We are living in days of rapid change and it can be difficult to keep up with that change; particularly when it occurs in an area that is not our specialism.
While many churches have some members who are involved in safeguarding in some capacity or other, many do not, and so keeping up with changes in the fast moving world of safeguarding can be challenging. Just keeping up with the changes in legislation and guidance can be difficult enough, but the more subtle changes in expectations from Local Authorities and Safeguarding Children & Adults Boards can pass us undetected.
Current and historic cases of abuse have led to a situation where there is increased scrutiny of any organisation involved with children, young people or vulnerable adults. This statement is true across the sector and churches, faith groups and other voluntary sector organisations are not exempt. In the past, there had been an assumption in society at large that people who give their time to charitable work on a voluntary basis were basically trustworthy. Revelations about historic and current abuse within the voluntary sector (including churches) have meant that there is now a perception that smaller organisations are less safe because they have less resources to scrutinise and supervise staff and so it may be easier for an abuser to operate within undetected.
In addition to this there has been a move over recent years away from a prescriptive approach to safeguarding to an approach that focuses on achieving the desired outcomes. On the one hand, this provides greater flexibility for churches to define systems that work effectively for them (so long as they comply with the Local Safeguarding Board procedures) but the flip side is that this requires greater understanding of the issues and places a greater responsibility on the church 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 poor practice or inappropriate conduct, often referred to as whistleblowing. Historical and current cases have emphasised the importance of challenging and investigating individuals who may 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, but it is likely to run for a considerable time. In light of the direction of travel over a number of years, there is likely to be considerable pressure at this point. That said, the current expectation that there will be robust systems in place to identify and respond to individuals or practice that places children at risk will continue and is likely to increase still further over the coming years.