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Church completes independent child protection survey across dioceses

 

The Church of England has completed an extensive exercise reviewing the outcomes of the Church’s handling of past concerns about child protection. This will now help in further developing the Church’s safeguarding policies.

The Review – believed to be the most comprehensive of its type – involved analysis of more than 40,000 diocesan files dating back more than 30 years, with independent Reviewers appointed in each of the Church of England’s 44 dioceses. These Reviewers conducted comprehensive surveys of personnel files held on diocesan staff, clergy, and lay ministers. In addition, more than 900 letters were sent to bishops, senior clergy and diocesan staff, and their predecessors, seeking additional relevant information.

Any concerns raised through this two-stream process were recorded, and this information – accompanied by the independent Reviewer’s recommended action on each case – was passed to the Diocesan Child Protection Management Group in each diocese, formed by senior diocesan clergy and external professionals from the public safeguarding sector. Any urgent issues that arose during the process were referred immediately to the relevant statutory authorities.

The Rt Revd Anthony Priddis, Bishop of Hereford and Chair of the Church’s Central Safeguarding Liaison Group, said: “The safeguarding of children in our care is central to all our activities and any case of harm that occurs is a source of deep regret and pain. The comprehensive Review exercise launched in 2007 has given us the opportunity to open up a huge volume of material for independent Reviewers to examine. While no such review can be perfect, and we can never let our vigilance slip in this vital area of concern, we have done all we can to ensure that it has been as comprehensive as possible.

“The Review indicates that there are no outstanding issues of which the Church has previously been made aware relating to any clergy or other office holders’ suitability to work with children that have not now been investigated by the police or other relevant professional authority.

“As a result of this Review, we are now able to say that nobody representing the Church in a formal capacity has allegations on file that have not been thoroughly re-examined in the light of current best practice, and any appropriate action taken. But there is no room for complacency, and the Church, like other organisations working with children, remains committed continually to developing our procedures for safeguarding vulnerable people.”

The protocol, agreed in the autumn of 2007*, was produced with the advice of several agencies, including the NSPCC, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation and the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service.

As a result of the diocesan reviews of 40,747 files, 13 cases were identified requiring formal action. Eleven cases were referred to the statutory authorities, eight of which involved a member of the clergy and three of which involved a non-ordained person holding some form of church office. Five of these cases relate to past allegations that originally involved police investigation and some of which resulted in convictions, but in the light of the latest developments in the safeguarding field, the Independent Reviewers have now recommended that details of the individuals involved should be referred to the Independent Safeguarding Authority for consideration for inclusion on their barred list**. The other six cases were referred to the police for advice or investigation over the review period and the police have since indicated they are unable to take further action. In three of these cases, a risk management strategy has been put in place by the diocese’s multi-agency child protection management group. There are no cases where a police investigation is still on-going.

A further two cases where action by the statutory authorities was not possible, each relating to members of the clergy, were deemed by the independent Reviewers to warrant formal disciplinary actions by the Church.

The review process has highlighted a number of areas where the Church now needs to focus extra attention, including:

  • How detailed records are shared between dioceses when clergy and other office holders move between locations;
  • How records can be shared between dioceses when a priest has ‘permission to officiate’ in more than one diocese, or where a priest is employed as a chaplain by a non-church organisation;
  • How records of allegations which turn out to be unsubstantiated or unfounded should be kept in a way that resolves future uncertainty;
  • Introducing a standard requirement for all clergy to undertake ‘refresher’ safeguarding training at regular intervals.

Some of the insights from the Review will inform the next edition of Protecting All God’s Children, the House of Bishops’ detailed child protection policy, due to be published by the end of 2010.

“While this review has been as thorough and expansive as was feasible,” said Bishop Anthony, “we can make no firm guarantees that allegations which were not recorded in the past will not resurface in the future. Indeed, I would repeat the appeal we made at the launch of the Review protocol at the end of 2007, that anyone who has any information or concerns about the suitability of anyone working with children within a Church setting should share those concerns with the relevant diocesan child protection adviser, or the police or social services. Such disclosures are the most effective way of stopping abuse in its tracks.”

 

Notes

The House of Bishops produced its first child protection policy document in 1995, in response to the Home Office’s 1993 document Safe from Harm. This policy was later revised in 1999 and then again in 2004, and is due to be updated and reissued later in 2010.

* See original announcement here. The full protocol used to guide the diocesan Reviews, which forms part of the Church of England’s commitment continually to develop best practice in this area, can be found here.

** From October 12th 2009, a new duty to share information was introduced under the Vetting and Barring Scheme. From that date employers, social services and professional regulators have to notify the ISA of relevant information so that individuals who pose a threat to vulnerable groups can be identified and barred from working with these groups. More information here.