We are living in days of rapid change for our context in churches. It can be really difficult to keep up with all the changes. More so if we are unfamiliar with subject we are not specialist in.
While many churches will may have some members who are involved in safeguarding in some professional capacity, many do not. Keeping up with changes in the fast moving world of safeguarding can be quite challenging. Just keeping up with changes in legislation and guidance can be difficult enough, but the more subtle changes in expectations from Local Authorities and Safeguarding Boards can pass us by undetected.
Increased Scrutiny on churches
Current and historic cases of abuse have led to increased scrutiny of organisations. In particular those involved with children, young people or vulnerable adults. This is true across the voluntary sector and churches, faith groups and other organisations are not exempt. There has always been an assumption that people who give their time to charitable work voluntary were basically trustworthy. Revelations about historic and current abuse within the sector, including churches, has meant that there is now a perception that smaller organisations are less safe. This is because they have less resources to scrutinise and to supervise staff and so it may be easier for an abuser to operate within undetected.
There has also been a move away from a prescriptive approach to safeguarding to an approach that focuses on outcomes. On the one hand, this provides greater flexibility for churches to define systems that work for them. However, the flip side is that this requires a greater understanding of the issues. This places a significant responsibility on the church trustees and leaders to apply that increased understanding in an effective, appropriate and proportionate way.
Another major shift has been the emphasis on the responsibility to report inappropriate conduct. Often referred to as whistleblowing. Historic and current cases are emphasising the importance of challenging and investigating individuals who pose a risk to children.
The recent Royal Commission report will undoubtedly provoke a discussion that ranges more broadly into disclosure of information that is gained in a more pastoral context. It is not yet clear which direction this discussion will go. It’s likely to run for a considerable time.