General articles

Safeguarding update

by Chris Mew, CC Tower Stewardship Committee

Latest version of the Church of England’s Guidelines on Child Protection
– this document is available, price £6.99, from Church House Publishing,
Church House, Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3AZ or it can be
downloaded, free of charge, from:
http://www.churchofengland.org/media/37378/protectingallgodschildren.pdf

In the period since mid-November there have been a number of developments regarding Safeguarding as applied to the Protection of both Children and Vulnerable Adults. Hitherto Government legislation relating to both the Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS) for England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme for Scotland had both been on hold pending review. The Church of England itself had only issued interim statements awaiting clarification of legal positions.

Protecting All God’s Children

Overshadowed by Christmas and New Year many will have not been aware of the issue by the House of Bishops on 24th November of a new 4th Edition of the Policy for Safeguarding Children in the Church of England, known as “Protecting all God’s Children” (PAGC). This document replaces that last issued in 2004 and in parallel there was a new issue of “Safeguarding Guidelines relating to Safer Recruitment”. Both of these documents were issued on the basis of known legislative intention at the time and this is referred to in several places.

The importance of these two documents for ringers, and indeed other church volunteer groups, is that, perhaps prompted by legal considerations, there is some clarification regarding issues which have caused problems in some areas. PAGC, Section 5.6 might seem to encourage blanket checking stating that the policy “includes, but is not restricted to, teaching, training and care of children …”. However, Section 5.34, referring to mixed-age group activities (choirs, bell ringing and serving), states that “it is not possible to request CRB checks or ISA registration for adults in those groups unless they have specific responsibilities for children”. The conclusion is that the leaders of such groups should be designated and safely recruited – this accords with the prevailing view that Tower Captains and Deputies need to be checked.

Two further points cover the transporting of children on behalf of the church (i.e. a regular organised function) which should require checks and the fact that 16/17-year-olds assisting with children might require checks under ISA criteria.

The Safer Recruiting document largely covers the day to day processes for recruitment and checking within parishes and reinforces the principles set out in PAGC. In Appendix 1 are listed those roles which should usually require a CRB check and these include “All Tower Captains, Ringing Masters and Adult Ringers who train/teach children under 16”. There is a corresponding list of roles that do not usually qualify for a CRB check and, in the main text, a warning on the possible illegality of unwarranted checks.

All of the foregoing strengthens the position of ringers and others subjected to pressure for CRB checks where no direct responsibility for children is involved. There is, however, a very guarded view on the acceptability of the notion of “portability” of CRB checks even between different activities within one church. There is also a restatement of the policy the CRB checks should be renewed at least every five years.

Church in Wales

Previous reference to the 2006 Act which encompasses Wales needs to recognise that the Church in Wales has its own Child Protection Policy quite separate from the Church of England PAGC.  However, the Welsh policy is very similar and applies to those responsible for and having intensive contact with children under 18.

In the context of ringers the list of roles for which CRB checks are expected includes Tower Captains and other adults with specific responsibility.

Protecting Vulnerable Groups Scheme (Scotland)

The postponement of the Protecting Vulnerable Groups Act in Scotland was relatively short having moved from 30th November 2010 to an announcement in January that “go live” date would be 28th February, 2011. The scheme has not been materially altered and the provisions outlined in The Ringing World article of November, 2010, p.1119 apply.

I have met with church representatives in Edinburgh and, not surprisingly with a small number of towers involved, both the Church of Scotland and Episcopal Church have a pragmatic approach to bell-ringing activities. Both bodies assume that those leading youth activities should, eventually, be members of the PVG scheme. The Church of Scotland recognises the peripatetic nature of ringers and has no problem with suitably checked people teaching youngsters at more than one tower. For the immediate future the requirement is for any new volunteers who are teaching or have unsupervised contact with children to go through the checking process. Those engaged in these activities already and who have enhanced Disclosure Scotland check need take no action.

English legislation – Media statements

I make no apology here for making reference to a number of media statements which, to say the least, have been misleading. In November a High Court case involving nurses decreed that their Human Rights had been breached and this was interpreted by the press as confirming the Vetting and Barring Scheme to be illegal. The case centred around instances of “automatic barring” and the issue was not the legality of the scheme as a whole but the fact that the nurses had not been given opportunity to make representations before barring took place.

On 19th January the BBC television programme The One Show featured an item regarding the CRB checking of flower arrangers at Gloucester Cathedral and interviewed Canon Celia Thomson. The aim was to portray the church’s action as being extreme and perhaps to discredit the VBS scheme.

Finally, on 5th February, following a report in The Daily Telegraph, the BBC News featured a statement that “the Child safety vetting scheme was to be scrapped” – untrue and playing on reservations and fears about the VBS scheme.

Protection of Freedoms Bill

It was perhaps under pressure that the Government published in quick succession on 11th February its Report and Recommendations of the Vetting and Barring Scheme Review. It is the intention that alterations to the SVG Act affecting the Vetting and Barring Scheme should be made under the Protection of Freedoms Bill which was introduced before Parliament on the same day. It should be stressed that the provisions of the Bill are in draft and are subject to the will of Parliament, the target for Royal Assent being November, 2011 with introduction of provisions phased over 2012 with full introduction of the revised disclosure and vetting service in 2013.

The key changes proposed are as follows:

 

  1. The range of activities classed as “regulated” to be reduced
  2. Registration with a central Government body not required.
  3. “Controlled activity” status to be abolished along with monitoring.
  4. Provision for individuals to make representations regarding barring before being barred.
  5. The CRB and ISA organisations to merge.
  6. Provision for portability of disclosures between activities.

 

Although only in draft state, detailed clauses of the Bill would see that voluntary work with children on a temporary or occasional basis and work carried out under supervision would not be regulated. This would mean that ringers assisting with children under the supervision of a tower captain would not be classed as regulated (the present position but formalised). Similarly it would remove as a regulated activity working with those young people between 16 and 18 years of age.

There would be provision for an employer to check whether a prospective employee/volunteer was barred along the lines of the Scottish Act. This could be done by an application for disclosure with the consent of the individual (as now), it could also be fulfilled by checking an enhanced CRB certificate held by the individual and which related to working with children. The latter effectively gives acceptance of portability of previous disclosures. Applications for disclosure by an organisation would, as now, be accompanied by a declaration of need and a false application would continue to be a legal offence.

In summary the advantages for ringers would be:

 

  • No need for central registration
  • Portability of disclosures
  • Supervised work with young ringers exempt
  • Illegality of unjustified request for disclosure acknowledged

 

The Future

Clearly, despite the original legislation having been passed in 2006, there is a long way to go before the letter of the law is confirmed and practical processes made known. In the meantime, the modifications proposed and the Church of England’s own new guidelines, if followed, both represent a sensible level of expectation for child protection. The one aspect which has not changed is the challenge of trying to achieve consistency of approach between Dioceses and Parishes. In that respect the advisory services of the Committee look set to remain in demand.

Chris Mew
for Tower Stewardship Committee
CCCBR

 

Appendix to Guidance Note No.3 – Child Protection in Bell Towers

 

Ringing Activities and Legal Requirements

The following points and associated table sets out what ringers need to watch out for and take appropriate action.

Ringing activities NOT legally requiring any CRB checks:

 

  • Teaching children under supervision of a CRB checked leader
  • Helping with young people by ringing another bell or standing behind
  • General ringing at practices, meetings and on outings
  • Visitors to towers
  • One-off teaching or deputising
  • Transporting juniors as a one-off domestic arrangement.

 

Ringing activities legally REQUIRING CRB check where carried out on a regular basis or involving overnight stay (for example weekend courses)

Activity

 

Supervision by

 

CRB checking by

 

New checking
arranged by

 

Face to face teaching
by Tower Captain
or
Deputy:
Home tower

 

Tower Captain

 

PCC

 

PCC

 

Transporting juniors as formal arrangement
Irrespective of frequency

 

Church or Guild as organiser

 

PCC

 

PCC

 

Face to face teaching organised by Guild

 

Tower Captain of Host Tower or Guild Officer

 

Guild Officers

 

Guild/Diocese by arrangement

 

 

Notes:

 

  1. It has been clarified that helping teaching at different towers as an individual would not be aggregated but if, for example, a Guild organised a series of weekly training events, albeit at different towers, then that would be classed as a regulated activity because of the common provider.
  2. It should be noted that UNDER SUPERVISION EXEMPTION applies to teachers and helpers if they are under the supervision of a CRB checked leader recognised by the local church.
  3. Checking of CRB status can be carried out by the appointed responsible Child Protection person within the Parish involved or by the Guild. In all cases permission of the person whose status is being checked must be obtained.
  4. CRB checking of persons NEWLY taking up teaching activities in a supervisory/leader capacity will normally be dealt with by the Parish. The status of those already CRB checked through other activities (such as school teacher) can also be checked by
  5. the church.

 

26th February 2011

BB BellBoard
CC
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers