon of Boston, the Ven. Justine Allain Chapman (Lincoln), asked about the language used on safeguarding. Could training materials not just use the term “safeguarding”, but also make clear that it was about pastoral care and loving their neighbours, she said. “As archdeacon, I come across too many churchwardens and clergy who see safeguarding as professional and compartmentalised, and not core to their life as Christians.”

Bishop Hancock replied that he hoped that the IICSA would help the Church measure the impact of its safeguarding reforms.

Bishop Treweek said that the House of Bishops was also thinking about how to measure the impact of the training. She agreed with Archdeacon Chapman about the language used. In her own diocese, she was trying hard to build into the culture the idea that safeguarding was part of mission and ministry.

Bishop Hancock thanking Synod members for how they had engaged with the debate, and thanked survivors who had come to listen in the gallery.

There was then an intervention from the public gallery which was not overruled. A young man spoke for almost a minute about his concerns that satanic ritual abusers had infiltrated many parts of the Church.

After a period of silence, the Archbishop of York led the singing of a refrain, “Heal me Jesus, send me Jesus”.

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