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Jay calls for root-and-branch reform of church safeguarding

21 February 2024

Recommendations include shift of responsibility away from dioceses


Professor Alexis Jay

Professor Alexis Jay

PROFESSOR Alexis Jay has recommended a total overhaul of the C of E’s safeguarding structures, to shift responsibility away from individual dioceses to two new charities, which would be completely independent of church authorities.

Her report, commissioned by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and published on Wednesday morning, argues: “The diocesan management structure for safeguarding is not compatible with the development of a trusted, high-quality, and accountable system for safeguarding.”

The creation of two new independent bodies is recommended: the first to carry out safeguarding work, the second to provide “oversight and scrutiny” of the work of the first. Both should be established as charities and funded by the Church.

“There must be a complete transfer of responsibility from the Church to these bodies, whose advice and decisions should be final and not merely advisory,” the report says.

The option of making changes to the existing system is dismissed in the report. Professor Jay argues that to do so would “not be sufficient to rebuild trust that the Church is a safe place. . . A complete change of culture is needed to restore trust and confidence in church safeguarding.”

In a supporting statement, Professor Jay, who formerly chaired the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), said: “Church safeguarding currently falls below the standards of secular organisations, with inconsistent guidance, data collection, accountability, professional practice, and scrutiny.

“Further tinkering with existing structures would not be sufficient to make safeguarding in the Church professional, accountable, and trusted by those who use its services.”

Professor Jay, who was appointed last summer to report on how the Church should structure its safeguarding systems (News, 20 July 2023), continued: “The purpose of my work was to focus on how to achieve a safeguarding body that was independent. This is the minimum that victims, survivors, and those who are subject to allegations are entitled to expect.”

An annexe to the report reveals that she and her team interviewed 163 people, including 41 victims and survivors of abuse or their advocates, and 33 members of the clergy. A total of 407 people filled out an online survey, including more than 130 church volunteers; and 32 safeguarding professionals, including former and current staff at both the national and diocesan level, were also interviewed.

In a statement that thanked Professor Jay and her team, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York said: “We recognise her criticism of our safeguarding structures and processes, and we welcome this scrutiny and challenge.

“For the sake of all those who come into contact with the Church, particularly victims and survivors, we welcome the plans that are in place to take forward this work as swiftly as possible to give everyone confidence and trust in our structures and processes.

“Professor Jay rightly acknowledges the excellent work that is done up and down the country by experienced and committed Safeguarding Officers and others, but her challenge to us all is how our safeguarding structures and processes reach that same standard. This is a constructive challenge that we must all take very seriously.

“We pray for all involved as the Church takes these important decisions. We pray that our response is shaped by our knowledge that all are created in the image of God, and our fervent longing and desire to see a Church which is safe for all.”

The report will be debated by the General Synod on Saturday, after a pre-recorded presentation by Professor Jay (News, 9 February).


THE conclusions of Professor Jay’s report are unlikely to be welcomed by diocesan safeguarding staff. The Church Times has been shown a letter from safeguarding professionals in the C of E, dated 30 November last, in which they express concern about the prospect of new and completely independent bodies.

The letter, addressed to the Archbishops’ Council and with 62 signatories, most either diocesan safeguarding advisers (DSAs) or deputy DSAs, argues that the Church should focus on delivering IICSA’s first recommendation to the C of E, which was that there should be “operational independence of safeguarding decision-making”, but fell short of recommending fully independent structures.

Instead, it suggested that “diocesan safeguarding officers should be employed locally, by the Diocese Board of Finance,” and that they should “have the authority to make decisions independently of the diocesan bishop in respect of key safeguarding tasks” (News, 20 October 2022).

The letter suggests that there is “no example from the UK’s third sector in which safeguarding casework is delivered by professionals employed independently of the organisation in which the cases themselves arise, at least for organisations of any appreciable size”.

And it emphasises that DSAs do not consider independent employment to be necessary. “Removing safeguarding teams from diocesan or cathedral employment risks undermining the considerable cultural changes the C of E has made over the last decade at parish and diocesan level.”

Professor Jay’s report does not go into detail about the practicalities of a shift from diocesan to centralised safeguarding, though it does assert: “The physical location of safeguarding staff in dioceses should be retained.”

In response to a query from the Church Times about the practical implications of the structural change for DSAs, a spokesperson for Professor Jay said that Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment (TUPE) rights would apply for diocesan and national safeguarding staff.

The report advances several reasons that, in Professor Jay’s view, the diocesan management of safeguarding is insufficient. She focuses on inconsistency of practice and staff provision, including the influence of diocesan bishops, as the main reasons for this change to happen.

Issues created by the influence of diocesan bishops in the current model were cited by respondents to the online survey conducted by Professor Jay’s team. One bishop who is quoted in the report as saying: “Safeguarding should be taken out of the hands of the bishops, and there should be properly independent structures at diocesan and national levels.”

The report suggests: “It was clear from our engagement . . . that dioceses operate their safeguarding services very differently, and that the bishop can exert significant influence over local safeguarding.”

It says that, when appointing diocesan safeguarding staff, “a bishop must be satisfied that the person has ‘appropriate qualifications and expertise’, but the meaning of ‘appropriate’ is not clearly articulated in church guidance.”

The result, the report suggests, is that there is “a variable level of safeguarding expertise and experience” among DSAs, as well as a large variation between dioceses in the number of staff employed.

”Our analysis found no statistically significant relationship between our estimates of the number of safeguarding staff employed in each diocese and a diocese’s worshipping population,” the report says.

It does say, however: “Criticism of the current system of safeguarding is not a reflection on the individual safeguarding professionals who work at the national and diocesan levels of the Church.”

The report also suggests that the current structure overburdens diocesan staff and parish volunteers, at the same time as restricting the ability of the Church’s National Safeguarding Team (NST) to help with the workload.

“We heard from many in the dioceses and parishes who felt overburdened by the number of directives and the amount of guidance coming from the NST that dioceses were expected to implement. Similarly, the NST expressed frustration that they were not able to intervene in diocesan safeguarding even when they felt it was not appropriate or did not meet best practice,” it says.

The full report can be read online here.

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

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