Most people will be familiar with Criminal Record checks if they work with people in their church or community groups. They may have been required to do safeguarding training and will be aware that their church or organisation has a safeguarding policy. Having safeguarding policies and procedure in place is now standard practice. But Safeguarding is much more than that. We asked Emma Lawson of thirtyone:eight to give us all some reminders.
It starts with an understanding of God’s call to be a people that protect the weak, (James 1:27), speak up for those whose voices are not heard (Proverbs 31:8), follow Jesus’ example of servant leadership, (Luke 22:26) and pursue His heart for justice (Micah 6:8). Protecting vulnerable people – children, young people and adults with additional care and support needs – is a justice issue, and we worship a God of justice and hope.
It’s important to appoint someone to co-ordinate your safeguarding efforts (sometimes known as the Safeguarding Coordinator/Officer/Designated Lead) or a team of people who are responsible for overseeing all your safeguarding activity. However, it’s also important to raise awareness that protecting vulnerable people is everyone’s concern – from leaders and trustees to church members.
The focus of safeguarding can often be on the workers and whether they’ve had safeguarding training. But do children know who they could go to if they had any concerns? What would make them feel safer? Communicating safeguarding policy and procedure in an accessible way is crucial. Make sure everyone in your church community knows who the Safeguarding Coordinators are and how to contact them.
Make people aware of how they can access your church’s safeguarding policy. Place posters in key places around your premises both in public and administrative spaces and ensure that any safeguarding information is given in a user-friendly format – simple language for the young, a readable font for those with limited sight, in pictures, Braille or Makaton, and posters at a height where small children or those in wheelchairs can see them. Have a statement on your website along with contact details about how to get a copy of the policy.
Keep the leadership team and trustees up to date on current issues and best practice – church leaders need to understand the importance of creating a safer, open culture for safeguarding to be taken seriously and lead on making the church a safer place for all.
Consider making time in a service or dedicating a whole service to safeguarding and how your church is committed to being a safer place for all and be prepared to respond well should someone raise safeguarding concerns.
While policies and procedures are good on paper, don’t forget to bring them to life as an advocate for young people and adults at risk. Show up in person. Be an active safeguarding presence in your church. Consider being part of the interview panel when appointing workers to explain the responsibilities they would carry for passing on safeguarding concerns to you, giving assurances that appropriate training will be provided. Distribute your policy to all workers including volunteers as part of their induction. Consider occasionally attending activities and meeting with workers so that you become a familiar face to the children, adults at risk and workers alike. You’ll be making it easier for them to come to you with any concerns. At trustee meetings, ensure that safeguarding is always on the agenda and keep the leadership informed on good practice. By doing this, you’ll be instrumental in making your place of worship a safer environment for all.
When we think of safeguarding in a church context, we often think of leaders abusing their position, but if churches are engaging with their communities – running toddler groups, foodbanks, money management courses, for example – safeguarding issues will arise. Abuse can take many forms, for example, financial abuse, so knowing how to respond well is important and it helps to be prepared. Christians, of all people, should know how broken the world is. The Church, of all places, should be a safer place – a place of hope and healing. By helping everyone in your church to understand the importance of safeguarding, you’re playing your part in the biblical call to care for vulnerable people.