Laity need better safeguarding training, IICSA told

08 July 2019

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CLERGY and lay church staff and volunteers should be given the same levels of safeguarding training, so that they are able to deal better with allegations and incidents in the parish, a priest has said. The current levels of training in his diocese were not adequate, he warned.

The priest — known only as X2, to protect the complainant concerning a specific safeguarding incident in the diocese of London — was giving evidence on the case to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) on Monday. The Inquiry is in the second week of a public hearing investigating the extent to which the Anglican Church has failed to protect children from abuse.

The incident concerned a paid employee of a London parish — F23 — who, as part of his employment, ran a pre-school children’s group once a week.

F23 was accused of assaulting a young child in the child’s home in the parish. F23 visited the family home, where he allegedly took part in “rough play” with the child on a trampoline in the garden. He allegedly “touched penises” with the child when they were alone and was allegedly seen by another individual with his belt-buckle undone.

Later, the complainant’s mother allegedly witnessed him “touching tongues” with the child in the kitchen of the family home. The mother reported the incident to the Rector’s wife, and then the Rector, who immediately informed the diocesan safeguarding adviser (DSA). F23 was suspended the next day. The local social services and the police were informed, but no criminal action was taken.

The witness, X2, who is a non-stipendiary minister in the parish, had been chosen to carry out an internal “fact-finding” investigation, to decide whether a formal a disciplinary hearing was needed. He was not qualified to carry out a risk assessment, he confirmed.

Within five weeks of the reporting of the allegation, X2 had interviewed the Rector, the parents, and F23, and concluded that, while there had been rough play and touching of tongues, there was no evidence of touching of penises. F23 had not been alone with the child for very long, the witness told the Inquiry, the child’s demeanour after the alleged incident had been “sunny and untroubled”, there had been “no furtiveness” from F23 afterwards, and the tongue-touching had been “infantile”.

The witness said: “I could not be satisfied even to the civil standard that there had been any touches of penises, but there was rough play and touching of tongues in the kitchen of the family house. . . It may have been said that touching of tongues had a sexual connotation. It was infantile behaviour by an adult. . . It was unpleasant, but not sexualised.”

He recommended that F23 read the diocesan safeguarding handbook and undertake the diocesan safeguarding training, as well as the one-to-one training, within one month of returning to work.

Questioned by the junior counsel to the Anglican investigation, Nikita McNeill QC, whether he felt qualified to carry out the investigation, the witness said: “I don’t think I have adequate safeguarding training. I think what the parish safeguarding clergy need is a tick-list, effectively. Because being trained for one day every three years, however diligently you attend or are aware of it, we are frail, frankly, and matters become rusty.”

The laity should have the same training, he said. “There should be no distinction between any of us. . . Everyone should be aware of safeguarding and what to do if something happens. I don’t think that the laity and volunteers are [sufficiently] trained.”

In the diocese of London, clerics were required to complete a one-day safeguarding training course once every three years, he said. The laity were expected to complete a one-hour online course. Neither course was adequate, and the accompanying diocesan safeguarding policy was too long and complicated to be taken on board by already overwhelmed clergy, the witness said.

“Parish priests — particularly in under-resourced parishes — have to be accountants, boiler engineers, roof-repairers, and priests, sometimes; they have a relationship with individuals which is very particular: it is a cure of souls; it is a pastoral responsibility. To add on safeguarding. . .

“Safeguarding is part of the cure of souls, but it requires judgement, and for a parish priest to make a judgement about members of the congregation, that can be very painful and very difficult, because they don’t have the training for it.”

The case was among those scrutinised in the Carmi report, which was written by Edina Carmi, an independent safeguarding consultant, in 2004, but not published until 2014 (News, 11 July 2014). She concluded that F23, who had been offered pastoral support by the churchwarden, should have been offered a “link person” and support outside of the management of the case.

The witness explained that F23 and his wife and children had also been interviewed by the police and social services: “F23 and his family were having a torrid time, frankly. . . It was a rough time. The complainant’s family were worse: they were outside the area, and so were relying on telephone calls and emails; we had to be very circumspect.”

He agreed that “streamlining it would have been a much happier experience. . . If the DSA had had more resources.”

The Inquiry heard that the DSA had been “overwhelmed” with casework and was slow to reply to calls and messages. No formal risk-assessment of F23 had ever been carried out by the DSA, and it emerged that the individual had not undertaken the necessary safeguarding training to work with children.

Ms Carmi was questioned as an expert witness on Monday afternoon. She suggested that there could be “more direct communications” between DSAs and complainants rather than through the priest or others in the church. Delays were common among DSAs, parish safeguarding officers (PSO), and statutory authorities. Being a PSO, she said, was “quite a task, and a voluntary task”. Conflicts of interest were also a problem in smaller parishes.

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