Mandatory reporting of CofE child abuse is complicated, so let’s proceed incrementally

Dec 11, 2017 by

by Martin Sewell, via Archishop Cranmer:

When judges are considering whether children can be returned to failing parents, they set the bar at a fairly low standard: ‘good enough parenting’ is sufficient.

This approach does not involve them in social engineering; it recognises that children do not belong to the state, and it implicitly accepts that in a free society some children will enjoy better life chances than others. It is a pragmatic but also humane approach. Parenting skills amongst the general population vary and no doubt ebb and flow with the vicissitudes of life, but ‘good enough’ is good enough for children, even for those who have been found to have suffered or be likely to suffer significant harm.

My mind went to this as I read of the exchange of letters between Gilo and the Archbishop of Canterbury over the question of whether or not the Church of England should adopt a policy of ‘mandatory reporting’ in cases of child abuse. The debate comes at a time when campaigners are pressing the House of Bishops to ensure that Safeguarding features prominently on the General Synod’s agenda in February.

Many of the church’s victims are fully behind Gilo’s call, for they have suffered unquestionably egregious neglect by the institution, as bishops and even archbishops have not ‘seen’ that which was plain. Peter Ball and others ‘hid in plain sight’, in the same way that Jimmy Savile did at the BBC, and they both got away with it for too long, and for similar reasons.

I do not flatter myself that anybody remembers my maiden speech at General Synod; it was an unscripted intervention on a safeguarding debate which I do not recall myself, but I do know that I reminded Synod that in the secular world, just about every profession – including police, social workers, lawyers – have made the same mistakes over and over again. There have been over 30 reports into the deaths of children since the tragic case of Maria Colwell in Brighton in 1973. It is not new lessons we need, but the application of simple and known principles which are readily available.

All of the reports say the same thing: that everybody knew a little, but nobody joined up the dots. Those trying to make sense of an incomplete picture were insufficiently forensically trained to properly manage the risks.

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