Over the last few weeks, the corona virus has rightly concerned everyone and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. This inevitably means cancellation of face to face meetings and a delay to some work on safeguarding. Following Government advice and giving priority to staying healthy is the right thing to do. I am continuing my work as Chair of the National Safeguarding Panel and will continue to post occasional blogs on this site. This blog is a response to the debate at February’s Synod.
The debate focused on the church’s response to the recommendations of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). An amendment was passed which included the words that the church “remains committed to ensuring that words of apology are followed by concrete actions.” It went on to urge that proposals be brought forward “to give effect to that commitment….including arrangements for redress for survivors.”
Those supporting the amendment wanted to see the church commit to more than just that expected by IICSA. There were impassioned speeches, with a recognition that the church owes a huge and continuing debt to survivors who are prepared to work with it as it seeks to improve its safeguarding response. Some argued that there is a need for the church to go beyond what IICSA has said; a plea for the church to be a beacon of excellence, a voice for the voiceless and a refuge for the vulnerable. Others spoke of the need to learn from the reviews, and one survivor spoke of the importance of concrete actions in demonstrating real commitment by the church to redress.
No-one spoke against the motion or the amendment. The will of Synod was clearly to commit to do more, and specifically to seek to make redress for victims and survivors. As the time for the debate to end was close, John Spence of the Church Commissioners was called to speak. He said that this was not about affordability it is about justice and he stated that funds would be found.
This is an important step forward. But it is also one that leaves many questions unanswered. What does redress mean? Victims and survivors tell us of the impact that abuse has had on their lives. Many are traumatised. Coming to terms with what happened is difficult and the impact can mean poor mental health, poor physical health and difficulties in studying or obtaining or maintaining employment. The financial impact can be significant.
Should redress mean money? Does it mean provision of counselling or other forms of support? Should there be a national scheme or would it be a matter for dioceses? There will be many different views. The motion urged the National Safeguarding Steering Group to bring forward proposals and Synod has asked to be kept updated.
The commitment of the National Safeguarding Team to working with victims and survivors on policies is important and will be essential in this area of work. This means being prepared to provide sufficient resources to support their work, and thinking through the process that can lead to proposals in good time.
This debate marked an important point in the church’s consideration of the debt it owes to victims and survivors. Yet from agreeing to redress, to putting in place a scheme of redress could take quite some time, and with the current crisis there will be more delay. For those who have been waiting, they won’t consider February 2020 as the starting point. The danger is that the hope given by the debate at Synod could too soon turn once again to despair – a point made by one of the contributors to the debate.
The National Safeguarding Panel responded to the debate by agreeing that redress would be the subject for scrutiny at its next meeting. Due to the need to avoid face to face meetings at present there will inevitably be a delay. I am hopeful that we will be able to meet in July. The discussion will explore the issue in detail and the Panel will seek to make recommendations to the National Safeguarding Steering Group as it takes this important work forward.