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The safeguarding overhaul that’s needed

06 April 2018

IICSA shed light on what survivors of abuse have been arguing: that the safeguarding process is not fit for purpose, says Josephine Anne Stein


Members of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse panel. Its chair, Professor Alexis Jay, is second from right

Members of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse panel. Its chair, Professor Alexis Jay, is second from right

WHEN the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, lead bishop for safeguarding, was asked at an IICSA hearing last month: “To your knowledge, has anybody been disciplined as yet for breaching the failing to have due regard to duty?”, he replied: “I don’t know that with any certainty.”

Much of the evidence provided to IICSA was anecdotal. My independent research also draws upon anecdotal evidence, from about 40 survivors of ecclesiastical abuse and my own direct experience as a survivor, and from a similar number of clergy and safeguarding professionals.

The evidence from survivors, via Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (MACSAS), is remarkably consistent, however, and indicates that there is a very large gap between stated safeguarding policy and its implementation.

In the light of IICSA’s remit to determine the appropriateness of safeguarding and child-protection policies and practices in the Anglican Church, there is thus a clear need for a comprehensive evaluation of the implementation of Church of England safeguarding policies and practices.

Safeguarding in the Church of England has burgeoned into a procedural, bureaucratic, and bloated industry that does not appear to be effective either in responding to abuse or in preventing further abuse. When checked earlier this year, the C of E’s safeguarding policy posted on the National Safeguarding Team’s website consisted of 364 separate pages. These pages were confusing, highly technical, and inconsistent, and numerous links between the pages were broken.

The associated consumption of resources appears to leave almost nothing for meeting the needs of survivors — apart from via insurance claims that are almost as traumatising to survivors as formal complaints procedures such as the Safeguarding and Clergy Disciplinary Measure and litigation.

Furthermore, there is a need to re-examine the function of safeguarding training. Training is all about policies and procedures, “what to look out for” (signs of possible abuse by others), and “what to do” (generally refer concerns to the diocesan safeguarding adviser).

The accounts of survivors over the past ten years, however, demonstrate that such training is a recipe for handing vulnerable people over to the very people seemingly employed to minimise liability to the institution.

In contrast, there seems to be no organised safeguarding training covering self-examination and self-knowledge that could guide and support those who are perpetrators of abuse or have personality traits that make them predisposed to committing abuse. Nor is pastoral supervision at this level routinely provided for the clergy.

THERE are alternative approaches to safeguarding within the healthcare sector, grounded in the development of professional ethics, the regular assessment of fitness to practise, and professional discipline.

There are also alternatives to formal safeguarding complaints procedures that combine knowledge and experience from occupational psychology, specialist social work, and restorative justice, much of which is unfamiliar within the Church.

Furthermore, there are inexpensive and empowering ways to improve knowledge and understanding of both the causes of and responses to abuse in different constituencies within the Church — a bottom-up approach in contrast to current centralised, top-down training. If everyone in the Church is responsible for safeguarding, everyone is also responsible for ownership of safeguarding.

This means not simply following instructions and procedures put out by the ecclesiastical safeguarding industry, but developing knowledge and understanding and holding discussions among both professional and lay peers.

The IICSA investigation is an important contribution to improving safeguarding understanding and practice in the Church of England, but much remains to be done to bring the implementation of policies in line with the Christian principles that should underpin ecclesiastical responses to allegations of safeguarding failures.

Josephine Anne Stein is a policy researcher and analyst.

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