THE Archbishops’ Council has formally accepted in full the latest recommendations of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), including the creation of an independent body to oversee its safeguarding practices.
IICSA, in its investigation report on child safeguarding in the Anglican Church, made eight recommendations, four of which were specific to the C of E, and two to the Church in Wales, and two were directed at both institutions (News, 6 October 2020). The General Synod voted unanimously to accept the six relevant recommendations late last year (News, 25 November 2020).
A formal response compiled by the Archbishops’ Council, House of Bishops, and the National Safeguarding Steering Group (NSSG) was published on Monday morning. Much of the work has already been announced and is under way — now under the management of a new “IICSA safeguarding programme . . . with a governance structure to ensure the work is closely monitored”.
An introductory statement explains: “The Archbishops’ Council, who led the response to IICSA on behalf of the institutional Church, will be responsible for ensuring the work is completed (with updates to the House of Bishops and General Synod). We will set up dedicated project boards for each recommendation to ensure effective delivery and accountability.”
The Archbishops’ Council and the Bishops have already voted in favour of the first recommendation: the establishment of an independent structure to oversee safeguarding, though this will require legislation to implement it. In the mean time, an interim structure is being developed that will be in place in a matter of weeks (News, 18 December 2020).
Regulations have been amended to replace diocesan safeguarding advisers with diocesan safeguarding officers. This is more than simply a name-change: their decision-making will be independent of the diocese under the professional supervision of the National Safeguarding Team (NST), which will, in turn, be subject to the independent body. Bishops will support clergy and congregations, but will not be involved in safeguarding decision-making.
National safeguarding policy is being revised to ensure that volunteers are formally subject to the House of Bishops’ safeguarding guidance.
Work is in hand in response to recommendation two: to revise and ultimately to replace the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) to manage safeguarding complaints both from and against clergy better (News, 26 February). The new system, the response confirms, would improve “the way in which the Church addresses discipline and capability”, “provide for early allocation of complaints to a different track depending on seriousness”, and remove the 12-month time-limit for all safeguarding-related complaints. “Legislation to reintroduce the power to depose from holy orders will be brought forward as soon as practicable.”
The response also supports the proposal to enable “respondents to acknowledge their misconduct early in the process, reducing the need for victims and survivors of abuse and vulnerable adults to be subject to the delay and trauma of a tribunal process”. Tribunal processes and conclusions should be made public.
In response to recommendations five and six (three and four relate only to the Church in Wales), existing information-sharing between the C of E and Church in Wales when clergy move across the border, including safeguarding concerns, will be standardised. Both Churches have agreed to work with statutory services, such as local authorities, to enhance this information-sharing: “An Information Sharing Agreement to be used between Police and the Church of England and the Church in Wales has been proposed and is being reviewed by all parties.”
In line with recommendation seven, the C of E’s policy on responding well to victims and survivors of abuse is also under revision. “This policy will specify a minimum level of support that all church bodies (making it a wider requirement than just dioceses) must provide to survivors in terms of therapeutic support, including counselling services. To ensure that the viewpoints of victims and survivors are incorporated, they have been consulted in the revision of the policy and the Church will continue to involve survivors in the next stages of development.”
A national redress scheme is also being put together, “including financial compensation, support for rebuilding lives, emotional well-being support, and apology”; and a redress-scheme development manager has started work. “Meetings will commence shortly with survivors and key stakeholders across the Church.”
The response points to the Safe Spaces service commissioned by the C of E and the Roman Catholic Church (News, 16 October 2020), and the interim support scheme, which is currently being piloted, “designed to enable the Church to improve its response to current and non-recent survivors of church-related abuse where the victim or survivor is known to be in seriously distressed circumstances”.
Finally, a programme of audits of dioceses and cathedrals by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) continues, but has been delayed by Covid and will now finish in 2022. “We will be introducing a new quality assurance framework, and we plan to initiate a fresh round of audits for dioceses and other church bodies from 2022 as part of that work.”
The introductory statement repeats the apology to victims and survivors of abuse. “As the [IICSA] report stated, the Church of England failed to protect some children and young people from sexual predators within their midst. While we will continue to apologise, our main focus must be recognising the distress caused and acting to improve our safeguarding structures and change our culture. This is vital for the whole Church.”