News archive 2013

Statement on Review of Child Safeguarding Structures and Processes in the Diocese of Down and Connor

Statement on Review of Child Safeguarding Structures and Processes in the Diocese of Down and Connor

Context of Report

As part of the arrangements for ensuring best practice in matters of safeguarding, the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSCCCI) recommends that dioceses should:

‘Develop a plan of action to monitor the effectiveness of the steps it is taking to keep children safe’ (Standard 7 of the Standard and Guidance document produced by the Board in 2008)

To ensure adherence and compliance with the above standard, Bishop Noel Treanor commissioned a first external independent review in April 2011 into how the diocese managed concerns, suspicions and allegations made against clergy within the diocese. This comprehensive and detailed report was carried out by Marion Reynolds OBE and Dr John Devaney, Queens University Belfast. The findings were published on the diocesan Safeguarding website in October 2011.

In December 2012 Bishop Treanor commissioned another external and independent review. This time the focus was to provide the Director for Safeguarding and the diocese with a bench mark on the safeguarding practices currently being carried out in the diocese. The focus of the review on this occasion was on the arrangements in place with regard to safeguarding structures at both diocesan and parish level, working arrangements with the statutory sector, and the implementation of policies and procedures to safeguard children and vulnerable adults. This review was undertaken by Dr John Devaney, a senior lecturer in the school of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work at Queen’s University, Belfast.

The Devaney Report was finalised and presented to Bishop Noel Treanor in July 2013. It is a comprehensive review report which examined the performance of the diocese safeguarding practices against the church’s agreed performance standards. The report, which took four months to complete, acknowledges the achievements and the challenges facing the diocese in its efforts to ensure best practice in safeguarding children. Strategically the review findings have helped the diocese to consider those key areas of work to be addressed in its next 3-5 year strategic plan. The report makes practical suggestions about internal management arrangements to support the increasing work of the safeguarding office. It also makes suggestion about staffing and resources to assist parishes to carry out their vital role in safeguarding.

Key Observations of the Devaney Report (2013):

Perhaps one of the most insightful and encouraging comments in the report has been the reference to the fact that:

‘In recent years enormous efforts have been made in setting up systems, developing policies, providing training and implementing procedures in line with the standards within the Catholic Church and the wider civil requirements. The enormity and the complexity of this task should not be underestimated. Safeguarding within the diocese of Down and Connor has come a long way in a relatively short space of time. Within the diocese there is clear evidence of an overarching commitment to keeping children safe in all aspects of diocesan activity and clear leadership by Bishop Treanor.’

In relation to collaborative working relationship Dr Devaney wrote:

‘It was evident in interviews with senior managers from the police and Social Services that there is a high degree of confidence and professionalism of the director and the Coordinator. Throughout the 36 interviews undertaken during the review one of the most consistent themes has been the high regard in which the Diocesan Safeguarding Office is held demonstrated by the commitment it as given to parishioners and external bodies about the importance of safeguarding children, the efficient and appropriate handling of complaints notified to the safeguarding Office.  The role of the Diocesan Safeguarding Office is constantly seen both within and outside the diocese to be to ensure that best practice is followed in keeping children safe.’

Other areas of growth and development highlighted in the review report include:

•   A culture of continuing improvement demonstrated by the commissioning of external reviews to quality assure the current operation of safeguarding practice. ‘This is positive, as it highlights openness, transparency and a commitment to quality rather than adherence to a minimum standard.

•   The development of a Safeguarding Commission within the diocese to provide clear strategic vision

•   The appointment of an Episcopal Vicar for Safeguarding

•   Compulsory training for all volunteers and clergy involved in work with children and young people.

Opportunities for Future Development

In all organisations, whose role is to ensure safe practice in working with children and vulnerable adults, there is always an inherent danger that the organisation become complacent and static in its work. To that end Dr Devaney made a number of recommendations to the Bishop and the Director of Safeguarding for consideration and for the future planning for the delivery of its service to both children and vulnerable adults.

•   A Culture of Safeguarding:

The diocese is well placed to enhance its safeguarding role within the wider community, given its relationship with families, children and community groups. The diocese has cultivated an ethos of volunteering and built significant parish safeguarding structures around the willingness of its volunteers to engage in safeguarding. Dr. Devaney suggested that this level of work could be taken forward in conjunction with other organisations such as the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland, the Health and Social Care Board, the Public Health agency and the Police Service for Northern Ireland. An initial round table of senior managers from these organisations could explore what role the diocese could usefully fulfill to support these statutory agencies in promoting the safeguarding agenda.

•   Fine Tuning Safeguarding Processes:

The diocese has reached an advanced stage in its safeguarding agenda and now needs to consolidate its activities and harness a more strategic approach to the delivery of its services. The creation of a Safeguarding Commission would greatly assist in this regard.

•   The management of those against whom serious complaints have been made:

Dr Devaney recommended that Bishop Treanor, in partnership with his colleagues in the Northern dioceses, seek to establish an arrangement in the monitoring and management of individual priest who fall outside the existing statutory PPANI arrangements but for whom concerns exist about their risk to children and vulnerable adults.

•   Enhancing self-monitoring arrangements:

On an annual basis parishes throughout the diocese provide the Safeguarding Office with parish returns highlighting safeguarding activities and compliance with standards. To date there has been an 88 percent return. The shortfall was noted in this Report by Dr Devaney. Since the implementation of these parish audits in June 2011, Bishop Treanor has emphasised the need for a 100 per cent return and reiterates the importance of such audits as part of the monitoring process of safeguarding structures.

Conclusion to Report

There is clear evidence within the diocese of strong leadership, the growing spread of a culture of safeguarding across all aspects of the work of the Diocese, and an openness to considering how the progress to date can be both sustained and developed.

The next period will be challenging for the Diocese as it moves to develop arrangements to protect and safeguard vulnerable adults. This needs to be managed without any diminution in the high standards expected in relation to the safeguarding of children. The Bishop has stated clearly that both the financial and people resources will continue to be available into the foreseeable future to maintain and develop the systems and processes for ensuring that concerns about individuals are responded to robustly and that those survivors of abuse who come forward to tell their story are listened to compassionately, their needs recognised and the support they need provided. The work of Safeguarding is challenging but achievable.

A full copy of the Devaney Report (2013) is available for download from www.downandconnor.org/safeguarding/children/publications

For media contact: Father Edward McGee Tel. 078111 44268

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