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Survey results to inform Church’s approach to survivor engagement

18 October 2023

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SURVIVORS of abuse want to influence decision-making about how the Church can be made a safer environment, a survey that will inform the C of E’s approach to survivor engagement reveals.

The survey was launched in July last year by the National Safeguarding Team (NST), and closed for submissions in September 2022 (News, 21 July 2022).

It asked survivors of abuse what barriers might prevent their engaging with the Church, and what they would hope to achieve if they were to become involved.

The results were reported in detail on Wednesday of last week.

The majority of the 171 respondents to the anonymous survey identified as victims of abuse and said that they had been abused in a church setting. Asked “What would motivate you to further engage and/or participate in the safeguarding work of the Church?”, the most selected answer — 71.3 per cent of respondents — was “Being able to influence decision-making.”

The question allowed for multiple answers to be selected: 68.4 per cent said “Having a space to have my voice and opinion heard in the Church”; 67.8 per cent said “Seeing the impact of my involvement on the life of the Church.”

The most selected answer to a question about the “barriers and challenges” affecting engagement was “Concerns about people’s negative assumptions and biased behaviours,” which 57.3 per cent selected.

Participants were able to add alternative answers in a text box, some of which were included in the report. To the question about barriers, these other responses included “No trust in NST and the Church”; “Concerns about safety”; and “Lack of transparency.”

A Church House spokesperson declined to provide more detailed information about these written-in answers, and referred to data-protection rules and the confidentiality of respondents.

Asked how the Church could “ensure that any survivor-engagement activity does not retraumatise or negatively affect you”, survivors listed factors such as confidentiality, a “sense of care and human connection”, and “feeling welcomed, listened to and supported”.

Other questions were more practical, asking how survivors wanted to be recognised for their involvement. More than half said that they would like to receive expenses, but only 28 per cent wanted a paid honorarium; 44 per cent said that they would like to receive thanks from church officers or clergy.

Ninety-four per cent said that they wanted a clear framework for survivor engagement. A section, “Next steps”, at the end of the report indicated that this would be in place by December.

Other things to be implemented include a code of conduct, co-produced with survivors, with a deadline of next March, and a recruitment policy for volunteer survivors, to be ready in May.

Further steps to be completed later next year include the preparation of a policy on expenses and honorarium payments, and the planning of “an approach to listening to children, young people and their families”.

The Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Revd Julie Conalty, who is the deputy lead bishop for safeguarding, said: “We owe sincere gratitude to victims and survivors of abuse who shared their views with the National Safeguarding Team in this survey. Their responses will help us to co-ordinate and standardise our approach to survivor engagement.

“The survivor engagement framework is a great opportunity for the Church to enable not only survivors to become the heart of our safeguarding work, but also to make a real change in the Church.”

The NST’s survivor engagement lead, Ioannis Athanasiou, the author of the report, said: “In involving individuals with lived experience of abuse, colleagues at the NST and many other stakeholders to co-produce the survivor engagement survey, we all learned what excellent results we can achieve by working with victims and survivors, instead of doing things for them.

“Although it took time for me to write this report, it was important to capture and share evidence with respect to survivors’ responses, and present the data in the most simple and accessible way as possible.”

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