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Safeguarding auditors give qualified approval to Truro diocese and cathedral

02 July 2024

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Truro Cathedral

Truro Cathedral

THE “determined approach” to ensuring that churchwardens complete safeguarding training before their swearing-in — despite resistance in some cases — is among the examples of good practice highlighted in a new audit of safeguarding in the diocese of Truro.

The Independent Safeguarding Audit was carried out in late 2023 and early 2024 by the INEQE Safeguarding Group, which has been commissioned by the Archbishops’ Council to audit all dioceses and cathedrals (News, 4 August 2023). Truro is the fourth diocese to be audited. The report, published on Tuesday, draws on evidence that includes 497 anonymous survey responses from victims and survivors, children and young people, as well as those worshipping or working within the parishes, cathedral, and diocese.

It concludes that “good progress” has been made by the diocesan board of finance (DBF), and, more recently, by the cathedral. There is a positive assessment of both the Acting Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Hugh Nelson, and the Dean of Truro, the Very Revd Simon Robinson, who are “continuing to drive and prioritise safeguarding across their respective areas of influence,” it says.

The conclusion states: “Strengths in Truro’s current safeguarding arrangements are evident at both a strategic and operational level. These have been built upon the foundations of focused leadership, the expertise and commitment of the Diocesan Safeguarding Officer/Diocesan Safeguarding Team and the maintenance of strong links with statutory partners. The contributions made by the many volunteers in parishes and those who support the cathedral have also been highly significant.”

Among the areas is “an absolute focus by the DBF on collaborating with victims and survivors and learning from their experience. The audit found senior leaders to be committed to this agenda, going beyond ‘a box ticking exercise’ and ensuring that active and meaningful engagement is ‘lived and breathed’.”

Also praised are: care for choristers, “innovative and engaging outreach at the cathedral”, recruitment practices, training, awareness raising, communication strategies, “the intelligent use of thresholds”, and “the triaging, allocation and overall management of cases”.

When it comes to some remaining “stubborn challenges”, the review concludes that the “most senior leaders” are “committed to pushing ahead with the improvement journey they now lead. To do so they will need to address any residual negativity regarding culture and consider how to reinforce operational capacity”.

It notes that the requirement that churchwardens complete their safeguarding training at “Basic” or “Foundation” level before a visitation (swearing in) has been “driven forward despite a level of resistance from some wardens. This determined approach is good practice.”

Auditor’s heard of an archdeacon’s “determination to make safeguarding ‘real’ for churchwardens, to help them recognise that it can happen in their parishes and to dispel the myth that abuse is an ‘up-country’ problem.”

The review praises the four-person diocesan safeguarding team as a “highly capable and blended team with a range of relevant and complementary skills”, but suggests that the DBF should consider the creation of a dedicated director of safeguarding, noting that because “across society there is a growing number of people in need, demand for safeguarding services and support are likely to increase”.

The second section of the audit focuses on Truro Cathedral, which, in 2022, was subject to a Visitation instigated by the former Bishop of Truro the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen. This reported “serious concerns” about the cathedral’s mission and governance, including “discordant leadership”, “underperformance”, and “an unhealthy culture” (News, 3 February 2023). Several recommendations linked to safeguarding were made.

The audit reports that, while progress has been made, “a range of stubborn and diverse challenges remain. Some are linked to structure; many to policy, practice, and behaviour and the residual fallout from the Visitation. A new dean has been appointed and recognises that addressing these issues is critical to the future health and wellbeing of the cathedral community.”

The focus on safeguarding improvement is, it says, “an absolute priority for the new dean”, while most at the cathedral “recognised training as being relevant to their role and most believed that safeguarding was now embedded in the cathedral’s culture”.

The auditors observe that: “From interviews and focus groups it was clear to the auditors that a small group of individuals feel hurt, and some aggrieved, by any suggestion that toxicity may have existed in the past. . .

“Critically, from the Audit’s perspective, having engaged with many people across the cathedral communities, it will take courage to challenge the few who simply will not change, or those that say they will, but won’t or cannot.

“The overwhelming majority of those engaged agreed that it was in everyone’s interest to acknowledge the Visitation findings, accept the need for change and be part of it. A small number disagreed but could produce no evidence to support their position. For them, given that their resistance is not linked to safeguarding principles but a belief that the criticism of the cathedral was wrong, it is perhaps time to reflect and move on.”

Among its recommendations is that the dean should consider the benefits of an independent safeguarding advisory group. Recommendations for the DBF include the suggestion that each parish carry out “a focused workforce and worshipper survey to test safeguarding awareness and confidence in the escalation processes including knowledge of the whistleblowing policy”.

The audit raises concerns that pertain to national safeguarding arrangements. It notes that “blue files” (personal files on clergy, which include safeguarding concerns) are in “hard copy”.

”At worst, there could be a catastrophic loss of the files by way of fire or other damage,” it observes. “In the audit’s opinion, blue files need to move to an electronic records management system and this view will be shared with the NST.”

The audit also found “widespread frustration” among users of the newly implemented national MyConcern safeguarding case-management system: a “centralised and secure database, allowing for safeguarding concerns to be reported and recorded”. A “significant area of concern” was “the inability to share information across dioceses regarding individuals of concern”.

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