The future of safeguarding in the Church of England

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In July 2023, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York commissioned a report seeking recommendations for how the Church of England safeguarding and the scrutiny of such safeguarding could be made entirely independent from the Church itself. Alexis Jay was asked to prepare the report, and this week her findings have been published.

Each of the Church’s 42 dioceses currently has its own team of staff that deal with safeguarding. This means that management and accountability currently lie within each of the diocese. In recent years, the Church of England has faced significant criticism over its handling of disclosures of abuse of both adults and children with many having concerns that the Church was seeking to protect its reputation over those who had suffered harm. Having represented many survivors of sexual abuse suffered within the Church, I am all too familiar with examples that have led to such concerns. Where safeguarding lies within each diocese, the public’s confidence in independence can be difficult to achieve.

Alexis Jay notes in her report that there have been attempts by the Church to improve how it responds to safeguarding concerns and allegations and whilst there have been improvements, Church leaders have generally failed to allay suspicions and concerns regarding independence. The dissolution of the Church’s Independent Safeguarding Board in June 2023 caused further significant concern.

The report concludes that the Church’s current system of operational safeguarding where management and accountability remain within the 42 dioceses is not compatible with best practices. In general, the dioceses are autonomous which means there us a lack of consistency across the Church in dealing with allegations and safeguarding issues. Those with little safeguarding experience or knowledge, such as Bishops and other clergy, management safeguarding on a daily basis and take important, often life changing decisions. Alexis Jay confirmed the change needed is far-reaching. She confirmed that her engagement programme confirmed that Church safeguarding currently falls below the standards expected and set in secular organisations.

The conclusion reached in the report is that it is necessary for the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults within the Church is made entirely independent. The recommendation was for two separate charities to be created, which would be funded by the Church but would be structurally independent from it. One would be for independent operational safeguarding, the second would be for independent scrutiny of safeguarding. It was also recommended that two operational duties are created to ensure that all safeguarding matters are referred to these independent bodies, and to implement all of the decisions of these bodies.

I will be interested to see what the timescale will be for the recommendations to be implemented, with the two independent organisations being set up. The need for clear independence will be vital in seeking to improve trust and confidence within the Church on matters of safeguarding, and to ensure that vulnerable adults are protected.

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