Much of the conversation around safeguarding focuses on children, yet we know from the work of Diocesan Safeguarding Advisors that in the Church adults are a very significant part of the workload. A few statistics highlight this. Between 2015 and 2017 there was an increase of 78% in safeguarding concerns and allegations received by Diocesan Safeguarding Advisors. In 2017 there were 1,257 reports related to children and 2,030 related to adults.

At the February National Safeguarding Panel meeting we scrutinised the issues relating to adult safeguarding. We heard from four people:

Anthony Clarke Provincial Safeguarding Advisor, Lambeth Palace
Juliette Curtin Westminster Abbey Safeguarding Officer
Craig Hutton National Safeguarding Training and Development Manager
Nathalie Ballard National Safeguarding Team Policy Officer

A wide-ranging discussion took place which recognised that safeguarding adults has to take account of many different circumstances including mental health, disability, abuse of power and vulnerabilities such as grief and family breakdown.  

We discussed terminology. The term “vulnerable adults” was not felt to be useful. It is not necessarily the case that someone will always be vulnerable, for example because they are older or have a disability. All adults can be vulnerable. The likelihood of adults being at risk is increased within the Church context as it invites people to bring their vulnerabilities.

Training featured heavily and we heard about the way Westminster Abbey approaches safeguarding; recognising that different staff groups are likely to face different issues. All staff are trained in the safeguarding issues relevant to their role, for instance, security personnel will have different issues to face than those working within the Abbey.

For those being trained for roles within the Church, understanding the abuse of power is crucial. We heard that new training packages are being developed for ordinands (those training to be ordained as a priest or minister) which explore the vulnerabilities of different ages. In addition, the vulnerability of ordinands themselves needs to be considered. An ordinand can be at risk of losing not only their vocation and career, but also accommodation for them and their family.

Concerns were raised about there being insufficient regard to protected characteristics such as gender, race and sexuality in training examples. More men report abuse in the Church context, which is the opposite to society in general.

Domestic violence raises a number of specific issues. The problem of the theology of the sanctity of marriage being a barrier to protective resolutions was raised. There are some good practice examples within the Church and these need to be shared more widely.

The increase in dementia cases in the community brings particular challenges. Dementia sufferers can be both a victim and an abuser, a risk to others and themselves. Protection is usually biased toward the person with the illness not the carer who may need the most support.

Running through much of the discussion, was the importance of the Church looking outward to community and statutory resources and not seeking to resolve all issues within itself. Appropriate referrals need to be made, and having a good knowledge of local resources and well-developed links will enable better responses to adult safeguarding situations.


The panel made a number of recommendations:

  • Careful consideration needs to be given to definitions in policy documents, that the terminology is right and in a simple concise form. Policies should simply refer to safeguarding adults and not use the term vulnerable. However, when reporting to external agencies the term “adult at risk of harm” may be appropriate.
  • The Church needs to improve interagency contacts and networking. Clear advice is needed when referral and reporting is required.
  • The Church needs to recognise the need to develop healthy Christian communities and change to a proactively protective culture. 
  • The Church needs to promote understanding of its different parts to improve safeguarding through working with others. 
  • Training has a critical role in developing understanding of power relationships and how they can create vulnerabilities. This must be part of the training of ordinands alongside an understanding of the theological issues. Rather than identical courses that are taken by all, training must take account of the contexts in which the participants work or volunteer. This should be achieved by ensuring trainers themselves understand and can apply principles to different contexts. There should be greater use of case studies to promote critical thinking and interactive sessions should be favoured over lecturing.

Next meeting

Due to the Covid 19 crisis the Panel will not be holding its usual meeting in May. The Panel will consider the issue of redress, which arises out of the debate on safeguarding at Synod, in its July meeting. During this period, I am working with members of the National Safeguarding Team to ensure that the Panel can continue to scrutinise and comment on the development and revision of policies and procedures.