Report of the Inquiry by the APPG on Safeguarding in Faith Settings

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From the Chair

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 makes provision for the identification of professionals working with children and describes them as those in ‘positions of trust’. Under the current legislation, professionals like teachers, social workers and youth justice staff are prevented by law from developing sexual relationships with 16-and 17-year olds under their supervision. However, the law does not extend to adults working in a variety of different settings with children and young people; most importantly for this inquiry, including faith settings.

The result of this limit of definition is that young people between the ages of 16 and 18 participating in activities in faith settings are not afforded the same protections as they would be in a school, hospital or foster care placement for example. This can leave children in these environments more vulnerable to grooming and abuse.

As co-chair of the APPG I would like to thank everyone who contributed evidence to the inquiry, particularly the survivors of abuse who shared their stories with us. It is clear from the evidence that across a range of faith communities, children’s charities and safeguarding organisations there is demand for a change in the law to extend ‘positions of trust’ to any adult working with children while in a ‘position of trust’. We will work hard to persuade the Government of the merits of a change in the law.'

Sarah Champion MP (Chair)

About the Inquiry

This inquiry into The Effectiveness of ‘Positions of Trust’ in Safeguarding Young People within Faith Settings was launched by the APPG in August 2019 and explores the extent to which the current provisions within the SOA 2003 for ‘positions of trust’ (s16-20) and the offence of ‘abuse of a position of trust’ (s21-24) adequately enable the safeguarding of young people receiving services and support in the wide variety of faith settings that exist across the country.

The objective of this Inquiry was to discover and document current knowledge relating to law and practice concerning ‘Positions of Trust’ within the SOA 2003, to ensure faith settings are sufficiently within scope to allow young people to be better protected from harm within the variety of such settings. This report will be submitted to the Ministry of Justice to assist in the completion of a review of this legislation.

The Inquiry’s call for evidence3 (see appendix 3) was promoted via a range of channels, including social media and information was sent out directly to over 50 key individuals and agencies within the faith and statutory sectors as well as academic institutions and professional bodies. Evidence was requested in response to the following questions; whether there is:

  • The need for a change in legislation underpinned by specific knowledge, research and/or case examples from work within a faith or religious community.
  • The need for a change in legislation underpinned by specific knowledge, research and/or case examples from working alongside faith or religious
    communities (statutory and voluntary sector organisations and others).
  • The need for a change in legislation underpinned by specific knowledge, research and/or case examples from those working in other sectors
    (outside faith) where transferable learning might benefit the findings of the inquiry.
  • Evidence to support no change to the existing legislation around Positions of Trust.

Evidence has been received from a wide variety of individuals (survivors of abuse within faith settings) and organisations, including faith groups/denominations and communities, professional safeguarding agencies, law firms and academics. This has been received in both written form in response to a call for evidence in August 2019 and in oral evidence provided by a range of respondents invited to attend an evidence session of the APPG in parliament on October 22nd 2019.


The Government should amend the Sexual Offences Act 2003 so that the application of the definition of ‘positions of trust’ as an adult that is ‘regularly involved in caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge’ of a child is not limited to the professions listed in Section 21 of that Act but instead extended to any adult to which that description applies.

The inquiry highlighted the inadequacy of the current definition of positions of trust under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Evidence submitted demonstrated the opportunities faith leaders and workers within faith settings have to groom young people for inappropriate sexual activity , the power balance that exists between faith leaders and the congregation and the loophole that the current law provides which prevents oversight of sexual offenders looking to groom young people. Further evidence from children’s charities and safeguarding organisations demonstrated the need for the definition to be extended to include all adults working with 16-and 17-year olds.

The Government should launch a public campaign to communicate the change in legal definition so that adults working with children, organisations, parents and young people are aware that it is illegal for any adult ‘regularly involved in caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge’ to have engage in sexual activity with a child under their care.

The inquiry heard that there is a distinct lack of clarity about the current law amongst the public. Many are unaware which roles are legally defined as a ‘position of trust,’ thereby prohibiting sexual activity with 16- and 17-year olds and which are not. The Government should launch a public campaign which may, in turn, drive behaviour changes through new norm-setting. A change in the law as recommended replaces ambiguity for any adult working with a 16 or 17-year-old with a clear message: engaging in sexual activity with that young person is against the law. It should work closely with faith, sports and safeguarding organisations to ensure messages are clear and consistent.

The Department for Education should lead the development and implementation of guidance and training provided to LADOs and Local Safeguarding Partnerships to raise awareness of issues around child abuse and abuse of trust in faith settings.

Good, professional working relationships between statutory agencies and local faith-based settings are essential to maximising both the opportunity of faith groups to contribute effectively to safeguarding within the communities they serve and to raising awareness of the collective responsibility to contribute in a manner that promotes the welfare of individuals above their institutions. In building such relationships, better understanding of the nature of faith settings and their underpinning beliefs and practices will assist statutory agencies to work more effectively with those settings, in particular in relation to managing allegations against workers.

In consultation with the National LADO Network and other appropriate professional groups, the Department for Education should research and develop detailed guidance on recording of cases using agreed standardised categories for positions of trust in faith settings.

One of the great difficulties to date in identifying the full prevalence of cases where a position of trust, power or influence has been exploited or abused within a faith context has been the inconsistent manner in which such cases have been recorded. This is no criticism of professionals such as LADO’s as there has been no identified need to improve consistency in this respect until now. To some extent, this problem would be rectified by a change in law and definitions, bringing such cases into clearer focus. However, in the meantime, identifying a standard range of categories that can be applied broadly across faith groups (and other sectors) would help hugely in quantifying and analysing the data gathered for practice
improvement and policy development purposes.

The Department for Education should urgently revise ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ to take better account of the role and extent of faith group activity in safeguarding children and young people, to include a focus on a broader application of position of trust. ‘Recruiting Safely: helping keep children and young people safe’ (CWDC, 2009) should be revisited and revised to address the broader issues of position of trust within settings and contexts that are currently not included.

It is of concern that despite the significant contribution made to the lives of young people in communities by faith groups, there is still such little attention afforded to them in statutory guidance (such as ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’). Furthermore, opportunities to ensure that issues related to the management of those within positions of trust, power and influence within the wider children’s workforce remain completely inadequate. This could be addressed within a revisited and revised edition of ‘Recruiting Safely: helping keep children and young people safe’19 that focuses on both recruitment and workforce management involving those working with children and young people outside of education settings.

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