Safeguarding can be an area of uncertainty and anxiety for us all, not least because it requires us to consider the unthinkable. Individuals of all ages may be seriously harmed or hurt by others, and those causing the harm may be well known to those who are harmed. This article explores how we can all work to ensure children and adults are protected.
When we take the time to learn more, to develop safe working practices and to identify how to respond well to concerns, it’s clear that safeguarding is a positive and creative opportunity to live out the gospel.
Scripture reminds us that the Church’s mission includes:
Being near to the broken-hearted
Doing things justly, loving kindness, walking humbly
Becoming like children, letting the children come
It’s also essential that everyone within a church understands the importance of responding well to those who have experienced abuse so that they are protected from further harm and the appropriate steps are taken.
The most important thing to remember is that protection is everyone’s responsibility. Don’t think that you if you know or are worried, then someone else either knows or is thinking the same thing. It’s much better for two or more people to report a concern than everyone thinking somebody else has made the call.
The second most important thing to remember is that protection is about telling the right people. It is not your responsibility to intervene, investigate, or make a proper assessment. It is simply your responsibility to tell the appropriate people who can effectively intervene.
If you think that someone is at immediate risk, you should tell the police without delay. It is appropriate to dial 999. A good guide to whether you are in this situation is to ask yourself this: is it safe for this person to go home? (Or to be at home right now if they are already there?) If your best answer to that is ‘no’, then you should phone the police.
Even if you do not think that there is a risk of immediate harm, you should still speak to an official who can help as soon as possible.
While you can always contact a member of the diocesan safeguarding team, we are not an emergency service. In the case of children, you should approach your local children’s services department before approaching the diocesan safeguarding team to seek advice. Then, depending on the advice you receive, report your concern. You can do this without giving your name. You should make a note of your concerns, what has happened and anything you have done about it prior.
What to do if you’re concerned about someone you know
Try to speak to them, if it is safe to do this. Tell them why you are concerned and ask them what they want you to do about it. Always try to get them to agree to getting help.
If somebody has told you that they have been abused, it is likely to have been one of the most difficult things they have ever said. It may have taken weeks, months or years to ‘open up’ about what has happened to them.
It is understandable for you to feel unsure about what to do, most people have little experience of helping someone through this kind of thing. The most important thing is to listen, don’t question. Believe what they are saying and tell them this.
Victims of abuse can be confronted with lots of choices. Should they report their assault? Ask for counselling? Get checked out at a clinic? Allow them to be in control and ask how you can help. It is important that they come to their own decision of what the next steps may be. However, you should always be clear that if what they tell you indicates a child may be at risk as well, you will have to report what they say to the relevant authorities.
I am worried that my church isn’t following proper safeguarding practices
Two basic principles help in responding to this concern: safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility and the welfare of the child or vulnerable adult is paramount.
Our churches must be places of spiritual nourishment where all can safely flourish. You must raise these concerns so that they can be addressed.
You may choose to raise them initially within the church itself – either to the parish priest, the PCC or (more likely) the Parish Safeguarding Officer. We would expect and encourage those with whom you have raised the concern to speak with the Diocesan Safeguarding Team to understand what has happened, what can be learned and what needs to change.
If you have already raised your concerns within your church and failed to receive adequate answers, or feel you cannot raise these concerns as you are concerned about reprisals, you can and should contact us directly using any of the numbers above.
SCIE report progress – what is the diocese doing?
An audit report into safeguarding in the Diocese of Oxford was published in October last year. Published by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), the inspection was part of a Church of England safeguarding initiative and you can see how we fared here.
Since October a working group of the Diocesan Safeguarding Panel has been working hard to develop a detailed action plan to take forward the recommendations from SCIE. This will be presented to the Diocesan Safeguarding Panel during February and to Bishop’s Council in May.
We’ll be sure to share the outcome from those presentations later in the year, but, already, we know that areas for attention relate to five key themes:
- Improving our communication of safeguarding best practice.
- Improving Governance, Quality Assurance and oversight by the independent Diocesan Safeguarding Panel
- Building closer relationships with other stakeholders and organisations across the diocese
- Widening the reach of safeguarding training
- Responding well to individual cases.
Oxford Diocesan Safeguarding Team
We offer advice, support and guidance to anyone in the diocese about all aspects of safeguarding
- Advice and support: telephone, email and face-to-face consultation about a range of issues
- Policy and practice: signposting to national and local policies and practice guidance
- Training: safeguarding training to clergy and other leaders, churches and individual church members, including face-to-face training and online resources
- Casework: management of complex cases, joint-working with statutory agencies, consultation and advice
- Support for survivors: direct support and advice, provision of Authorised Listeners
If you are unsure about anything or don’t know where to turn to, please get in touch with us. We promise to respond quickly as quickly as we can and we always start from the principle that there is no such thing as a silly question. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.