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Safe Spaces review shows improvement in survivor support

24 May 2024

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AFTER a rocky start, the Safe Spaces helpline for survivors of church-related abuse has generally had “a positive impact on the wellbeing and resilience” of its users, an independent evaluation of the service has concluded.

Safe Spaces was set up in 2020 as a two-year pilot scheme, co-funded by the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, to provide independent advocacy and support services for victims and survivors of abuse in a church context, including the Church in Wales (News, 2 October 2020).

The idea had first been suggested by survivors in 2014, but there were years of delays and management changes (News, 27 February 2015). In its early weeks, survivors complained of technical problems and calls not being answered (News, 16 October 2020).

When the pilot ended, a search for a permanent service provider began (News, 9 September 2022).

The evaluation, conducted by Rocket Science and published on Wednesday, reports that this “transition and mobilisation period . . . was not as streamlined as had been hoped”, for several reasons. This included a “reticence” of the previous provider to support the new one, First Light, with mobilisation; “delays in notifying and handing over victims/survivors to the new service”; and issues with data transfer and passing over staff information. These issues, the report says, “ultimately may have had a negative impact on a number of victims/survivors”.

But progress has also been made since the pilot, it says. Safe Spaces has been more widely promoted, a performance monitoring framework is in place, and a quarterly feedback survey for users has been introduced.

The report analyses this survey alongside desk-based performance data and interviews with victims and survivors, and with staff.

The Safe Spaces service supported 134 people during 2023, of which 95 were new cases, and 39 had transferred from the pilot service, it says. As of December, 84 cases remained active; 50 cases had been closed; 295 new eligible contacts were made, of which 95 (32 per cent) were assigned to an advocate and went on to become cases.

For most cases last year (68 per cent), the abuse occurred in the C of E; 29.5 per cent occurred in the RC Church. Most clients (68 per cent) were female.

The report recommends increasing video-calling and in-person appointments for survivors who prefer face-to-face interaction; “realistic” signposting of external support services; ensuring consistency of training for new staff, particularly in church-related areas such as spiritual abuse; diversifying ways of providing feedback; focusing promotional activity on specific populations, including men, the LGBT community, and younger people; sourcing additional funding, should the service expand; and mitigating risk of staff turnover over the next six months.

The trustees of Safe Spaces said that they would work with First Light to support the implementation of these. Martin Christmas-Nelson, from First Light, said that the team were proud of the findings.

Phone 0300 303 1056. safespacesenglandandwales.org.uk

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