On 17th September I took up my appointment as the first Independent Chair of the National Safeguarding Panel. Taking on a new role requires a period of time to establish who are the key people, and how the organisation is structured. As a Methodist I thought I would know about the Church of England, how wrong I was!
The initial briefing challenged a number of my assumptions. For instance, it surprised me just how many institutions, and the range of their diversity, that come under the Anglican banner. There are of course many church schools, with colleges, religious communities and parish churches comprising thousands of volunteers. I also now know that the Archbishop of Canterbury is not the boss of the church, he is an important spiritual leader – but can’t tell diocesan bishops what to do.
Safeguarding in any institution is a challenge, and with many failings over many years the Church of England is now putting resources into significant improvements. There is now a National Safeguarding Team based in London, a lead bishop with responsibility, and each individual diocese has a safeguarding advisor.
I spent a day in Durham to better understand diocesan arrangements. I then attended a training day for senior leaders in the Church and took part in a feedback day from the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) on the results of their audits of safeguarding. I also attended a meeting of the Church’s steering group for the work with the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). There have been plenty of relevant documents and reports to read! I certainly have a better appreciation of the organisation of the Church ofEngland but know that there’s still have plenty to learn.
There are lots of ongoing safeguarding initiatives, the volume of work is enormous. However, there are still inappropriate responses to victims and survivors, and there is a long way to go before we can be confident that everyone takes safeguarding seriously. As I said when appointed, only deep cultural change can bring about the transformation that is needed. This means a willingness to become more open and transparent, and for senior leaders to be accountable. Without this, merely continuing to apologise for the past will mean nothing. In the coming months I will be working with the members of the National Safeguarding Panel to revise its role to ensure that it acts as a critical friend to the Church by providing independent scrutiny and challenge.I’ll be meeting survivor groups to hear their perspectives and I’ll be meeting the Church senior leadership, challenging them to make changes to prevent abuse, ensuring concerns are acted on appropriately, that there is an improved response to survivors and a willingness to listen to their experiences.