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UK News

CofE told to urgently outsource safeguarding as it's 'currently below' standard of secular organisations

by Donna Birrell

The Church of England has been told to relinquish its responsibility for safeguarding, as it currently falls below that of secular organisations.

In a much anticipated report published on Wednesday, the former chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) Professor Alexis Jay said there is “inconsistent guidance, data collection, accountability, professional practice and scrutiny” in the Church’s safeguarding and that it “falls below the standards of secular organisations”.

She recommended the setting up of two charities – one with operational responsibility for safeguarding and the other to provide scrutiny. The charities would be funded by the Church, but independent.

There have long been calls for the Church of England to have fully independent scrutiny of its safeguarding. Professor Jay was appointed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and of York in July 2023, on behalf of The Archbishops’ Council, to make recommendations for how Church safeguarding and the scrutiny of Church safeguarding could be made fully independent of the Church. This followed the dissolution of the Church’s Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB).

Professor Jay said there needs to be “an unambiguous change of culture” within the Church and that the charities should be “structurally independent of them in order to ensure that safeguarding decisions are implemented in full, to provide truly independent scrutiny.”

She warned that “further tinkering with existing structures would not be sufficient to make safeguarding in the Church professional, accountable and trusted by those who use its services. The only way in which all of these concerns could be addressed is by making the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults truly independent of the Church.”

In a strongly worded conclusion to her report, Professor Jay said that the Church needs to take “action urgently to restore trust and confidence in its safeguarding by victims, survivors, those wrongly accused and the general public.”

She criticised its current system of operational safeguarding as not compatible with best practices – the Church’s management and accountability remains within its 42 dioceses.

She also said that many safeguarding professionals are managed and supervised by people lacking knowledge or experience of the subject – “such as bishops, clergy and church officers”.

She went on to say that there was no uniform complaints system, poor data collection, and no independent system of scrutiny.

Professor Jay also noted that safeguarding has, at times, been used to address matters of conduct that are unrelated to a risk to children or vulnerable adults. Described at its most extreme as the ‘weaponising’ of safeguarding, this was seen as a pretext for removing people on the basis of moral judgements or because they were seen as a nuisance.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have welcomed the publication of the Future of Church Safeguarding report.

In a statement the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby and the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell said:

“The Church is committed to the highest standards of safeguarding as it carries out its work in every community across the country, every day of the year. The workings out of the report from Professor Jay will provide a vital next step as we move forward.

“We thank Professor Jay and her team for this fully independent report, and the wisdom, expertise and meticulous proposals contained within it. We recognise her criticism of our safeguarding structures and processes and we welcome this scrutiny and challenge. For the sake of all those who come into contact with the Church, particularly victims and survivors, we welcome the plans that are in place to take forward this work as swiftly as possible to give everyone confidence and trust in our structures and processes.

“Professor Jay rightly acknowledges the excellent work that is done up and down the country by experienced and committed Safeguarding Officers and others, but her challenge to us all is how our safeguarding structures and processes reach that same standard.  This is a constructive challenge that we must all take very seriously.

“We pray for all involved as the Church takes these important decisions. We pray that our response is shaped by our knowledge that all are created in the image of God, and our fervent longing and desire to see a Church which is safe for all.”

The Church of England’s lead safeguarding bishop, Joanne Grenfell, who is chairing the Response Group for the Wilkinson and Jay reviews said: “The report today from Professor Jay contains important recommendations for the structure of safeguarding in the Church with a clear emphasis on independent scrutiny and the importance of independent professional advice in all our safeguarding work. These are detailed recommendations, clearly informed by victims and survivors...I intend that our response will develop better foundations for all of our safeguarding work.

"We are truly sorry when we have got things wrong and we must continue to learn about how to respond well to the needs of victims and survivors of abuse, as we work to create a healthy culture in every part of the Church of England.”

The report will now be debated at the meeting of the Church of England’s General Synod on Saturday 24th February.

Professor Jay said: “It is important to say that the criticisms set out in the report are not a reflection on individual safeguarding professionals, but rather of current structures and processes which need to change, and we are grateful to everyone who took part in the engagement process. It is now the task of the Church of England to take the report’s recommendations forward.”

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