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Church of England has 'child unfriendly' approach to safeguarding claims new report

by Donna Birrell

The Church of England has a 'child unfriendly' approach to safeguarding according to a new report.

The Independent Safeguarding Board says the church cared more about defending institutions than a person making a safeguarding disclosure.

The church is also said to regard safeguarding in some settings as an “also-to-do” or secondary set of tasks, rather than a culture that should infuse all actions.

It comes 16 months after the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse report into the Anglican Church made six recommendations relating to safeguarding, which the Church of England accepted. 

This new report, by the Board’s Chair, Professor Maggie Atkinson says it is “regrettable that in spite of the C of E’s explicit and repeated acceptance of the recommendations, survivors are met with over complex and difficult to navigate structures, slow responses, promises about action on redress that are only partially met or not delivered at all and a ‘child unfriendly’ approach if a child or young person makes an approach for help, advice or redress.” 

Rt Rev Jonathan Gibbs is the Church of England's Lead Bishop for Safeguarding. He’s been speaking to Premier about the report : “We recognise the force of those criticisms, they're very much rooted in the IICSA report.

"Maggie does acknowledge the commitment of the church to change and the commitment of my colleagues in the National Safeguarding Team, and indeed right across the church.

"She acknowledges that the commitment is there and quite a bit of change has begun to happen.

"But there's a long way to go. An analogy that was used yesterday was that the train is coming out of the station, and we want to see it speeding up.”

“There needs to be change in structures and those do need to be simplified in ways that make it easier for people to bring forward their concerns, and in particular, to support victims and survivors.

 “Structures certainly need to be changed and simplified and that's something we're working on.

"Other things that need to change is behaviour and behaviour needs to change through changing attitudes.

"We’ve introduced a whole new range of training about safeguarding, which isn't just about procedures, it's fundamentally about people's attitudes and about the culture. 

“You need leadership, you need to change the structures, and you need to change the behaviour and that's very much the agenda that we're working on.”

Responding to the report’s claims that the Church of England has a ‘child unfriendly’ approach to safeguarding, Bishop Jonathan says :“I think it's desperately sad when that is the case.

"It’s a hugely important area. Our structures are very often about how we respond to adults.

"On the other hand, the Church of England has a huge commitment to working with children and young people.

"We are, after all, the biggest single provider of education for children and young people across this nation.

"So we really do need to join those things up so that the voice of children is heard, and the way we do things is geared to their needs.

“This is about learning together and changing together.

“We hear Maggie's criticism, but it is a journey of change to changing attitudes and culture, and to be more survivor focused that we're already on.

"IICSA has shone a bright and searching light upon the church, but also on many other institutions.

"We're recognising that this is a hugely important area for the church, as indeed for the whole of our society.”

The Independent Safeguarding Board's members have no connection to the C of E.

Its remit is to advise on how an independent presence in overseeing, challenging and advising on safeguarding should continue in the long term.

It feeds back its reflections to General Synod and the Church of England.  

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