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During the Covid-19 pandemic churches responded by reaching out to support the most vulnerable in society. A survey by the Evangelical Alliance in May 2020 showed that 88% of churches were working to meet the needs of vulnerable people.

The Covid-19 restrictions have had an impact on nearly all areas of life, including safeguarding.

In order to understand how, Thirtyone:eight partnered with the University of Chester to explore the ways in which various restrictions imposed have impacted safeguarding in churches and other organisations.

The purpose of the research was to explore the experiences of safeguarding leads in their roles in  Christian faith contexts in the United Kingdom before, during and post Covid-19.

199 participants, who met the inclusion criteria, completed an online survey. The survey was open from 9th January to 1st March 2021.

Thirtyone:eight and the University of Chester released the headline findings and key themes in June 2021 at an online roundtable event. Joining Thirtyone:eight's Claudia Bell and Lee Carmichael in speaking at the event were Dr Lisa Oakley and Professor Moira Lafferty from the University of Chester who undertook the research, Diane Regan from Kintsugi Hope, and Bekah Legg from Restored.

Justin Humphreys, CEO (Safeguarding) at Thirtyone:eight, said: “The learning from this study will help to inform the development of support that we can offer and help the future direction for Thirtyone:eight.

“It will also help other organisations and individuals who are interested in safeguarding in these various contexts, in order that we can all continue to offer the best possible support to people working on the frontline and underpin effective safeguarding within the Christian faith community. We hope that this will contribute towards safer places for the many thousands of vulnerable and ‘at risk’ people at this difficult time.

“Safeguarding leads play an integral role and it is important they continue to experience support. This study has implications for training and support. The challenges related to the pandemic necessitate careful reflection and planning in order to ensure organisations can respond to and manage the recommencement of activities post lockdown and into the future.”

Key themes:

 Some of the key themes and insights highlighted in the research included:

Hidden people – Hidden harm and how we might prepare and equip ourselves to deal with a potential increase in disclosures or concerns about harm and abuse as people reconnect.

Mental Health- The impact of the pandemic on mental health and how this interrelates with safeguarding as we emerge from the pandemic.

Hybrid Church- Navigating the longer-term implications of safeguarding in the hybrid church and equipping those with safeguarding responsibilities to create safer places online as well as offline.

Key statistics:

  • 69% of participants stated that COVID-19 had impacted safeguarding in their organisation.
  • 70% reported it had impacted or changed the way they conduct their safeguarding duties.
  • 20% of participants said that they had felt overwhelmed in their safeguarding role at some point.
  • 47% stated their church or organisation conducted international work with 32% of these reporting that at least some of their international work had stopped due to the pandemic.
  • 87% of participants feel supported in their role in their local church or Christian organisation context.
  • 78% felt individuals in their local church or Christian organisation context understand their safeguarding role.
  • 82% had access to support for their role outside of their local church or organisation.

The safeguarding challenges identified were:

  • Non-compliance or barriers to adhering to procedures and to creating a safeguarding culture within their contexts and complexities in working with external organisations.
  • There were additional challenges associated with the pandemic including lack of contact with people to identify safeguarding needs and issues related to online support.
  • Safeguarding challenges associated with the pandemic included concerns related to recommencing meeting together, blended provision and online safeguarding, lost connections to individuals, increased disclosures and responding to abuse experienced during lockdown.
  • The negative aspects of training were: lack of opportunity to network, discuss and ask questions. 23% of those who responded to the question stated there were no negative aspects to the training they experienced.
  • Impact on international work included not being able to go overseas to take part in work, not being able to identify harm or vulnerability, limited communication for some and the increase in online communication. Most were unable to predict when international work would recommence.

Recommendations for improving practice and support

  • Develop resources and training support faith organisations in developing better partnership working with statutory agencies.
  • Concerns expressed about hidden harm and increased disclosures require careful consideration to develop proactive support for safeguarding leads and organisations. Thirtyone:eight could consider whether additional resources or helpline training may be needed to equip organisations.
  • Online provision is anticipated to continue for some time and resources associated with online delivery and safeguarding would be especially useful to individuals and organisations. These may need to be reviewed to ensure currency and relevancy post COVID-19.
  • Many organisations are engaged in reviewing safeguarding policy and practice in response to the pandemic, including infection control and social distancing. Again, resources or support for this will be especially useful.
  • The wellbeing of safeguarding leads is of concern with the increased workload anticipated. The ability to network and offer mutual support has been impacted by the pandemic. Consider if Thirtyone:eight could offer support or facilitate safeguarding lead support for challenges associated with the pandemic.
  • Further research could provide a follow-up study in a year to assess current experiences of safeguarding leads and challenges and responses to the pandemic. This would enable Thirtyone:eight to have ongoing current information about issues on the ground for safeguarding in Christian faith contexts.
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