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Leader comment: Wholesale reform of safeguarding

by
23 February 2024

IT IS undoubtedly true that safeguarding can be found in the Church of England that is well-judged, timely, and humane, carried out by professionals who feel free to act entirely independently of church structures. If it were true that such safeguarding was merely being misrepresented by survivors of past abuse, who were understandably bruised by earlier experiences, then the lack of trust identified by Professor Jay would be located in those unable to trust rather than in the trustworthiness of the system, and this would suggest that more effort should be made to reassure, support, and compensate survivors. But Professor Jay found examples of safeguarding processes applied in ways that she described as “weaponised”. They dealt with people who were merely “seen as a nuisance”. They “did not routinely include fact-finding as a first step, nor details of allegations, provision of evidence, or clarity about an appeals process to the subject of the investigation”. There was little correlation between the size of a diocese and the numbers of safeguarding staff; no consistency in training or qualifications; and no satisfactory relationship between diocesan and national staff. An area in which people’s livelihoods, well-being, and faith are at stake is not one in which such inconsistency should be tolerated. Structural changes appear to be necessary.

That said, the Archbishops and their advisers have a huge task on their hands. Professor Jay’s criticisms are such that there can be no wholesale transfer of existing safeguarding staff into the proposed new charities. At the same time, the fear that “independent” equates with “ignorant” must be addressed, not least if the Church accepts Professor Jay’s recommendation that the rulings of the replacement bodies be binding. If the Church agrees to the proposals, a way must be found to retain the experience and understanding built up painfully in recent years.


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AS THE Church Times promotions month approaches, we are reining in our customary modesty, at least for a short while. This, therefore, is a short advertisement for the excellent webinar that took place on Tuesday evening and is available (with a large discount to subscribers) here. Four knowledgeable panellists discussed the prospect of some form of structural distancing within the Church of England on the issue of same-sex relationships, in a gracious discussion expertly chaired by Dr Eve Poole. It is a topic that continues to be touched upon but is seldom discussed openly. This was a fine example of how those discussions might be had.

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