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Church of England's safeguarding director resigns after 18 months

by Will Maule
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Source: Twitter

The Church of England's first permanent Director of Safeguarding has resigned after just 18 months in the role. Melissa Caslake had been leading efforts to create fit-for-purpose safeguarding structures across the denomination. As a senior safeguarding professional, she will take up a role as Director of Children's Services with a local authority in the New Year. 

While a leaked memo does not specify a clear reason for her resignation, the CEO of safeguarding charity Thirtyone:eight, Justin Humphreys, told Premier that he expected Caslake would have left "out of a sense of frustration".

"I think what we what we have to acknowledge is that the role that she took on 18 months ago was absolutely monumental," he said. "In its size, the shift that was required was breathtaking in many ways.

Humphreys went on to say that he expected she had been "thwarted in many of her efforts".

"She, generally speaking, was an outsider to the Church of England - she came from a senior role as director of children's services in a local authority," he explained.

"So a completely fresh perspective, a huge amount of expertise and experience from outside the Church of England." 

He added that for somebody with Caslake's "level of expertise and credibility, to get to a position where she's probably feeling 'I just cannot make any more progress in the way that it needs to', is huge". 

Humphreys said the resignation was "a serious wake-up call for the Church of England".

"If they cannot secure the ongoing employment of somebody with those credentials, then there is something seriously wrong." 

Caslake was brought in last year after the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) discovered a number of critical safeguarding and procedural failures across the Church of England. 

In a memo from the National Safeguarding Team (NST) obtained by the Telegraph, Caslake wrote to survivors to announce her departure:

"I wanted to write to you personally to express my thanks and gratitude for all the work you have done with me over the past 18 months. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I'm deeply grateful. Your thoughts and input about how to improve safeguarding and the response to victims and survivors has been invaluable both to me and the team.

"It has been a powerful and humbling experience to work with you all, to see your dedication and commitment and sometimes the personal cost of that. I want to pay tribute to you for everything you do, and to thank you again for working with me."

Prior to taking on the role in the Church of England, Caslake was an Executive Director of Children's Services at Westminster City Council. 

Upon her departure, Caslake thanked "all those who have supported the safeguarding journey so far", and said she wished the church well "as it reflects on how best to implement the IICSA recommendations for the future".

Bishop Jonathan Gibbs, the Church of England's lead safeguarding bishop, said Caslake had made a "huge contribution to our work in this vital area".

"Her departure will be a big loss," he added. 

Humphreys added that the Church should not respond by replacing "like-for-like" but should instigate "radical change" by inviting independent safeguarding experts to come in. 

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