The last meeting of the National Safeguarding Panel considered various issues around safeguarding risks.
The risk assessment process is included in Practice Guidance developed by the National Safeguarding Team: ‘Responding to, assessing, and managing safeguarding concerns or allegations against church officers.’ The management of safeguarding risks and the use of risk assessments feature significantly in the work of diocesan and other safeguarding professionals in the Church. The guidance is currently being reviewed by the National Safeguarding Team and will incorporate a period for consultation. It is anticipated that the review will be completed and signed off by July 2023.
The National Safeguarding Panel has not previously examined this area of safeguarding practice. The session therefore provided an opportunity to contribute to and inform the review of the Practice Guidance, as well as exploring in more detail the relationship between risk assessments and other safeguarding processes such as the Clergy Conduct Measure (CCM) and information sharing.
We heard from Lisa Clarke, National Safeguarding Learning and Development Manager and Colin Perkins, Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser, Diocese of Chichester.
Links to other processes
The Panel began by asking how the safeguarding risk assessment would interface with the new Clergy Conduct Measure.
Risk assessments will feed into the new process. There would be a referral at the beginning of every complaint process and a risk management track alongside the Clergy Conduct Measure. This would ensure consideration of measures, such as suspensions or interim safeguarding agreements. Risk management would take place while the process is underway. At the end of the process, the risk assessment should form part of the consideration of the outcome. The PaneI expressed concern that safeguarding personnel had not been included in the Clergy Conduct Measure implementation group and asked that steps be taken to ensure closer co-ordination in the development of the Measure.
The Panel asked what role will risk assessments have within safer recruitment policies and practice. Lisa Clarke responded that risk assessments have always been a part of safer recruitment. For example a blemished DBS check leads to a Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor undertaking a risk assessment based on the information provided, to make a decision on the recruitment confirmation.
As information sharing is a key issue in managing risk, the Panel asked what collaboration there is with the work currently being done on information sharing by the National Safeguarding Team. Are there arrangements in place to ensure that electronic information is shared securely?
Lisa Clarke responded that the current work will strengthen the risk assessment process. Risk assessment templates and documents will be reviewed to ensure that they take account of the work on information sharing agreements once that has been finalised. The Church of England is listed as requiring disclosure under MAPPA (Multi-agency public protection arrangements) rules. Disclosures that are provided specify what the Church are entitled to know and may not give full information. The Church is not a risk management authority and therefore operates with limited power.
It was confirmed that there is not currently a secure email system but that there are secure systems that the NST has access to.
The Panel asked what work is being done to ensure that risk assessments can be shared between dioceses, between cathedrals and a diocese or when someone moves from a Church setting to secular employment?
Lisa Clarke stated that risk assessments are already shared between dioceses and cathedrals where members of clergy move from one location to another. The National Safeguarding Casework Management System, when fully in place, will greatly assist with oversight of this. It is already being rolled out in some dioceses and nationally. Where clergy or other Church members move to secular organisations, the risk assessment may be referred to within an employment reference but it would not necessarily be shared. Colin Perkins added that risk assessments are shared within and between dioceses and cathedrals but the extent of information that is shared needs to be considered carefully. Some risk assessments include details on psychosexual history, cognitive distortion, family history and medical history and this may not be appropriate to share further. The conclusions of a risk assessment would be shared if someone moves dioceses.
The Panel asked about the experience of accessing risk assessments undertaken by statutory agencies for church officers or clergy? Would more robust information sharing processes improve this?
Colin Perkins stated that it varied across and between dioceses and often depends on the relationships between professionals in the area. He has had experience of difficulties with information shared by the police with the safeguarding team in Chichester. It is important to be realistic about what information the Church can expect to be shared.
The Church is entitled to disclosure but not necessarily the full background and detail. MAPPA guidance is that there should be an assessment on proportional disclosure and the information provided should be minimal. For example, a member of a congregation may be a convicted sex offender and the information provided would be that they present a risk to children. The diocesan safeguarding team will not be informed of the circumstances which led to the conviction. The role of the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor is to risk assess the offender and ensure that appropriate steps are taking to remove them from direct contact with children in the church setting.
It was noted that work is being done to raise awareness in statutory agencies of faith organisations. The Association of Safeguarding Partners hosted a webinar which highlighted to statutory agencies the importance of working with faith organisations and their role in risk assessments.
The Panel asked how the proposed changes to risk assessments and safeguarding agreement will improve the quality of risk assessments and the sharing of safeguarding risks with statutory partners?
Lisa Clarke stated that the changes are intended to improve consistency. The key questions are who is the individual?, what role are they fulfilling? and what is the risk in the context they are working or worshipping? The Church does not have the resources to complete a full risk assessment as might be done by a statutory agency. The proposed changes are aiming to narrow the focus to ensure safety within the relevant context. Colin Perkins added that risk assessments could inform the outcome of another process such as a disciplinary process, where there is no conviction but risk has been identified.
The role of Diocesan Safeguarding Advisors
The Panel asked about the workload for Diocesan Safeguarding Advisors in conducting risk assessments and in overseeing safeguarding agreements.
Diocesan Safeguarding Advisors come from varied professional backgrounds and therefore approach risk assessment differently. There are variations in confidence levels. There has been a shift in the professional backgrounds of Diocesan Safeguarding Advisors to a greater number of former police officers than those with social care experience. The types of risk assessment that diocesan safeguarding teams need to do are more rooted in social care practices where there are no convictions, but where behaviour causes concern. Advisors with a police background often approach this from a more evidence based point of view, whereas advisors with a social care background are more comfortable with a level of uncertainty.
Colin Perkins added that the number of registered sex offenders attend church as members of the congregation vary between and within dioceses and therefore workload level is varied. These risk assessments are situational and look to establish what is known about the offender and put measures in place to reduce any risks, such as if they would have access to children as part of their worship activities.
Removal from post following a risk assessment
The Panel asked about the outcome of risk assessments and how that can lead to the removal of someone from their post where there is a known risk.
Lisa Clarke responded that this is a significant challenge and that HR disciplinary processes need to be consulted where someone has an employment contract and employment law applies. Where it is a church officer, the Clergy Discipline Measure process needs to take place, informed by the risk assessment. Safeguarding agreements can be implemented but as the Church is not a risk assessment authority it lacks the power to enforce them. Good relationships with statutory agencies can assist.
Colin Perkins added that there can be challenges where concerns are raised about pre-ordination behaviour. The Clergy Discipline Measure process cannot be pursued as the allegation is from a time before the person was ordained. The Church does not have the power to remove them from their post but can complete fitness to practice tests to assess safety in their current ministry.
The Panel asked whether there has been any interdenominational discussion on approaches.
Lisa Clarke chairs a cross denominational group including the Church of Scotland, Church in Wales, Church in Northern Ireland and Church in Ireland and that the group frequently discusses risk assessment training needs. It was noted that different denominations have different structures and so the issues faced are not always directly comparable. Resources and training information is frequently shared within this group.
Terminating safeguarding agreements
There are a large number of safeguarding agreements that have been in place for years but which now serve little purpose. There should be a way to end agreements and allow a person to obtain a greater sense of normality. Someone can be put back onto a safeguarding agreement if concerns arise.
Colin Perkins added that this is also related to enforceability. There are no enforceable powers that the Church can exercise with registered sex offenders. For example, a registered sex offender could have a safeguarding agreement where they are not permitted to have contact with families with children. The Church cannot take action against the registered sex offender. The Church can only maintain a watch, be vigilant and report to a statutory agency.
Current guidance states there should be a minimum 12 month review of safeguarding agreements; this can be too long. There should be mechanisms in place to trigger a swifter review if required, and opportunities to take someone off a safeguarding agreement at the right point. This should take into account any changes to attitude and behaviour and should not be time limited.
Victim and survivor experiences
The panel asked about what constitutes a successful safeguarding agreement and asked how survivors contribute to them.
Lisa Clarke responded that safeguarding agreements are designed to support respondents and survivors to attend their church of choice and so survivors would be asked about what they would like to be put in place. It was acknowledged that this had to be realistic and that not all desired measures would be achievable. The agreement should address the immediate risks and enable everyone to attend church. Where victims and perpetrators are in the same Church the allegation management process would need to be followed. It is a difficult situation to manage but this is where the survivor’s voice is strongest. The wish may be for the respondent to not attend the same service which could be reasonable.
Risks affecting alleged perpetrators
The panel asked what welfare considerations are there for the respondent to protect them from risks such as suicide?
Colin Perkins responded that risk assessments consider the welfare of all parties involved and this is usually addressed within the core group process. It happens at the start of the complaint, whereas formal risk assessment happens towards the end once more information is known. Lisa Clarke added that the guidance needs to take into account the ripple effect on employers, family members and congregations and address how likely they are to be impacted.
There are two different types of support to meet the differing needs of complainants and respondents. Link people support respondents and assess wellness, resilience and take action where risk indicators show that there may to a risk to self rather than risk to others. There is also support for complainants. Support person training has taken place and focuses on how they can assess what support the complainant needs.
Consultation and engagement
The Panel asked about the engagement of survivors in developing the proposals?
Lisa Clarke responded that the risk assessment proposals are part of the wider managing allegations policy. Survivors have not been consulted up to this point. The focus has been on consultation with Diocesan Safeguarding Advisors considering what can work in practice. Professor Hazel Kemshall, a respected academic in this field, has been involved. Survivors will be invited to review the proposals when there is a solid approach.
Lisa Clarke added that risk assessment is one chapter of the managing allegations policy. The wider policy will address how an allegation progresses from the point of disclosure to its conclusion. The voice of victims and survivors will be crucial in other areas of the policy but it will be more limited in this chapter.
It was recognised that this process should be led by professional practice but that is has not always worked well for victims and survivors. Victims and survivors have experience of this policy area and the knowledge to participate in new proposals and it is a missed opportunity for the Church to not have a strong survivor voice. Victim and survivor confidence in this process will be very important.
The Panel asked how the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisory Panels (DSAPs) should engage with risk assessment processes.
Colin Perkins responded that his view is that DSAPs should work to improve communication between the diocesan safeguarding team and local statutory agencies particularly around disclosure to ensure that they have enough information to effectively manage risk. Some DSAPs have risk management subgroups.
Conclusions and recommendations
Integration of safeguarding practices
1. There is a clear interface between risk assessments and the Clergy Conduct Measure (CCM). As the details of the proposed CCM are now being develop it is recommended that there is close liaison between the National Safeguarding Team and the CCM implementation group. There needs to be an early referral for a risk assessment when a safeguarding complaint is made. In safeguarding case, before a penalty is imposed there should be a further risk assessment to inform the outcome of the process.
Quality of risk assessments
2. The Panel welcomes additional work to improve the quality of risk assessments to ensure there is greater clarity in the guidance on the nature of what information is shared, when its shared and with whom it is shared.
3. The Panel notes the distinction between information sharing and the statutory duty of agencies to disclose information based on necessity and proportionality. The National Safeguarding Team should ensure the Information Sharing project provides updated guidance to safeguarding professionals in the Church on this distinction to ensure disclosure expectations are managed.
4. The Panel welcomes the investment and support for the learning and development approaches to this area of work which offer opportunities for greater consistency of practice and enhanced confidence of safeguarding professionals with managing the risk processes. The Panel endorses the sharing of practice with other denominations through the inter-denominational group.
Victim and survivor experiences
5. The Panel encourages the strengthening of approaches to assessing the needs of victims, survivors, complainants, and respondents from the onset of any safeguarding process to ensure all potential risks are identified and appropriately managed.
6. The Panel welcomes the consultation being undertaken on safeguarding agreements and requests the outcomes of this consultation is shared with them.
7. Survivors need to have confidence in this area of policy, guidance, and practice. The Panel notes that no consultation on the proposals has to date been undertaken with survivor representatives. The Panel requests that the National Safeguarding Team share their plan for consulting with survivor representatives at the earliest opportunity.