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Professor Jay asks: What sort of independent safeguarding body do you want for the Church?

15 August 2023

The homepage of the new Future Church Safeguarding Programme website

The homepage of the new Future Church Safeguarding Programme website

A CONSULTATION process, including with survivors of church-based abuse, has been started to find the best model for fully independent safeguarding within the Church of England.

This task is the responsibility of the new Future Church Safeguarding Programme, established last month with Professor Alexis Jay at the helm (News, 21 July). She is the former chair of the national child-abuse inquiry (IICSA), and is being supported by the former secretary to IICSA, John O’Brien.

The programme has been announced after months of turmoil in church safeguarding, including accusations that the Archbishops’ Council has interfered with progress towards independence (News, 14 July). Professor Jay said on her appointment: “If I detect any attempt to interfere with or to hinder my work, I will withdraw from this programme of work immediately.”

An update published on Tuesday said that the new team would visit the dioceses of Exeter, Newcastle, Coventry, London, Portsmouth, and Carlisle to “better understand what needs to be improved or what is already working well in Church safeguarding processes” as well as gather opinions about how to achieve a safeguarding body that is “independent, fair, and impartial”.

The six dioceses had been chosen to ensure a diversity of views across England as well as to make participation practical. “As the programme is independent from the Church, no visits will be held on church premises,” the update says.

“Key staff” from within the Church and “key stakeholders from relevant organisations” outside of the Church would also be interviewed, it says.

Documents, data, and other information provided by the Church at Professor Jay’s request would be analysed, as well as findings of the IICSA and the Truth Project, which heard from 6000 victims and survivors of childhood sexual abuse (News, 13 May 2022).

The update, which was sent directly from a new Future Church Safeguarding Programme email address, welcomes contributions from anyone with experience of church safeguarding processes within the past five years. This includes victims and survivors of abuse or their parents/carers; clerics; church officers and volunteers; congregations; and members of the public.

Interest in in-person contributions can be registered through the new website: www.futureofchurchsafeguarding.org.uk, which is also hosting an online survey. Responses to this will inform the final report and recommendations for the independent safeguarding model.

The report will, the update says, “provide options and recommendations for how a new independent safeguarding and scrutiny body might be formed”; how it should operate; “make any recommendations for how further independence of safeguarding might be achieved”; and “make any other recommendations that are necessary or appropriate”.

Professor Jay expects to complete her report by the end of December and will publish it herself to “ensure full transparency”.

She said on Tuesday: “The need to introduce a genuinely independent safeguarding model for the Church of England as soon as possible cannot be overstated. The views of those with recent experience of abuse, people who work or volunteer within the church, and others who have had cause to engage with the existing processes must inform this process if it is to be truly independent, fair, impartial, and effective.”

She continued: “I hope that the diocesan visits and the online survey will help to build a full picture of people’s experiences of current safeguarding arrangements and of what will be needed in a future model. I look forward to hearing these views and using this process to help shape the recommendations I will make to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.”

Read more on this story in this week’s Leader comment

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