The Church of England and the Methodist church are currently updating their safeguarding policies to keep abreast of the change from CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) to DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) checks. DBS checks will have 'portability', which means an individual only needs one, rather than a separate check for every role they have in working with children and vulnerable adults.
Following guidance from the Charity Commissioners, the CofE has published its latest guidance for Dioceses and parishes.
Along with 13,000 other parishes, we're trying to process what all this means. This paragraph (from p42) is of particular interest:
Members of the Parochial Church Council (PCC), church council or circuit meeting
Where the parish, church or circuit works with children and/ or vulnerable adults, then all members of these governing bodies, as Charity Trustees, are deemed to be in Group 2 and as such are eligible for a criminal record check. The detailed justification for this is that prior to the Protection of Freedoms Act they were engaged in Regulated Activity according to the previous definition, and therefore remain eligible for a criminal record check without barring information.
....A minimum of three checks should always be undertaken: the safeguarding lead person and the two church wardens (C of E) or senior stewards (MC). For the other members, the meeting can decide on what checks are appropriate. It would not normally be deemed necessary to require checks from the all trustees.
This is a bit confusing: Our PCC has a membership of just over 20, and we have a children and families worker (employed by the PCC), midweek childrens groups and Junior Church on Sunday. Will PCC members, even if they have no direct involvement with childrens work, now have to be vetted? It's not actually that clear - they are eligible, but not required? When would checks be required? How can the meeting decide what is appropriate? Multiply that by 13,000 Anglican parishes, plus all the Methodist circuits (and equivalents in other churches) and that's a lot of paperwork.
Does there comes a point at which a system designed to protect children and vulnerable adults actually begins to do more harm than good? We rightly are getting much more vigilant about abuse and the kind of behaviour that safeguarding is aiming to stamp out. But no tally is kept of the childrens and vulnerable adults activities which close, or never open, and the volunteers who don't materialise, because of the quantities of paperwork and bureaucracy. And where does it stop? Every one of the 102 adults at our church on Sunday had contact with children. Our regular members have regular contact with children - will they all need vetting too?
The irony is that the best thing the government could do to safeguard children is to invest in parenting. Whilst volunteers jump through more hoops than a dog agility champion, parents are simply left to their own devices, with occasionally tragic results.
We recently recruited a number of volunteers to do pastoral visiting on behalf of the church. Wider church safeguarding policy rightly required us to use a 'safe recruitment form'. All well and good, except that using the form might have recruited us people who were 'safe', but there was no scope to ask about pastoral competence or gifts, we had to reinvent the form to make it fit for purpose.
This is symptomatic of the bigger picture. It seems absurd to me that so much time and effort will go into vetting volunteers, some of whom are going to have no contact at all with the people we are trying to protect, whilst there is no national policy or framework for equipping mums and dads with the basic skills of good parenting and relationships. We may even get to a point where statistically, the safest place for a child to be is away from their parents. Are we straining out gnats and swallowing camels?