At thirtyone:eight we’ve been at the forefront of raising safeguarding standards for over 40 years. To do this we share our knowledge with individuals, organisations, charities, faith groups, community groups and with the government. This strand of our work, engaging with government has kept us extremely busy over the past few months and I’d like to share with you something of what we’ve been doing and why this work is so crucial.
"This new inquiry will present an opportunity for the Church to stand up and be counted for making a positive difference to safeguarding."
Our work with the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has recently seen us being granted Core Participant status in the investigation into Child Protection in Religious Organisations and Settings. This means we have been given a specific role in terms of assisting the Inquiry and particular privileges in the proceedings.
This new investigation, announced in May 2019 will review the current child protection arrangements in religious institutions that have a significant presence in England and Wales. This will include non-conformist Christian denominations (i.e. outside of the established Church of England), Jehovah’s Witnesses and those within a range of other faiths, including the Islamic, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist faiths.
In our role as Core Participants, we will be given access to all relevant documentation and can help guide the inquiry through consultation, legal submission and by suggesting questions for the Inquiry counsel or panel.
We are privileged to have this opportunity to work alongside the Inquiry in this way. There are few organisations that have worked so closely with faith-based organisations for as long as we have to support best practice in safeguarding. This has helped us to gain unrivalled knowledge, understanding and expertise which is now of significant importance to the Inquiry as they explore the extent to which children have been and are protected in a range of organisations and settings.
The decision to grant Core Participant status to us is a recognition of this and we accept the responsibility this carries with humility and a desire to see further strengthening of safeguarding across the faith sector. The public hearings where evidence will be heard from a range of respondents to this investigation (including ourselves) will take place in March 2020.
"The inquiry focuses on 'positions of trust within faith settings' with a call for evidence on whether a change in legislation is needed relating to those working with 16-17 year olds in churches, other places of worship and faith-based environments."
In addition to the Inquiry, we have also been working with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Safeguarding in Faith Settings (APPG) which we helped to set-up and for which we provide the Secretariat, as it launched its latest inquiry. The inquiry focuses on ‘Positions of Trust within Faith Settings’ with a call for evidence on whether a change in legislation is needed relating to those working with 16-17 year olds in churches, other places of worship and faith-based environments.
Under the current legislation, it is illegal for professionals deemed to be in ‘positions of trust’ such as teachers, care workers and youth justice staff to engage in sexual activity with a 16 or 17-year-old under their care or supervision. However, other adults (including volunteers) who hold similar positions of power within settings such as faith and religious organisations and sports teams are not covered by the current provisions. It seems incredible to think that when opportunities present themselves to help strengthen the safety of the environments where children and young people live and learn, that we would not take them. The current arrangements for 'position of trust' as identified within the Sexual Offences Act 2003, are inadequate to protect young people in the widest range of settings. The fact that there should be any difference in the protection afforded to young people in a school and what they are afforded in a faith-based setting makes no sense.
If you were to ask any parent or carer whether they thought it was against the law for a teacher to enter a sexual relationship with a 16 or 17 year old, the majority would agree that they would expect this to be the case. If you asked the same question regarding youth workers and ministers in religious settings, it’s likely that the same would be the case. What they would probably be amazed to learn is that the latter do not currently fall under the law in this respect.
"At thirtyone:eight we believe this is wrong. We believe that it actually directly undermines the young person's right to freedom from harm and abuse in those settings."
At thirtyone:eight we believe this is wrong. We believe that it actually directly undermines the young person's right to freedom from harm and abuse in those settings. That is why I asked Sarah Champion MP and Michael Tomlinson MP, the co-Chairs of the APPG, to launch the inquiry to establish the evidence-base that might support a change in the law, such that faith-based settings will be covered in these cases.
As the current Chair of the Christian Forum for Safeguarding (a national group consisting of the national-level leads for safeguarding in the majority of mainstream Christian denominations), it has been my privilege to facilitate extensive discussions regarding the need for a change in this law for many months, with general support for this expressed around the table. This inquiry, which is the second for the APPG, included a call for evidence inviting individuals and organisations to submit evidence in order to assess the need for any change in current legislation and its application. Evidence was received and heard from a range of contributors, including academics, professional bodies, the NSPCC, Christian denominations and other groups operating across other faiths and traditions.
Following the evidence session held in parliament on 22 October, the APPG’s report is expected to be published in late 2019 and will be forwarded to the Ministry of Justice who are responsible for this aspect of legislation and policy. This new inquiry will present an opportunity for the Church, other faith groups and those that work alongside them, to stand up and be counted for making a positive difference to the safeguarding of young people in this country. With our involvement in the IICSA and the APPG, these are important and exciting times for Thirtyone:eight and the voice of the Church.