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Treat abuse survivors as people, Independent Safeguarding Board tells Church

03 November 2022

The new website of the ISB, which launched last month

The new website of the ISB, which launched last month

SURVIVORS of abuse have not felt the effects of the Church of England’s significant investment in its safeguarding practices, which should adopt a more “person-centred” approach, the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) has said in its first report.

The ISB was established by the Archbishops’ Council in 2021 to oversee the work of the Church’s National Safeguarding Team (NST) (News, 1 October 2021). The ISB’s first report, Don’t Panic — Be Pastoral: An independent report into the experiences of victims and survivors, was published on Thursday.

It was written by the survivor advocate of the ISB, Jasvinder Sanghera, and is based on four months of conversations, from March to July, with victims and survivors, as well as respondents who have faced allegations of abuse. Its purpose is to ensure that the Church and the NST understand these experiences, past and present, and that they inform church safeguarding.

In her introduction, Ms Sanghera acknowledges that widespread mistrust of church safeguarding has extended to the work of the ISB. “We are deeply thankful that such a sceptical perception has not inhibited our conversations, and wish to reiterate that this report and the ISB itself, are independent.”

Her report contains three “important messages” from the ISB which inform its 16 recommendations. First, the current failure by the Church to prioritise experiences of victims and survivors must be grasped by directing resources and skills towards “giving a real and strong voice” to this community. This includes responding quickly to victims’ seeking support, and a clear person-centred referral system, rather than the “dead end” or “passing the buck” that has been reported by survivors.

Second, the processes relating to the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) and tribunals, which are currently under review (News, 15 July), must be more urgently addressed, the ISB says. Contributors to the report “were strong, vocal, and consistent in sharing how this process is the opposite of trauma-informed and is in fact more likely to cause re-traumatisation”.

Third, there is a need to “manage sensitively the expectations” of victims and survivors, including “apologies, consistent communication, being believed”, and the challenges presented by the Interim Support Scheme (ISS), which many survivors have criticised (News, 9 July 2021). “All these areas create greater anxieties and mistrust for the survivor community,” the report says.

Many of its recommendations are directed at the NST, including the development of an “empathetic” victim-engagement strategy and a “consistent” communication plan, which “must reach dioceses, advocates, and lawyers, such as the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, Safe Spaces” (News, 9 September) and survivor groups. More immediately, the NST must introduce risk- and needs-assessments for ISS, and distribute information and clear timetables, as well as a feedback system.

Other practical recommendations include creating a central list of therapeutic services, gathering survivor views on church lawyers, developing a survivor support strategy for use in dioceses, and adopting a person-centred approach to survivors.

One survivor reports: “We have an institutional memory when finding the courage to disclose, sadly some forget the child in that past who is very present at that time of disclosing.” The report also quotes communications from the NST, suggesting a lack of empathy in communication with survivors of non-recent abuse. “Yes, it was handled badly back then but it is different now and survivors need to accept this,” was one example.

Survivors are quoted extensively in the 67-page report, and case studies and example exercises are used to illustrate best practice covering each of the recommendations. Consistent views of survivors are also listed at the end of the report, including that disclosures should be responded to within 24 hours, that survivors should not be dealt with by the NST unless this body has a person-centred team for this, and a clear definition of what constitutes a safeguarding issue.

Ms Sanghera writes: “There is no greater time than now for the C of E to question and challenge itself, especially when it has the knowledge that victims and survivors remain distressed and some even suicidal despite the changes in safeguarding policies, processes, and many reviews. It is time to think carefully about what we mean by victim and survivor engagement and how this truly impacts on confidence and safer outcomes.

“The challenge for the C of E is that despite much investment the same consistent messages from the survivor community of inadequate outcomes remain prevalent.”

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