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C of E safeguarding director resigns

03 December 2020

Church House

Melissa Caslake

Melissa Caslake

THE Church of England’s Director of Safeguarding, Melissa Caslake, is resigning after just 18 months in post (News, 12 April 2019), it was announced this week.

Ms Caslake is to take up the post of director of children’s services for Devon County Council. She studied for a Masters degree in social work at the University of Exeter, and said: “I always thought that I might return at some point to a wonderful part of the country.”

In her 18 months working for the C of E, she said on Thursday that she had “embedded a new structure for the safeguarding team, established clear priorities, and introduced change proposals which were reinforced by IICSA and formed part of our response to the final publication of its report on safeguarding in the Church”.

In a farewell message, she writes: “I have been privileged to work with survivors, members of clergy, diocesan and safeguarding professionals; and others in the national Church and beyond. I hope their expertise will continue to be respected and heard.

“I would like to thank all those who have supported the safeguarding journey so far, and wish the Church well as it reflects on how best to implement the IICSA recommendations for the future.”

Before the announcement was made public, she wrote to abuse survivors with whom she has worked to express her gratitude: “It has been a powerful and humbling experience to work with you all, to see your dedication and commitment and sometimes the personal cost of that. I want to pay tribute to you for everything you do, and to thank you again for working with me.”

A small group of survivors replied on Thursday with a statement wishing her well, saying that she would “leave with respect from many in the survivor community and beyond, for the energy she brought to transforming the Church’s safeguarding, and rescuing a moribund National Safeguarding Team.

“Some have offered legitimate criticism of the controversies over which she nominally presided, but still recognise that she has left a good mark of the changes required for the future. Indeed, she has done more than anyone to change the culture. She ‘got it’. We note that she came from a local authority context and returns to a similar position where she will have clear unambiguous roles, rules, and structures, none of which currently exist within the Church of England in general and Church House in particular.

“Until these are sorted out the position of Director of Safeguarding is virtually impossible to do with integrity, and we don’t blame Melissa for leaving whilst hers is still intact. . . It is crucial that her successor picks up on and carries forward the direction of change and reform. We wish her well.”

The Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, the lead safeguarding bishop, said: “Melissa has brought experience, skills and commitment to her role and I would like to express my personal thanks for her support and leadership within the NST and National Safeguarding Steering Group. . .

“I am conscious that this has been a very demanding and personally costly role, facing challenges from many different directions. Melissa has sought to help the Church to become a safer and healthier place for all and we owe her a real debt of thanks for all her work on our behalf.”

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