The safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults is not just a response to events but an integral part of the work of the church. This was the message emerging from a conference held on Saturday 13th June at Lancaster on the Safeguarding of Children and Vulnerable Adults.
The conference was led by Bishop Michael Campbell and attended by over 70 parish protection representatives and nearly 30 priests and religious from all over the diocese. St Clare’s was represented by Fr Loughran and Mike Simpson.
There were three speakers, Bill Kilgallon the chair of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC), John Powell, chair of the Diocesan Safeguarding Commission and Jane Robinson, a member of the Diocesan Safeguarding Commission and co-ordinator for the safeguarding of adults.
Bill Kilgallon is the independent lay chair of the national commission which has the role of setting a single national strategy for safeguarding within the church and checking that the strategy is being implemented. The commission includes 3 bishops, 3 representatives of religious orders, 3 chairs of diocesan commissions, a priest who is also a canon law specialist and 4 lay members drawn from a variety of relevant backgrounds. The commission is supported by a small number of full time employees who form the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS) who provide advice and manage matters such as investigations and review panels.
Bill explained that in addition to the internal role, the commission and CSAS were the link to actions being taken by government such as the establishment of the Independent Safeguarding Authority and its steps to establish a national register of people working with children and vulnerable adults. He also recounted his recent experience of a Vatican held conference that sought to ensure the sharing of best practice from around the world.
Bill stressed the need to keep a perspective, especially in the coming months when further adverse publicity was expected over reports into abuse in Ireland. He reminded people that
- the issue of abuse was a problem for society as a whole and was not just a church issue. In many ways the church was ahead of the rest of society in its response.
- despite the amount of publicity, cases of abuse involved a small minority of people
- that being said, however, any case undoubtedly had an enormous impact on the people involved and their families and also on the church as a whole and its ability to fulfil its mission.
Safeguarding was therefore a vital issue within the church.
John Powell explained the reaction of society and legislators to child abuse, the changes in law and the efforts to ensure communication between the various agencies involved. Jane Robinson promoted a discussion about the abuse of vulnerable adults, explaining how it lagged behind child abuse in legal cover. With adults there were difficulties in recognising symptoms of abuse and also in balancing the need to allow adults independence and freedom with the need for care and protection.
The key message emerging from the day was that the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults was about giving individuals a safe environment in which their health, their physical, mental and spiritual development, and their dignity were all protected allowing them to fulfil their full potential. As such it was very much central to the mission of the church.
Thus safeguarding is integral to the work of the church and should not be seen as an extra chore in response to events. It should go beyond the bureaucracy of the form filling and clearances, and become part of the culture of each parish so that the church can not only provide a safe environment for its members to develop but also play its role in helping to make society a safer place for children and vulnerable adults.
More information about the workings of the NCSC and CSAS and the opportunity to ask questions and offer suggestions, is available at the websites of the organisations, catholicsafeguarding.org.uk and csas.uk.net. You can also contact Fr Loughran or the Parish Protection representatives Bernard Unsworth and Mike Simpson