THERE has been a flurry of safeguarding activity in the past week, in advance of next week’s publication of the final report on the Anglican Church by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have described this as “a turning point” in the Church’s treatment of survivors.
At a meeting on Wednesday of last week, the Archbishops’ Council approved an interim pilot scheme for survivors of abuse. The sum available has not been disclosed, but is believed to be in six figures. Survivors campaigning for redress had argued in the past that anything less than £250,000 would not be worth offering.
The announcement of the fund, made last Friday, was accompanied by a commitment by the Archbishops’ Council to pursuing “urgently . . . the principle of independent safeguarding recognising the need for greater independence and transparency of safeguarding”.
On Tuesday, the long-heralded Safe Spaces initiative was launched: an independent helpline funded jointly by the C of E and the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. The service is run by Victim Support, set up to help victims of crime.
A briefing paper speaks of “a team of trained support advocates who have undergone specialist training in supporting survivors of sexual violence and who have received additional specific training in how the churches respond to abuse cases”.
Besides staffing the helpline, a live chat service, and website, the team of three counsellors and two support staff will offer advocacy, support, and information about church and police procedures. They will also respond to individual needs, and help with the drawing up of individual support plans.
In addition, the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, announced this week that an external audit of safeguarding arrangements at Bishopthorpe Palace, York, postponed in March because of the pandemic, is to go ahead next month, conducted by the Social Care Institute for Excellence.
A complaint about Archbishop Welby, received in August, is still being reviewed by the National Safeguarding Team, it was confirmed on Wednesday. An earlier complaint, about not acting properly in the case of the late John Smyth, was judged not to have been substantiated. All information about Smyth is being sent to the Makin Review, whose report is expected next year.
The pilot scheme for survivors, which runs while a full redress scheme is being worked out and set up, is geared to those cases that are already known to the Church, and in which “the survivor is known to be in seriously distressed circumstances, and the Church has a heightened responsibility because of the way the survivor was responded to following disclosure”, a statement said last Friday.
The scheme will be able to offer cash sums, but the emphasis will be on funding support such as financial or debt counselling, therapeutic support, and seed funding to help with employment. Help with housing is also a possibility, but is expected to be offered rarely.
A statement by Archbishops Welby and Cottrell which accompanied the announcement of the scheme spoke of “a long, honest, and soberingly frank discussion. . .
“The issue of independence is something we have taken a personal lead on and are very committed to. We are glad that the Church is now going to make this happen. Along with providing redress for victims and survivors, this is the next step we must take.
“Today’s meeting and these decisions feel like a turning point. As we await IICSA’s report into the Church of England, we continue to pray for survivors and all those the Church has failed. We are profoundly sorry for our failings, but today our words of sorrow are matched by actions that we believe will lead to real change. We hope that this will provide some hope for the future.”
As well as the imminent IICSA report, which is expected to be critical of the Church’s treatment of survivors, a group of churchpeople have reported the Archbishops’ Council to the Charity Commission for its alleged mishandling of safeguarding matters.