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Varied responses to Jay report on Church of England safeguarding

23 February 2024

Synod members uncertain about how its recommendations might be implemented

Sam Atkins/Church Times

Synod members listen to a debate on safeguarding during the July sessions of the General Synod in York

Synod members listen to a debate on safeguarding during the July sessions of the General Synod in York

RESPONSES to the Jay report on the future of Church of England safeguarding were uncertain about how and when its recommendations might be implemented.

The report by Professor Alexis Jay, published on Wednesday (News, 21 February), recommended a total overhaul of the Church’s safeguarding structures, to shift responsibility away from individual dioceses to two new charities, which would be completely independent of church authorities.

The independent safeguarding charity Thirtyone:eight, which is experienced in the faith sector, welcomed the proposal for an external body to scrutinise safeguarding. “This recommendation has been advocated by us and others before, including in our evidence to the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse [IICSA].”

The charity was concerned, however, at the potential removal of operational safeguarding from the Church, because, it said, this “risks a belief that safeguarding is no longer their responsibility”.

A joint chief executive of Thirtyone:eight, Justin Humphreys, said on Wednesday: “This may lead to unintended consequences due to gaps in ownership, understanding, and practice. If responsibility for safeguarding is perceived to lie elsewhere, it could weaken efforts to foster safe, healthy church cultures.”

Concerns about the implications of removing safeguarding from diocesan control were raised in a letter, signed by more than 60 safeguarding professionals (mostly diocesan safeguarding advisers), in November, which came to public attention only this week.

The letter argued that “IICSA did not recommend an independent safeguarding service, but recommended the operational independence of safeguarding decision-making within existing Diocesan structures.”

Professor Jay was the fourth and final chair of IICSA from August 2016 until October 2022. Among IICSA’s key recommendations to the C of E was: “Diocesan safeguarding officers should be employed locally, by the Diocese Board of Finance.”

The letter from the safeguarding professionals said: “The legislative groundwork for the delivery of operational independence as set out in [IICSA] Recommendation 1 has been laid by Amending Canon 42, approved by General Synod in February 2023, and due to receive Royal Assent in 2024.”

The implications of Professor Jay’s recommendations of fully independent church safeguarding for this process are presently unclear.

One safeguarding officer in a southern diocese told the Church Times this week: “We’re all a bit worn down by it.”

The timeframe for any personnel and capacity changes is not known, although it is understood that all existing safeguarding employees would have a right to automatic redeployment in the new bodies under the Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment (TUPE) scheme. The legislation was last revised in 2014.

 

AN ADVISORY note from the law firm Bates Wells, published alongside Professor Jay’s report, sets out some of the practical steps required for her recommendations to be executed.

“Professor Jay has recommended that a complete change of safeguarding culture is necessary . . . and that this can only be achieved by the creation of two fully independent bodies for the delivery and oversight of the safeguarding operations,” it says.

Her recommendation, the note continues, “is for the General Synod to pass a Measure, with parliamentary approval and royal assent, to provide that the safeguarding operations of the Church of England will be conducted by [Organisation A] under the supervision of [Organisation B] and shall be carried out entirely independently of the Church of England. The Measure will also create two overarching statutory safeguarding duties which will apply to every emanation of the Church of England (whether personal or institutional, ordained or lay, remunerated or voluntary).”

The note dismisses the idea of contracting existing safeguarding bodies to the new organisations proposed, and concludes that, to be properly established, the new structures must be on a statutory footing.

Safeguarding is to be discussed by the General Synod at Church House, Westminster, on Saturday. A motion is being brought by the lead safeguarding bishop, the Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell, thanking Professor Jay and Sarah Wilkinson — the author of the review of the disbanding of the Independent Safeguarding Board (News, 9 February) — for their work.

The motion, drafted several weeks before the Jay report was published, is non-committal about the direction of the response, simply requesting that the Synod “pursue as a matter of priority” the process for forming a response to, and considering any necessary implementation, of the recommendations.

Members are to be shown a pre-recorded presentation by Professor Jay.

Writing on the Church Abuse blog on Wednesday, a former Synod member, Gavin Drake (News, 10 July 2023), urged members to amend the motion to request that such a Measure be drafted for consideration at the next group of sessions in July.

Notice papers were circulated as the Synod began on Friday afternoon, listing several amendments to the safeguarding motion. Martin Sewell proposes that the Synod apologise to the former ISB members.

He also proposes to insert: “That this Synod cannot endorse the proposal for an implementations group as currently established en bloc, by an opaque process, comprising some members who may exemplify concerns or bear significant responsibility for the failures to date.”

A new Response Group, set up by the Archbishops’ Council “to consider how to respond” to the Jay and Wilkinson reports (News, 26 January), will meet monthly, chaired by Dr Grenfell.

“The purpose of the Response Group is to oversee wider engagement and further reflection regarding both Reports in order to brief the National Safeguarding Steering Group (NSSG) and then advise the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council. Following the response to these reports will be presented to General Synod for debate.”

 

THE 13 recommendations from Professor Jay emphasise that the two bodies responsible for safeguarding — its delivery, scrutiny, and oversight — be fully independent of the C of E, and under a legally binding collaborative framework.

The definition of independence is further dealt with in the Bates Wells note. The firm has offered “a working definition for discussion” — that the majority of trustees should not be C of E clergy, not have held any C of E office within the past five years; not function or “act as agent for any emanation” of the C of E during the same period; and not serve as a director or manager of any C of E entity, or one in which the C of E has a substantial interest.

This definition, in which being paid or unpaid is considered “irrelevant”, applies to members of any diocesan bishop’s council, diocesan and deanery synods, and churchwardens and PCC members, but does not rule out churchgoers. It would also prohibit any staff of church schools or members of diocesan boards of education from being independent trustees.

Responding to the Jay report this week, the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, was positive, and said that he looked forward “to addressing it in greater detail at the forthcoming session of General Synod and I hope that we will heed Professor Jay’s recommendations.”

In a briefing to the Religion Media Centre on Wednesday, the Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Revd Julie Conalty, who is one of two deputy lead bishops for safeguarding, said: “I think there’s an arrogance, that the Church is in some way above normal rules or professional guidance.”

During the same briefing, a member of the Archbishops’ Council, the Revd Dr Ian Paul, said of the Jay report: “I don’t think we’ll have any choice but to implement it.”

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