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10. Responding to Those who may Present a Known Risk to Children, Young people or Vulnerable adults within a Christian Congregation

The House of Bishops’ Safeguarding Policy 2017 states,

The Church, based on the message of the gospel, opens its doors to all. It will therefore endeavour to offer pastoral care and support to any member of the church community who may present a known risk".

For further information, please see Section 7 of the House of Bishops’ Practice Guidance: ‘Responding to, assessing and managing safeguarding concerns or allegations against Church Officers’.

This means that there are likely to be those with criminal convictions for sexual offences and other forms of abuse attending church. In addition, there may be those who do not have convictions or cautions but where there are sound reasons for considering that they still might pose a risk to others. Where people may pose a risk to others, their position in a congregation will need to be carefully and sensitively assessed to decide whether they pose a present risk to others and to put in place arrangements to ensure that these risks are mitigated. In these circumstances, it is not only about monitoring individuals but offering support to lead a fulfilled life. As such, the Church has an important role in contributing to the prevention of future abuse.

Some examples of the risk that individuals may pose to children, young people and adults are:

Sexual Offences

Against both adults and children: This includes accessing indecent images of children on the internet.

Financial Abuse

Targeting of vulnerable adults for financial gain, for example, asking for money, the acceptance of large ‘gifts’ or offering to do a job for someone at an extortionate rate of pay.

Take Action

Always contact the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor (DSA) as soon as practicable, but within 24 hours, if you learn that any of the following people worship in your church:

  1. If applicable in your country, anyone placed on the sex offenders register, with a violent offence or conviction and/or who is barred from working with children or adults.
  2. Anyone who admits to being an abuser, including non-recent abuse.
  3. Anyone who is subject to an investigation for suspected abuse, including possession of indecent images of children, and/or is suspended from their usual role.
  4. Anyone who may pose a risk to other church members due to their behaviour, irrespective of their criminal status.

Number 4 above may include a person in relation to whom:

  • An allegation of abuse against a child or adult has been investigated, but the matter has not proceeded to court, or the person has been acquitted, or the matter is currently the subject of proceedings in the criminal or civil courts but the person may still pose a risk.
  • A complaint or grievance has been received alleging inappropriate behaviour, which is not criminal.
  • There have been concerns about the person’s alleged abusive behaviour to a previous or current partner.

If the DSA is made aware by any other source of any person in the above categories who is intending to or is worshipping at a church within the Diocese, they will notify the local Safeguarding Officer/ incumbent in the first instance.

The DSA will determine the appropriate action to be taken to best safeguard the chaplaincy and its congregation/s, based on the particular facts and circumstances of each case. They will undertake a risk assessment and the formation of a risk management plan known as a Safeguarding Agreement.

This will involve the respondent and usually the incumbent, churchwarden, local Safeguarding Officer and, if involved, the police, local child/adult services, probation services, etc. Who is involved will depend on the case.

Responding to those who present a known risk

If a person is assessed as posing a risk to children or adults, the DSA, together with the police and any local agencies involved, will support the parish to:

  • Form a small group of people to offer pastoral support, friendship and to monitor the respondent.
  • Maintain the highest levels of confidentiality unless there is a breach of the agreement and it is necessary to inform others to protect a child or vulnerable adult.
  • Agree with the respondent that he/she worship elsewhere if his/her victim or their family worship in the same church.
  • Ensure the respondent is never offered any official role in the church, or any position of responsibility where he/she may be trusted by others, for example that of churchwarden, worship leader or any in which a child or vulnerable adult may, as a result, place trust in that person.
  • Consider whether, with the person’s agreement and that of any local authorities involved, the congregation should be informed.
  • Meet with the respondent to draft a Safeguarding Agreement, setting out the parameters of his/her behaviour in the church setting.

The Safeguarding Agreement

The Safeguarding Agreement may include the following elements:

The respondent will:

  • Attend designated services or meetings only.
  • Sit apart from children.
  • Stay away from areas of the building where children or vulnerable adults meet.
  • Attend a house group only where there are no children or vulnerable adults.
  • Decline hospitality where there are children or vulnerable adults.
  • Never be alone with children or vulnerable adults.
  • Never work or be part of a mixed group with children or vulnerable adults.
  • Take no role or office in the church which gives him or her status or authority as others may deem that person to be trustworthy.
  • Be under close supervision (e.g. accompanied) and removed from the service/s if they cause a disturbance.
  • Be directed where to sit during service/s.
  • Be refused access to other church activities (e.g. social activities such as tea/coffee after the service, choir and bell ringing activities, etc.).

It is not possible to prevent a member of the congregation from attending divine service, unless it is a condition included in a court order or in his/her licence conditions upon release from prison (although he/she could voluntarily agree not to attend certain services).

Any breach should be shared with the DSA immediately, who will liaise with the police and local agencies, as required.

Should the respondent refuse to sign the agreement the DSA will advise and liaise with the incumbent and local Safeguarding Officer to seek a resolution.

The Safeguarding Agreement must be monitored and reviewed at least annually by the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor.

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