"The picture that is presented by all of these dioceses is an improving one"
ACROSS ALL of the six dioceses that have participated to date, a marked improvement in two key areas of safeguarding practice is evident.
Firstly, reporting allegations to the statutory authorities occurs promptly and comprehensively. All known details are regularly shared and each of the dioceses has established a sound working relationship with their relevant statutory agencies. This represents a major development as past practice did not always reflect this commitment.
Secondly, the need to create and maintain a safe environment for children in the church is comprehensively accepted and implemented. Each of the dioceses examined had developed a safeguarding framework which mirrored that as set out in Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance. This framework is almost entirely volunteer-led.
The critical role of “delegate” or “designated officer” has in many cases been undertaken by a member of the clergy. In some of the reviews, a recommendation has been included that where possible, this role should also be undertaken by a suitably qualified and experienced lay person.
We would believe this to be necessary as that role is critical to the effective running of the safeguarding framework within the diocese. It would be our view that it is significantly more difficult for a member of the clergy to perform all of the tasks that are involved in the successful discharge of their responsibilities.
The picture that is presented by all of these dioceses is an improving one. There is greater awareness and much greater commitment to safeguarding children than was once the case.
Individuals who are seen as being a risk to children are reported quickly to the authorities and steps are taken to eliminate their access to children. There are some differences that occur in terms of approach but these are being worked on and addressed.
Each of the dioceses and their respective bishops is to be commended for their willingness to engage in the review process. For some, this involved considerable anxiety with regard to opening their files for an independent body such as the National Board to scrutinise.
It is to their credit that they did this and provided the support and co-operation which they did to the reviewers.
A key element in the process of improving practice in any church authority is the provision of training. It has previously been commented upon that bishops often fail to avail of training opportunities when they arise. They are the group that carries the heaviest responsibilities within the church with regard to the safeguarding of children.
It is interesting to note that an increasing number of bishops are now present regularly at training events set up by and provided through the National Board. It is also gratifying to report that these six bishops are among the most frequent attendees at those events.
The fact that each of the reports is being published is also a tangible demonstration of the extent of their commitment not only to effectively safeguard children, but to be shown to be doing so. They have all expressed to me a desire to reassure the lay faithful in each of their dioceses that practice in their diocese is as good as they can make it and that they are all committed to ensuring that it becomes even better in the future.
In the past, good practice may have happened through the commitment of an individual bishop. However, if that bishop retired, then the practice may also change with him. This difficulty was commented upon by Judge Yvonne Murphy in her report on the situation in the archdiocese of Dublin.
The National Board has worked hard to try to introduce uniform and consistent standards for adoption and implementation across all of the church authorities. By advocating a standards-based approach, it is hoped that any vulnerability to being too dependent on individuals would be eliminated.
It is gratifying to report these six dioceses would be among a number who regularly consult with and draw upon the experience and expertise that lie within the National Office.
They have sought to implement in their dioceses the framework and the policies that have been put forward by the National Board. If any of these dioceses were to face change in terms of leadership, the framework would continue and the approach should not alter significantly.
There are 188 church authorities in ministry on the island of Ireland. A number of the religious are small and their membership is elderly and retired. Despite this, there is still a considerable body of work ahead in completing the task that was given to the National Board when we were first approached to complete a comprehensive review of safeguarding practice in the church.
To date, we have focused on the dioceses but in the immediate future we are going to also include a number of religious congregations or orders.
We have been approached by four dioceses and they will all be included in the next tranche but we will also add two religious congregations as well. Our intention is to complete the overall task in two further years and to encourage the participants to publish their completed review reports together twice a year.
The next six reports should be released in May/June of 2012.
The National Board does not hold any powers that would allow it to compel any church authority to participate in the review process if it did not wish to do so. It relies upon consent. Before going to any diocese, we would have to receive an invitation to undertake a review. If no invitation comes, we have no power to require it to happen.
Under the agreed guidance within the church, we do have the right to undertake a review of practice in response to a complaint if one is received. This does not empower us to require any church authority to allow us to undertake a comprehensive review of their files. This is only possible if we are invited to do so, supported by their willingness to enter into a data- processing deed with us. It should also be pointed out in this regard that the National Board does have the power to publish details of any non co-operation by a church authority in its annual report.
The audience that we are primarily concerned about are the lay faithful, particularly parents but also children themselves within the church. It is our view that the true situation that exists within any church authority must be shared with them. In many cases, as is the situation with these six dioceses, that openness will be welcomed by the lay faithful and they should feel reassured by the content of these reports. The lesson we hope is clear. Increased transparency and accountability must be seen as the two essential elements of the church’s approach to safeguarding children.
This is an edited extract of a statement issued by Ian Elliott yesterday. The full text is available on irishtimes.com
The Watchdog: Ian Elliott’s Role
A DUBLIN-born Presbyterian, Ian Elliott had worked for most of his adult life in Northern Ireland before being head- hunted by the Catholic Church to be chief executive of its new child protection watchdog, the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSC).
He has been in the role since July 2007.
He is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin and the University of Ulster, with a master’s in business administration from the Open University business school.
Appointed director of National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in Northern Ireland in June 2001, he was seconded to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Services there in September 2005. He was its lead child protection adviser. His role there was further expanded when he was asked to design and implement a major reform programme for child protection services within the region.