New All-Party Parliamentary Group on safeguarding in faith settings launched

Wednesday 12 September 2018 marked the launch of a new All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) which has been established to promote the responsibility and opportunity of faith groups in safeguarding.

The group is co-chaired by Sarah Champion MP for Rotherham and Michael Tomlinson MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole, with the Secretariat for the group being provided by Thirtyone:eight (formerly CCPAS), the UK’s only independent Christian safeguarding charity. The announcement that the group would be formed was made by Sarah Champion at an event in July to mark 40 years of the charity and to relaunch its new name and vision.

The inaugural meeting of the group, which was held in Westminster, saw the election of officers from across the House of Commons and House of Lords including Preet Kaur Gill MP for Birmingham Edgbaston and Baroness Hollins.

The group marked the launch by initiating its first inquiry into ‘Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief: An Exploration of multi-agency responses to Children in Need’.

Speaking about the launch Sarah Champion MP, said “Faith-based organisations make a significant contribution to society and particularly in relation to social welfare and social justice. With this opportunity comes great responsibility to engage communities and society in safe ways. It is the aim of the APPG to increase awareness and understanding of the unique challenges faced by communities of faith, facilitate dialogue, learn from those doing it well, and to ensure safer practices are encouraged and maintained. Some things are above politics and we need to simply get on with them.”

Michael Tomlinson, the group’s co-chair said “I was delighted to have been asked by Sarah to Co-Chair this brand new APPG. There is so much good work that our faith based organisations do – voluntarily, day in and day out – both in my constituency of Mid Dorset and North Poole and right across the country, and this is why safeguarding is so important. I am especially pleased that the APPG will have the expertise and support of Thirtyone:eight, and I look forward to our first inquiry.”

The first inquiry will begin with a research project to be undertaken by Dr Lisa Oakley and Sarah Vaughan at the University of Chester. The project will seek to explore the characteristics of those cases that are registered in the children in need census in 2017 and 2018 under the category ‘child abuse linked to faith or belief.’ 2017 was the first year that this category has been included in the census and identified 1,461 cases. The 2018 figures are soon to be released.

Speaking to the group at the launch of the inquiry Dr Oakley said: “The characteristics of children in need data in the category of ‘child abuse linked to faith or belief’ will be analysed to ascertain any patterns or themes that can better inform prevention and intervention work moving forward in this area and therefore enhance the safety and well-being of children in England.”

Professor Ros Bramwell, Head of the Department of Psychology, and Associate Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, at the University of Chester, said: “As an institution with a Church of England foundation, the University of Chester is very proud to be supporting the excellent work that Dr Oakley is doing to help protect the young and vulnerable. To be leading the first research project of this newly established All Party Parliamentary Group is proof of her national reputation in this field.”

Justin Humphreys, Chief Executive at Thirtyone:eight, who spoke at the launch of the APPG, said: “It is a great privilege for us as a charity to be providing the Secretariat for this newly formed APPG on safeguarding in faith settings. As a charity, a key part our wider mission to create safer places for all, is to encourage society to stand against oppression and exploitation by informing legislation and striving to raise the standards in safeguarding practice. Supporting this APPG is one important way that we are able to fulfil this mission. We look forward to working together with MPs, Peers and researchers to construct a more detailed understanding of these issues, and together help faith communities and statutory partners alike to improve preventative practices and responses.”


Spiritual Abuse: A survivor’s account

Following the death of the late John Smyth last week at his home in South Africa, the Church of England Newspaper has today (Friday 17th August) published an article entitled ‘Savage Fathers’ written by Dr Mark Stibbe, one of John Smyths victims. In the article, Mark describes the abuse he suffered and tells of reaching the point of understanding that what he and others had experienced at the hands of John Smyth QC (now deceased) was spiritual abuse. Mark draws attention to recent research undertaken by Thirtyone:eight into understanding spiritual abuse in Christian communities and responds from his own experiences on subsequent criticism of the term spiritual abuse.

In this blog, Justin Humphreys, CEO of Thirtyone:eight, has been reflecting on Mark’s comments and the experiences and insight that he and other survivors bring to this issue:

“After reading Mark’s article today, I want to publicly acknowledge the bravery shown by him and his fellow survivors in sharing their experiences. I want to acknowledge their suffering and to say we hear you. It should never be made so hard for people like Mark to come forward because of our collective refusal to confront the brutality and twisted practices of those who would deliberately abuse their position of trust.

I expect there will be some who will criticise those prepared to speak out publicly about the abuses they suffered at the hands of John Smyth. However, here we have a first-hand account of horrendous abuses inflicted upon intelligent and impressionable young men, who placed themselves under the authority and teaching of someone who lacked the personal authenticity to lead without harming others. John Smyth abused his position of trust and he abused those young men deeply: psychologically, physically and spiritually.

What is even more shocking perhaps, is that these accounts were not hidden or stored up until years after the perpetrator’s death, when public record is scanty and individual memory might be questioned. Mark and his fellow survivors spoke out whilst Smyth was alive and have been let down by a system that delayed and prevaricated until earthly justice escaped them. That is shameful.

The fact that Mark has chosen to speak about the spiritual aspect of his abuse is critical to our understanding of how some abusers operate. We can no longer deny or escape the fact that not only will some victims be abused physically, psychologically and sexually. For others the spiritual element of their abuse has possibly the greatest impact.

It is time we stopped denying the reality of spiritual abuse. It is time we stopped this ongoing inaction whilst we pontificate about terminology that may not rest well with our own theology, doctrine or wider world view. The church has a problem it must urgently address. Let’s deal with the elephant in the room and accept that as human beings, we have a spiritual dimension and that this can be manipulated and abused with lifelong consequences, just as with any other form of abuse.

I accept that the message Mark Stibbe has so eloquently and selflessly shared with us is challenging. For many it will represent a ‘dawning reality’ that makes us sick to the pits of our stomachs. We must be prepared to face this reality and extend compassion to those who are brave enough to recount their experiences, whilst exhibiting a robust dedication to pursue truth and justice so that we deal with such abuses where they exist.

In doing this, I would urge everyone to ensure that they are fully aware of this aspect of safeguarding that we are learning more and more about in recent times. The work of Dr Lisa Oakley and Dr Kathryn Kinmond (as explored within Breaking the Silence on Spiritual Abuse, 2013) is ground-breaking in this area. However, they would both acknowledge that their own understanding is developing. In early 2018, Lisa Oakley and I published the findings of the largest, most wide-reaching research study ever undertaken in this area.

In this study, new understanding has emerged; some of which builds on and extends that which is previously published and leads to a re-examination of some aspects of spiritual abuse, such as whether it should be recognised as a category of its own. This is an emerging issue and it is important to keep listening, keep learning and resist the temptation to write-off what is uncomfortable. Our position on some of the emerging understandings in this subject area can be accessed via our published position statement.

The experience that Mark and others have shared with us, gives us an opportunity to take a cold, hard look at this area of concern for the church and other faith communities. The huge opportunities that exist for faith communities up and down the country must be matched with the sense of responsibility that we must embody to be as safe and healthy as we can possibly be.”

Our Rebrand

At the beginning of July, Thirtyone:eight, formerly the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS), relaunched at an event hosted in the V&A Museum of Childhood. The event was opened by Sarah Champion MP and the relaunch included a new name and visual identity, plus a renewed vision to protect vulnerable people in our society. Thirtyone:eight has been trusted by thousands of organisations for over 40 years to give advice and guidance on all things safeguarding. However, over the years we’ve found our previous name no longer adequately reflected who we are, and the breadth of service we provide.

We wanted something that would inspire people. Something that would do more than just say what we did and something that would speak to the heart of why we do it. Our new name reflects what motivates us. It’s inspired by God’s call to “speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable,” as described in Proverbs 31:8. We care about vulnerable people because we believe that’s what God told us to do. We believe its central to God’s heart for his people.

On the same day of the relaunch, the government published statutory guidance setting out what organisations that work with children need to do to safeguard and promote the welfare of all children and young people under the age of 18 in England. The Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance follows a government consultation, launched in October 2017 which set out the changes needed to support the new system of multi-agency safeguarding arrangements established by the Children and Social Work Act 2017. It has been revised several times since its first publication in 1999. Since 2006, however, there has been a steady decrease in the focus upon the responsibilities of faith groups (including churches) as significant contributors to work with children and young people.

What is not included is an encouragement for faith-based organisations to be proactive in contacting those agencies to offer support to multi-agency arrangements. Thirtyone:eight has called upon the government via successive consultations to review this guidance over recent years to reinforce the need for faith groups to be referenced more clearly. There is a great opportunity for faith groups to engage with statutory partners to ensure arrangements in any given area are responsive and sensitive to religious and cultural needs, as well as contributing to the broader provision of safer services to children in their communities.

As a charity Thirtyone:eight exists to equip, empower and encourage organisations of all types and sizes to create safer places for all. The need to do this together is more important today than it has ever been. The church in the UK has unrivalled opportunity to support children in the context of their families, but the responsibility for doing this well is one we must take extremely seriously.

Speaking at the charity’s relaunch event on Tuesday, Sarah Champion MP said: “I ask you to reflect on the responsibility of saying that you are a safeguarding organisation and that safeguarding is at the heart of your organisation. The responsibility if you put that message out is that you need to follow it with the best practice, because you might be the one chance that a person has to change their life.”





Obedience or Reputation

The World Cup will take place over the summer, with the mood of much of the nation dependent on England’s performance, starting with their first match on 18th June. However, since 2016 the sporting world has seen many headlines about abuse.

In November 2016 former footballer Andy Woodward wavered his right to anonymity and revealed the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of a coach when he was part of Crewe Alexandra’s junior set-up. Over the next year, 784 victims came forward linked to 331 clubs across the country from grassroots football to the Premier League. In February this year, football coach Barry Bennell was sentenced to 30 years in prison for child sexual abuse. Last month it was revealed that Chelsea Football Club had become the first club to issue a pay-out to an alleged victim since the extent of football’s scandal was exposed. Football has not been the only sport with abuse revelations. In America, Larry Nassar, the once-renowned doctor for USA Gymnastics, was sentenced for ‘40 to 125 years’ in prison for sexual abuse. Nassar admitted using his position as a trusted doctor to sexually abuse young gymnasts under the guise of providing medical treatment.

There has been action taken in the football world to deal with the issues. Sports minister Tracey Crouch said last year she would change the law, with sexual relationships between sports coaches and 16- and 17-year-olds in their care to be made illegal. Manchester City and Chelsea have long been conducting their own QC-led investigations. In March, TV presenter and former footballer Gary Lineker promoted the ‘It’s a Penalty’ campaign, which uses major sporting events to raise awareness to prevent the abuse of children and provide a mechanism to report concerns. The campaign’s sporting ambassadors also include Usain Bolt, Denise Lewis and Cathy Freeman.

However, despite the action taken by clubs and the government, evidence suggests the footballing, as well as, gymnastics authorities did not react quickly to allegations. A December 2016 BBC article said: “Ian Ackley, who was abused by a man with links to Manchester City, said his father’s calls for better protection ‘fell on deaf ears’. Separately, a charity has claimed the FA was too slow to implement criminal record checks in the 1990s, which may have placed children at risk.” Ian Ackley told the BBC his father felt the FA and other organisations were ‘brushing off’ attempts to improve safety in the game at the time. He said: “The replies were dismissive at best. They were always alluding to the fact it was somebody’s else’s problem.”

A similar situation appeared in the Larry Nassar case. The Indy Star, the newspaper that broke the story, wrote: “Top executives at one of America’s most prominent Olympic organizations failed to alert authorities to many allegations of sexual abuse by coaches — relying on a policy that enabled predators to abuse gymnasts long after USA Gymnastics had received warnings.”

There is much in common between sport and faith in terms of risks presented to children where safeguarding has not previously been taken seriously. Much of the child abuse is perpetrated by those who hold positions of trust and authority. In church and sport, a huge personal and emotional investment is made by the child in the adult. This provides opportunities for abuse to take place and enables the abuser to wield power over their victim that maintains their compliance and silence. There are no easy answers to these problems. However, in response to the scandals in the church and USA gymnastics, both Archbishop Welby and former gymnast Rachael Denhollander spoke about putting obedience to Jesus above reputations. The Archbishop told the IICSA: “The reputation of the Church, the reputation of a person, the reputation of an institution is as nothing compared to the call to obey God in Jesus Christ in the way we love and care for people. Everything that goes against that will in the end destroy the Church.” Rachael Denhollander told Christianity Today: “Jesus Christ does not need your protection; he needs your obedience. Obedience means that you pursue justice and you stand up for the oppressed and you stand up for the victimized, and you tell the truth about the evil of sexual assault and the evil of covering it up.”




Domestic Abuse and the Church

In April our friends and partners at Restored released their report called In Churches Too: Church Responses to Domestic Abuse to help understand how domestic abuse affects churchgoers in the UK. Restored work to transform relationships and end violence against women. We have been working in partnership with them for a number of years to help raise awareness about this issue and offer training to churches in tackling this form of abuse. The research provides evidence on domestic abuse at local-level, focusing on the county of Cumbria in north-west England. One of the most alarming findings was the number of respondents who are ‘experiencing systematic abuse of different kinds on at least a weekly basis.’ Emotional abuse was the most commonly experienced form of abuse and while many had experienced this once or twice in their lives, for more than one in ten this was occurring at least weekly.
The UN defines domestic abuse as: ‘Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.’ The Care Act broadened this to violence between any family members, not just intimate partners.

So what does this mean for the Church? The Restored report states that: ‘Those who had sought help for domestic abuse were more likely to have done so outside the church.’ Reasons for victims not seeking help at church included: they were not involved in a church at the time, feeling too embarrassed or ashamed, feeling it was their duty to make the relationship work, and not knowing or trusting anyone at church well enough.
It is hard to come to terms with the reality that domestic abuse can happen in our churches by our fellow Christians. Yet abuse is perpetrated by Christians, and women in our congregations can suffer in silence due to the shame and stigma surrounding abuse. Christian homes are not immune to domestic abuse. There will be both victims and perpetrators within places of worship. The responsibility to offer help and be a voice for the prevention of domestic violence is fundamental to core Christian values: those of justice, equality, respect and care for one another. To ensure the physical safety and spiritual well-being of those coming through their doors, Christians must be prepared to respond appropriately with knowledge and compassion in an effective and safe way.

Here are some things to consider when supporting a victim of domestic abuse:
• Find a safe place and time for the person to talk. Listen and take what they say seriously. Their description is only the tip of the iceberg.
• Have someone else present – if this is acceptable to the victim.
• Give priority to their immediate safety.
• Empower them to make their own decisions.
• Support and respect their choices. Even if they choose initially to return to the abuser, it is their choice. However, if there are children involved their safety must come first.
• Give them information about relevant support agencies and, if appropriate, offer to contact the agency on their behalf and do so in their presence or offer a safe and private place from which they can contact the relevant agency. Use the expertise of those properly trained.
• Reassure them that this is not their fault and that they don’t deserve this treatment.
• Love and support them and be patient.
• Protect their confidentiality.
• Understand that couple counselling, family mediation, marriage courses and healthy relationship courses will not help domestic abuse situations.

IICSA: A first-hand reflection

In March the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) held its three-week public hearing into the Anglican Church as part of its wider investigation into institutional failures regarding child abuse. A few weeks earlier, at the Church of England’s General Synod, Peter Hancock, the lead bishop on safeguarding, said: “This will not be an easy couple of years: we will hear deeply painful accounts of abuse, or poor response, of cover-up. We will, as our friends in the Anglican Church in Australia did, feel a deep sense of shame.” He was right. As the hearing drew to a close, these words were echoed by the Archbishop of Canterbury who took to the stand to give evidence. In his closing remarks to the hearing, Justin Welby said: “I have learnt to be ashamed again of the Church.”

The IICSA Anglican public hearing, which finished on Friday 23rd March, has received much coverage in the media over the last few weeks. Publications such as the Church Times have provided daily reports of what was said, whilst an online live video stream has allowed people to follow the evidence as it has been presented. Transcripts of the days hearings are available online.

As a result, much has already been written on the faults and failures of the church and on the potential recommendations that might come as a result. But what is the experience for those involved in the Inquiry? What is it like to attend a government hearing of this kind? Matt Cooper, CCPAS’s Content and Communications Officer, went along to the second day of the hearing to find out what goes on.

It was a grey and damp Tuesday morning. The rather unassuming premises of the inquiry were not easy to find. Except for a couple of signs on windows, the building looked much like any other city office block. On entering, we had to pass through airport style security, with metal detectors and x-ray scanners, and were then ushered upstairs to a viewing room adjacent to main public gallery.  This room was for the public to view the hearings on a TV screen with another screen providing a live text feed. About 20 people, mainly journalists and lawyers sat waiting, whilst several bishops and clergy stood talking together at one end of the room about the events of the previous day. The inquiry started promptly at 10.30am by hearing evidence from a witness identified only as AN-A15 to protect her identity. We listened via a TV feed with a three minute delay which was interrupted on several occasions in order for identifying information to be withdrawn. This witness spoke of the impact the abuse she had experienced as a child had on her, her parents and family, her education and on her ability to trust others. She also told of how she felt ‘terrified’ in having to testify against her abuser at the age of twelve, and the lack of help and support she had received during the process. When this first witness had finished giving evidence, we were allowed through into the main hearing room.

It was not like a courtroom, but more like an open plan office, with rows of desks. We were sat directly behind the witness box and there was another screen which provided live text of the proceedings and displayed some pieces of written evidence. To the left in front of the witness sat the chair of the Inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay, and the three panel members. Opposite the panel, across the room from them, on the witness’s right side, sat the two QCs along with their legal team. Apart from the witnesses, these were the only six people in the room to speak during the day. The majority of the talking was done by the witnesses and the QCs interviewing them. At the end of each session, Professor Jay would halt the proceedings and either ask a question to the witness or invite her panel to ask any questions.

We heard from a second witness, Philip Johnson, who was another abuse survivor. He was questioned regarding the abuse he experienced from Roy Cotton, who died in 2006 and was never prosecuted. Mr Johnson also told of how he was abused by Colin Pritchard, who was convicted in February. The inquiry then went on to focus on Mr Johnson’s dealings with the police during the 1990s in an attempt to bring justice.

Lastly, we heard from a third witness, Shirley Hosgood, a former Safeguarding Advisor for the Chichester Diocese. She was the first diocesan employee to give evidence to the inquiry. Her role was to oversee the child protection policy within the diocese. Part of her questioning involved showing the inquiry emails and letters she had sent and received many years before as part of her safeguarding work.

At the end of each witness’s time giving evidence, they were asked if they had anything else to say to the panel. In response Mr Johnson talked about the need for cultural change, rather than changes to structure. Mrs Hosgood also spoke of having a change in the culture, as well as automatically putting the welfare of children, victims and survivors at the centre of safeguarding issues and matters.

The proceedings finished promptly at 4.30pm and we were asked to all rise as the panel left the room bringing the day’s hearing to an end.

We left, with a real sense of the weight of responsibility that people working in safeguarding hold.  We were reminded of the complexity of the task involved and the challenges that safeguarding workers face. Cultural change can be slow, but it is necessary to create places and communities that are safer for us all. Thanks to the brave individuals that continue to campaign and call for change, many of whom are survivors themselves, change is coming. But in the words of one of the first witnesses we heard it is seen by many as “too little, too late.”

The final report will be published by Alexis Jay after the last public hearing in July which will review all the material presented and give her findings and conclusions on both the Anglican church case study and that of Peter Ball. Back in 2017, Alexis Jay told CCPAS that: “I am passionate about making sure children are kept safe and that is why I took on the role. The Inquiry will have a renewed focus on making recommendations to keep children safe in the future, whilst learning from past institutional failings.”


Safeguarding and Trustees: Where do you stand?

After recent accounts of those in senior management positions failing to see or ignoring indicators of abuse within their organisation, charities and their safeguarding practices have fallen under scrutiny from the Charity Commission. Safeguarding is a key governance priority for all charities, not just those working with groups traditionally considered at risk.

Requirements for trustees

Charity trustees have ultimate oversight of, and responsibility for, all aspects of the charity’s operation. They are the governing body of the charity and are accountable legally to the Charity Commission and other regulatory bodies. One of the most important and comprehensive responsibilities of charity trustees is their duty of care both to their charity and towards their beneficiaries. Along with senior leadership of a church, they are ultimately responsible for preventing any harm to volunteers, staff or beneficiaries.

Where a charity is working with vulnerable beneficiaries such as children and young people (those under 18 years of age), or with adults who may be at risk of harm, then they need to have safeguards in place to protect everyone from abuse.

It can be easy for churches to sign up for charity status to get gift aid, only for the church not to fully realise its expectations. Any registered charity in England or Wales needs to comply with the safeguarding requirements of the Charity Commission, which is the relevant regulatory body. Therefore organisations, such as churches, applying to register with the Charity Commission who work with vulnerable beneficiaries will need a safeguarding policy. The organisation’s policy must be submitted with the application along with evidence that all those working with children or vulnerable adults (including trustees) have been safely recruited and undertaken a Disclosure and Barring Service check where eligibility is met.

It is also a requirement for trustees to report what are known as ‘Serious Incidents’ to the Charity Commission. A ‘Serious Incident’ would include an allegation of abuse. Charities must also declare on their annual returns that they have met safeguarding requirements.

Safeguarding strategy

Safeguarding is not something that should be ignored or put to one side to be dealt with later.

Doing the work behind safeguarding may seem to some people to be a tedious and bureaucratic exercise, but it is vital and will ensure trustees will be overseeing a more secure environment.

The importance of a charity or church to promote itself as a safe place cannot be stressed enough in order to give beneficiaries and the public confidence in them. A safeguarding strategy for trustees demonstrates they are acting in the best interests of vulnerable people, that they have taken reasonable steps to prevent harm, and that they have assessed and manged risk.

CCPAS also has its own guidance for its membership on the importance of safeguarding for charity trustees that also includes a 10-point ‘people and risk’ checklist.

Sadly, too often we hear of organisations needing to review and reflect on their safeguarding practice after such crises. Our desire is to see organisations not only ensuring they have robust safeguarding policies and procedures, but that they have the means to evidence and demonstrate that what is directed within policy is delivered within practice. We long to see churches and organisations pioneering the way in best practice, modelling this, and being looked to as a ‘lighthouse’ of safer practice, especially within often vulnerable places. We are pleased to see the government being active and being on the forefront of raising awareness and making sure charities and churches understand the latest updates in policies.