Yesterday the National Safeguarding Panel (NSP) took the plunge and held a good practice event via Zoom with an invited audience of those engaged in safeguarding in the Church of England. Fortunately, with the excellent support of Church of England staff, the technology worked well.
The event consisted of four separate webinars each lasting half an hour – I believe the jargon would call them bite size or taster sessions. Each session had two short speeches followed by questions and answers; the purpose being to encourage reflection on good practice. Given that the Church needs to learn the lessons from previous mistakes spreading current good practice is one way to prevent future mistakes.
I kicked off the event chairing a session about training. We heard from Rick Simpson, an archdeacon who has recently undertaken the senior leadership pathway, and Sarah Ashelby, a recently ordained curate who undertook training as an ordinand. Lisa Clarke, National Safeguarding Learning & Development Manager joined the panel for the Question and Answer session.
The benefits of the new training format were identified, including pre-course work and reading. Rick found it useful that it was undertaken collaboratively with colleagues, although as not all the team are ordained, there is perhaps a need to recognise this within the materials. He recognised the importance of considering theology when thinking about safeguarding, but felt that ensuring everyone also understands the procedures to follow when they come across issues of concern is vital.
Sarah spoke of the usefulness of case studies during her training at theological college. It set out what’s important and why, and she learnt to look at situations in a different way, and to ask questions that might identify a safeguarding issue. She spoke powerfully of seeing safeguarding as central to the mission of the church, saying every disciple has the responsibility to make the church a safe place. This is an approach that can be taken when there appears a reluctance to undertake safeguarding training.
In response to questions, Lisa set out the rationale behind the changes to the training programme. It is designed for the whole Church community, and is founded on developing behaviour and practice that are done instinctively, connecting hearts and minds. She highlighted that the training has been accredited and offers Continuous Professional Development (CPD) opportunities. In response to a question about the more direct involvement of survivors, Lisa said that further work will be done with survivors to produce training materials as well as involving them in delivering training.
Good communication with victims & survivors
Chaired by Jonathan Gibbs, Bishop of Huddersfield and Lead Bishop for Safeguarding, the second (and most popular) session featured Phil Johnson, victim & survivor representative on the NSP and Chair of MACSAS (Ministry and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors), and Jasvinder Sanghera, former member of the NSP who has extensive experience of working with victims and survivors of forced marriage and honour abuse. I joined the speakers to chair the Question and Answer session.
Jasvinder and Phil set out the principles of good communication and illuminated those principles with examples from their experience. Key themes were the importance of building trust through empathy, and the need to work at the pace of the victim by putting their needs as central. Jasvinder emphasised that when abuse has taken place within a faith context, assumptions should not be made. It is important to understand and work with the survivor’s cultural values and beliefs.
Jasvinder spoke of listening with compassion while Phil spoke of the need to do things with the survivor, not to them. Both highlighted the complex and difficult relationships that can exist between the victim / survivor and the perpetrator. Jasvinder said, “Condemn the abuse, not the abuser.”
Phil set out the need to think through the timing of meetings to ensure that someone does not receive difficult news or updates on a Friday, or before a holiday when they might be on their own. It’s also important to acknowledge that while there may be financial compensation, apologies and therapy available, they won’t address the lifelong damage of abuse that stays with survivors.
Questions explored the importance of believing survivors, how to manage situations where survivors are reluctant to report to statutory authorities and whether there are resources to help survivors from a faith perspective.
It was an excellent opportunity to hear directly from two survivors who brought not only their own perspectives, but those of victims and survivors with whom they have worked over many years.
Case review and audit
Two NSP members, Amanda Edwards and Kevin Ball, chaired our third session. We heard from Dr Sheila Fish, Head of Learning Together, Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), on how the process of audit can be used within organisations to stimulate learning and change and Sharon Hassall, Church of England Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor (DSA) in Blackburn, provided examples of implementing improvements to policy and practice.
Sheila spoke about the approach that SCIE take to audits. There is a need to recognise that the context in which safeguarding takes place influences practice. This “systems approach” enables questions to be asked about what helps good practice to thrive. This should be underpinned by determined curiosity and a collaborative approach between those undertaking the audit and those subject to the audit. Her experience is that an effective collaboration during an audit can generate a culture that is open to learning, which is the key to improvement.
Sharon spoke of her experience since 2016 when she took on the DSA role. She identified a clear imperative for change, and outlined how to embed recommendations from case reviews into the work of the diocese. Working with local safeguarding partners such as the local authority was also important. In response to questions, she said keys to success include starting with a clear purpose, a willingness to learn, determination to drive change and the importance of senior leadership. Sharon also spoke of setting up a survivor consultative group for the Church’s Past Case Review 2 process. This has proved its worth and it is planned to continue.
I returned to chair our final session with Gwyneth Owen, Methodist Minister and Chair of the Methodist Church’s Safeguarding Past Cases Review Implementation Group, who described the experience of the Methodist Church in implementing supervision as a key pillar for safeguarding and Helen-Ann Hartley, Bishop of Ripon, who discussed her experience as a bishop in New Zealand where supervision was mandatory. Reverend Henry Lewis, Member of the NSP and Chair of Methodist National Safeguarding Committee, joined for the Questions and Answers session.
Gwyneth spoke of how the decision to introduce supervision for ministers in the Methodist Church arose out of the Church’s review of past safeguarding cases. Supervision provides space for reflection but it also pastoral, in support the minister in their work. The Church views reflective supervision as central to safeguarding practice but there is a recognition of the wider benefit to ministry.
Helen-Ann’s experience in New Zealand was two different supervisors – one focused on spiritual direction and the other on her work with people. It is usual for this latter form of supervision to be from someone with a professional background such as clinical psychology or social work. These professions have a long history of supervision and bring that experience into the Church. Helen-Ann’s supervisor had the view that anyone working for the welfare of others needed supervision.
Although supervision focuses on ministers it has a wider positive impact. It addresses issues of accountability and support. People in ministry feel less isolated. They are accountable yet not judged. For the Methodist Church this means safeguarding and risk are now considered in a safe place with appropriate support and discussion.
A common issue that Gwyneth and Helen-Ann explored was the need to discuss boundaries in supervision in how ordained ministers relate to people. This recognises that in the Church context many people can be particularly vulnerable and it is important to be clear about the nature of helping and supportive relationships. It was also recognised that there can be a benefit to having a supervisor outside the Church structures. The Methodist Church now allows ministers to choose to have a different person than their line manager for reflective supervision.
Questions explored how reflective supervision relates to other processes of review and the management of risk within supervision sessions. The agreement about the nature of supervision is important in setting the parameters and expectations.
Over 50 people joined each session with the largest attendance for the session on good communication with victims and survivors, when over 80 were present. The approach provided an opportunity for a wide range of people to listen to and ask questions about important issues. The plan is to make the recordings available and I will post information about that on the blog.
I hope that not only has this been an exercise in sharing good practice but that it will contribute to continuous improvement in all the areas discussed. I would like to see the Church of England following the Methodist Church in making supervision for clergy mandatory.