In my March blog I wrote about the discussion on redress which was held at the February Synod. It was an important moment, with Synod endorsing the need for a formal redress scheme, and I committed the National Safeguarding Panel to discussing the issue at its next meeting. However, the pandemic meant our usual meeting in May could not go ahead. Our July meeting via Zoom did scrutinise the work to date and made recommendations.
At the panel we heard from David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, Paul Stevenson, Deputy Official Solicitor to the Church Commissioners and Colin Perkins, National Policy and Development Lead on redress. We were also provided with a paper from the National Safeguarding Team on developing a scheme. The paper set out the likely components of a redress scheme, the areas for decisions that have to be taken on the format of the scheme and information on other redress schemes. It included a proposal for funding of a project to take forward this work. The Panel were keen to understand the proposed timescales and were advised that with the initial scoping work completed the next step is for the Church to provide funding, followed by the recruitment of a project manager.
Panel members supported the need to involve victims and survivors throughout the development of the scheme. They recommended that it should include extensive consultation with victims and survivors and survivor groups. The Panel recommended that consideration should be given to a survey of survivors to provide detailed information on the impact of abuse and therefore the needs to be addressed by a scheme.
The Panel noted that a number of key issues will need to be determined for the effective operation of the scheme. These include how eligibility for the scheme will be decided and whether there will be a time limit on applications.
The Panel urged the Church to proceed with developing the scheme as quickly as possible, but recognised that there needs to be detailed and thorough work on all aspects of the scheme. Getting it wrong at the start will cause problems later on. Taking time to ensure there are clear parameters in place from the start of the scheme is important.
Panel members, who are acutely aware of the difficulties being experienced by some victims and survivors during the pandemic, strongly recommended that the Church urgently establishes a national contingency fund to meet their immediate support needs.
A number of redress schemes use an approach that determines levels of compensation by bands. This approach is easy to understand but the Panel were concerned that this maybe too simplistic. They would want to see each case assessed in an individual and appropriate way. The scheme must be fair and transparent. The Panel recommended that each person should have an individual assessment of their needs to achieve a fair resolution. It should be creative in meeting need rather than formulaic, with a victim-centred approach.
Panel members would like to see a scheme that is imaginative and flexible. The scheme could fund long-term therapy but could also compensate for such factors as loss of education opportunity, damage to employment prospects and other impacts of abuse. It was agreed that not all the elements are about financial support, there is also the need to apologise.
The Panel identified other matters that need to be resolved. These include the relevant responsibilities of local church organisations and the national church. It was noted that there is strong support for a national scheme. However, this does not mean that local church structures will not have responsibilities; for example, the provision of immediate support for new cases. The different parts of the Church have to acknowledge that their duties to provide funding for the support of local victims continue. It will not be replaced by the redress scheme. The Panel recommended that the Church should remind everyone that they should be meeting needs now. There was also broad agreement that advocacy for victims and survivors is essential.
The scheme will need appropriate oversight and evaluation, and a decision will need to be made on whether it should be run independently of the Church, although funded by it. The Panel recommended that the scheme should be independently administered but with clear input and ownership from the Church. Such oversight should ideally be achieved through current Church structures. It must be clear that the Church maintains responsibility for the prevention of and response to safeguarding issues.
It was acknowledged that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) may produce recommendations regarding redress but development and implementation must not be delayed by the Church. Subsequently the scheme could be adjusted to meet IICSA recommendations if required.
The Panel concluded that developing a redress scheme is a complex undertaking and should be done thoroughly. The Church urgently need to find the funds to take the work forward. Victims and survivors have waited a long time for the Church to agree on the need for a redress scheme. Having recognised the need, the Church should be able to put in place some interim arrangements to meet immediate unmet needs.
The Panel looks forward to being involved in further discussions as the work develops.