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Survey uncovers reservations about outsourcing church safeguarding work

30 May 2024

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

At the General Synod in London in February, members watch a video presentation by Professor Alexis Jay on her report and recommendations

At the General Synod in London in February, members watch a video presentation by Professor Alexis Jay on her report and recommendations

MOST bishops and safeguarding professionals in the C of E oppose the outsourcing of church safeguarding work to an independent body, according to the results of a survey commissioned this spring.

The Church Times has obtained the unpublished results of a survey on the future of church safeguarding, which was commissioned in March (News, 25 March). The findings from the survey are due to form part of a paper which will be debated at General Synod in July.

The 2003 responses show that — while there is strong support for the creation of a body that would provide independent scrutiny of safeguarding — Professor Alexis Jay’s chief recommendation, outlined in her report (News, 21 February), that day-to-day safeguarding work should be completely handed over to another independent body, has not found widespread support.

The survey, organised by the Response Group which was created after the February meeting of the General Synod (News, 15 March), separates out different categories of respondents: survivors and survivor advocates; safeguarding professionals (both inside and outside of the C of E); people involved in governance; “senior clergy”, including bishops (25 of whom responded), deans, and archdeacons; and “local church”, including parish clergy, parish safeguarding officers, and churchwardens.

Only three bishops who responded said that they backed a new, independent organisation to take on the Church’s safeguarding brief; two-thirds said that they disagreed; and the rest reported that they were unsure.

There was a similar lack of support from safeguarding professionals, of whom only 21 per cent were in favour; and from the “Church Governance and Operations” group, 24 per cent.

Support was stronger among the survivor and the “local church” groups, but was still far from universal, at 60 per cent and 65 per cent respectively.

Within the survivor and survivor-advocate group, advocates seemed less enthusiastic than those for whom they advocate: 48 per cent of the advocates supported the move to independent management (32 per cent said that they weren’t sure); among survivors themselves, 71 per cent favoured a move to operationally independent safeguarding.

In contrast to these figures, the proposal that “oversight and scrutiny” be transferred to an independent body was supported by 79 per cent of respondents overall, including 80 per cent of both senior clergy and survivors, and more than 70 per cent of safeguarding professionals.


THE immediate response to Professor Jay’s report was mixed. Although some urged the C of E to adopt all of its recommendations (News, 23 February), immediately, diocesan safeguarding staff expressed concern about the recommendation to contract out operationally safeguarding to an independent organisation.

The General Synod met just three days after the report was published in February, and members opted for a consultation period rather than immediate implementation (News, 24 February).

In the Synod debate, objections to the recommendation for outsourcing safeguarding work were heard from several bishops, including the Bishop of Bath & Wells, Dr Michael Beasley, who cited the objections from diocesan safeguarding staff.

The Bishop of Newcastle, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, took a different view, telling the Church Times that she thought it was “disgraceful” that the Church was not immediately moving to implement the proposals, describing the chosen approach as “delay and obfuscation” (News, 26 February).

In the debate, the Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Philip North, said that he was concerned that adopting a statutory definition of safeguarding, as Professor Jay recommended, might hamper the Church’s safeguarding work, as it would not be able to investigate cases of abuse that might fall out of the scope of the definition.

For the same reason, he also urged caution in accepting Professor Jay’s recommendation to remove “spiritual abuse” as a term used in safeguarding guidance and training.

On both questions, respondents to the Response Group’s survey were split.

Overall, 53 per cent welcomed the recommendation to adopt a statutory definition based on acts of Parliament; 24 per cent were against, and 24 per cent were undecided.

The proposal to stop using the term “spiritual abuse” attracted support in only one third even in the most supportive group, the local church. Within that group, the move was welcomed by 38 per cent of parish safeguarding officers or PCC members, but was opposed by the same percentage.

There was seemingly little appetite for the term’s removal among survivors and their advocates: just one quarter said that they were in favour. Among church officers, only 14 per cent supported the proposed change.

Reasons cited in the responses for keeping the term are that it captures a specific form of abuse which is not covered by terms such as “psychological” or “emotional” abuse, and that to discount it would be to undermine those who identify themselves of victims of spiritual abuse.

The final recommendation considered in the survey related to the introduction of mandatory reporting for abuse, imposing a legal duty to report disclosures.

Overall, 72 per cent of respondents agreed with the recommendation, and only ten per cent disagreed. Among reasons given for backing the move were that it would bring greater clarity and accountability to safeguarding processes.

However, “significant concerns” were noted about how mandatory reporting might intersect with duties of confidentiality, in particular the seal of the confession. Catholic groups have argued that confession should be exempt from any mandatory reporting, (News, 16 August 2023).

Mandatory reporting was one of the key recommendations in the final report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse last year, which Professor Jay also chaired (News, 21 October 2022).

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