In the last week of March, I chaired my second meeting of the panel. In December, the panel supported my proposal to focus on fewer issues and to spend half of our meeting looking in depth at one area. We had agreed that we would look at the National Safeguarding Team’s proposals for a revised training and development programme. We were provided with the relevant documentation two weeks before so we could consider the areas we wished to probe.

Two training managers from the National Safeguarding Team attended and answered a wide range of questions. Key issues were the volume of training required and how that is resourced and monitored, different ways of learning, the importance of case studies and real life examples and what is the process for ensuring those reluctant to participate do attend.

Panel members wanted to know why survivors were not used directly in training. The difficulty of having sufficient survivors for the volume of training was identified as an obstacle. Case studies are used based on real life examples and are written from the survivor point of view. Permission is given by the victim / survivor and the situation is changed sufficiently so they cannot be identified. It was agreed to have some further discussions to consider whether survivors could be used in some of the training.

A discussion took place on evaluation of training and whether it makes a difference in how people behave. An evaluation form is completed when the course is done but at the moment there are no means to follow this up some time later. The need to consider this in the future was accepted.

In response to questions about those reluctant to undertake training, the training managers told the panel that often those who had already had safeguarding experience and training in other roles felt they did not need to attend. It was clarified that the requirement to have safeguarding training is linked to the role in the church and has to be undertaken. Their experience was that those most reluctant to attend often become the biggest champions of it subsequently and encourage others to attend.

The panel was reassured to hear that there is a lot of commitment to training in dioceses and to date there has not been a problem with resources. Panel members are being offered the opportunity to undertake some of the training so they can see directly what is covered.

Clergy Disciplinary Measure

How the clergy are disciplined is a crucial part of safeguarding. I am not an expert on this but what I have heard so far has made me question how fit for purpose this process is when handling safeguarding issues. The recent decision to lodge a complaint against the Bishop of Chester, for his failure to disclose a safeguarding concern in 2009, has given rise to comment in both mainstream and social media.

The Church itself has been looking into this and has a number of processes underway to examine whether changes are needed. A working group will be meeting soon and therefore it is a good time for the panel to also look at it.

The panel will look at the measure over its next two meetings. The first meeting will focus on understanding how the measure works and hearing about the recent work that has been done to identify issues related to safeguarding matters.

Response to Victims and Survivors

The panel was asked to consider a paper on the setting up of an Ombudsman service to adjudicate on the handling of complaints. The view of the panel was that there are currently many concerns among victims and survivors that are not properly handled, that much more needed to be done about the processes at an early stage. I represented this view at the National Safeguarding Steering Group in early April and am pleased that this was understood and consideration to how to proceed is taking place.

The recent report by the Social Care Institute for Excellence which includes a significant section on improving responses provides a lot of important information regarding the experience of a number of survivors of abuse. The findings are detailed and it will take time for the range of issues to be fully considered. What jumps out is the poor ongoing response to survivors. The importance of maintaining contact and keeping survivors up to date with any action is essential.

The recent interview of the Archbishop of Canterbury on Channel 4 news raised concerns about the glacial progress of a review into the activities of John Smyth. While there may be real difficulties in gaining co-operation of the organisation at the centre of this case, the Church must communicate more regularly and clearly about their actions otherwise it is not surprising that survivors lose heart. I am urging those concerned to consider how they can proceed as soon as possible.

Future work of the panel

The panel is now meeting more regularly and we will meet 6 times in 2019 with a further 6 meetings already in the diary for 2020. Although this is an increase, we will not be able to cover every concern and will have to prioritise. The new terms of reference will shortly be finalised and the panel will be looking to refresh its membership due to a number of changes.