Justin Humphreys reflects on his recent meeting with the Church of England National Safeguarding Panel
Some may say the safeguarding message within the Church and wider society has been well and truly heard by now. However, experience tells us that understanding that it is 'everybody's responsibility' and what this really means is still only gaining partial traction.
One reason for this is undoubtedly that not everyone has grasped that safeguarding is a broad range of measures and practices underpinned by the belief that all have the right to be protected from harm. Part of this is about recognising that there is a significant task before us all to create safer places as a preventative mechanism and that we should not see safeguarding as purely how we respond or react to known or suspected issues.
This was the focus of the recent Church of England's National Safeguarding Panel (NSP), chaired by Meg Munn, to which I had been invited to speak about what thirtyone:eight has learned from decades of supporting the Church with the task of safeguarding. Encouraging everyone to take this responsibility seriously depends very much on how we communicate the messages, how we ground them in the Biblical mandate that we have, and how we take every opportunity to communicate appropriately to the widest possible audiences. This is essentially the message behind the comment I made to the National Safeguarding Panel at the recent meeting.
At a festival this summer, I had led a seminar in which I asked a question about how many clergy and other leaders had heard or delivered a sermon based on protecting vulnerable people in the context of church. The response demonstrated that this was still extremely unusual. I found this extraordinary, if not without surprise, considering this is an issue that God speaks so clearly about throughout scripture.
There is a challenge here about how we all continue to make efforts to break the taboo of speaking about abuse and harm and create environments where it is OK to ask questions and to share concerns. This is particularly important for those of us who are leaders and have a platform (metaphorically or otherwise) to communicate the important principles of what safer, healthier communities of faith look like.
Encouraging this kind of open dialogue is part of what we hope might be achieved through our Safeguarding Sunday campaign. Alongside ensuring we do not shy away from issues like this that are close to God's heart, we also provide the opportunity to honour and say thank you to the people who give their time to assist their churches to create safer places. Safeguarding Coordinators or Leads often have a difficult job, but it is one that is of crucial importance if the Church is to demonstrate that it can be the safe and healthy place Jesus always intended it to be. These volunteers are probably not thanked enough for the time, effort and commitment that this requires.
Another comment that was made at the NSP meeting was that the manner in which appropriate information is provided to people was critical to their understanding of what they can expect and what their role might be.
Ensuring information is written in an easy-to-follow way and provided to the right people is so important here. Praise was given for the standards-based documentation that thirtyone:eight produces for churches that encourages them to think about the big picture and how safeguarding practices and principles might be seen across the life of the church. Our Framework for Creating Safer Places booklet was highlighted as a model of good practice that was written in an accessible, no-nonsense way and that tackled some difficult subjects with clarity.
If we fail to equip people with sufficient understanding of the issues and what their role might be in creating safer places, we cannot expect them to effectively and appropriately participate in what is such an important ministry of the Church.