We will keep a (safe) welcome on the hillside

30 July 2021, Simon Plant, Thirtyone:eight

Wales is renowned for its hospitality and welcome. The Welsh Christian Community and Welsh Churches, Chapels and meetings are no exception.

Unlike other groups in the community, churches and other faith groups are generally open to all ages of people. Those who attend are in close proximity to each other. For most people, this is a joyful situation whereby people can form friendships and associations and live in a ‘community' with each other. For Christian groups, it is a calling to do this, based on Christian principles. However, this does not mean that safeguarding principles should be compromised. Christian teaching also requires us to have strategies in place to ensure that no person poses a risk to others.

In a CEOP thematic assessment of the risk of child sexual abuse by adults in institutions (Oct 2013) the work of Celia Brackenridge around sexual exploitation in sport is adapted to apply to exploitation in institutions. This model of exploitation found that regardless of abuser inclination there is an opportunity to mitigate this risk by managing Situational Opportunity and Child Vulnerability to lessen the likelihood of abuse occurring.

So, what does this mean for our churches and communities? The first step in decreasing the opportunity for abuse to occur is identifying, assessing, and managing potential risks. Some of this risk is known and some is not known due to the open-door policy of our communities. Where we know of the risks we can assess and manage these risks in our communities to mitigate the risk of harm as well as we can.

Managing those who may pose a risk.

Thirtyone:eight recommends that due to the addictive and/or persistent nature of certain abusive behaviours there needs to be great caution in recognising and dealing with people who may be a risk This is especially true if a person has committed sexual offences, and they should never again work or be placed in any position of responsibility that puts them in contact with children, young people or adults with care and support needs. Similarly, where an individual has committed offences of a violent nature a thorough risk assessment will need to be carried out to ascertain their suitability for working with the above

Whilst managing those who may pose a risk may be applicable for other organisations as well as churches, it is especially likely to be an issue for places of worship and faith communities. This is because the doctrine of universal forgiveness, acceptance and restitution is often embedded within tenets of faith. Their doors may well be open to all, including those who may pose a risk to children and adults. 

It is fact that those in the community who may pose a risk to, have committed, or been accused of sexual or other crimes against others, may wish to be actively involved in local organisations or groups.

This potential risk can be for a variety of different reasons, and it is vital that organisations ensure children, young people and vulnerable adults are safeguarded. Having said this, the organisation can also explore strategies that, if implemented, mean these individuals can be managed and supported within the organisation without compromising the safety of others.

We must never lose sight of the fact that although some will be looking for support to address their offending behaviour, others may be seeking contact with children, young people, or vulnerable adults to abuse them. This is a very difficult thing for some to accept but it is based upon sound evidence including the testimony of offenders themselves.

REMEMBER, churches are unique organisations in having adults and children in close proximity to each other AND having an open-door policy. This makes it doubly important to have a robust policy in place for all aspects of safeguarding and to follow practice guidance on managing those who may pose a risk

We must keep a welcome in the hillside, but we can be proactive about managing potential risk.

Where potential risk is known there are clear safeguarding principles to follow in the management of this potential risk. A reminder of guidance can be found in our Safeguarding Manual and Practice Guides

Where potential risk is not known then we need to manage the vulnerability, and access to those that are vulnerable, within our communities through proactive safeguarding.

Proactive Safeguarding

Risk Assessment of Activities

A risk assessment of all activities should be undertaken and reviewed regularly. Risk in these circumstances should be thought of in the widest sense from health and safety considerations through challenging behaviour to safeguarding risk external to the activity. This should include adults external to the congregation, other adults using the building, visitors, and newcomers.

Further advice on risk assessments and working safely can be found here.

We must assess and plan to manage any potential risk whilst maintaining a welcome in our communities.

Safer recruitment

No one who has not been safely recruited should have unsupervised access to Children, Young People or Adults with Care and Support needs. Safer recruitment is not just about safeguarding but also about making sure those staff and volunteers are properly qualified, called and have the right temperament for these challenging roles and ministries.

More guidance on Safer Recruitment can be found here.

Rules and boundaries

Rules, boundaries, and expectations are really useful throughout the organisation, so everyone is clear of their role, responsibilities, and acceptable behaviours towards others.

Workers

Every church/place of worship/organisation that works with children and adults should have a very clear code of conduct outlining the behaviour expected of everyone working for them. Having such a code can assist in promoting a culture of dignity and respect towards everyone. This code of conduct should apply to any visiting volunteer or worker. Further information on codes of conduct can be found here.

Members of church, meeting, or community.

Clear boundaries can also be put in place for members of the congregation. For example, in relation to Children’s work – if you are not an approved children’s worker and do not have a reason to be in the area where the children’s work is being undertaken, then you should not be there.

If every member of the church knows this then anyone who does not follow this rule can be easily challenged.

These rules and boundaries need to be regularly communicated so visitors and newcomers are aware of safeguarding expectations and are aware of where to report concerns. It is good practice for the congregation to be reminded who the safeguarding coordinator is and for this to be done visibly from the front.

Visiting Preachers

Visiting preachers add greatly to the variety and depth of preaching within churches. The value of visiting preachers is recognised, however as with everything we need to ensure that within this a safe environment is maintained within our churches. It is worth thinking carefully about the process for inviting visiting preachers, especially for the first invite.

Once a visiting person has preached once any future checks should be proportionate.

If you use visiting preachers regularly it may be worth considering developing a Visiting Preachers Policy.

We want to see as many people coming through our doors as possible. A balance does however need to be maintained. We want to keep a warm Welsh welcome on the hillside but let us make it a safe welcome for all!

Aerial view of a group of people looking at the camera

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