LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A report from the UK government’s Charity Commission for England and Wales has noted a “lack of safeguarding skills and experience” at the Archdiocese of Birmingham meant that church leaders “failed in their duties” to protect the vulnerable.
The Commission launched an investigation into the archdiocese when concerns were raised after the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) selected it as a case study, the final conclusions of which were released in June.
In preparation for the IICSA inquiry hearing in November 2018, the archdiocese commissioned several reviews of its safeguarding procedures, including an audit by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), which reported in October 2018.
SCIE identified a number of concerns relating to safeguarding policies and procedures and managing live risks, eventually leading to the separate Charity Commission inquiry.
According to the commission’s Sep. 3 final report, the inquiry “was concerned that the trustees did not appear to appreciate the inadequacy of the charity’s [the Archdiocese of Birmingham] safeguarding governance and/or had taken insufficient steps with sufficient pace and resource to address this.”
(The Archdiocese of Birmingham is officially registered as the Birmingham Diocesan Trust.)
It said there was a “lack of urgency in the charity’s review of its safeguarding practices,” noting the archdiocese waited over a year and a half after IICSA announced it had selected them as a case study to begin a review of its safeguarding practices.
The Charity Commission met with the trustees and the interim head of “safeguarding transformation” in January 2019 to discuss safeguarding concerns, and then separately met with external consultants brought in by the archdiocese.
“The inquiry confirmed that some safeguarding files were in very poor order; there was no filing system and documents were in no particular order in hanging files. There were no electronic safeguarding records; records were handwritten. It was unclear what some records contained and therefore there was a potential risk that they contained unmanaged safeguarding concerns. There was no central entry point for correspondence into the Diocese. Correspondence was going directly to individuals who filed and dealt with the correspondence themselves, meaning that files could potentially contain safeguarding concerns that had not been recognized as such,” the commission report states.
The Sep. 3 report notes that the archdiocese fully cooperated with the Charity Commission’s inquiry, and that improvements have been made, but added “there is significant progress still to be made on some of the longer term changes required, including the development of a strategic training program, and making changes to the culture of the charity.”
The commission determined that there was “serious misconduct and/or mismanagement” in safeguarding oversight at the Archdiocese of Birmingham.
“The trustees appeared to be either insufficiently aware of the seriousness of the shortcomings in the charity’s safeguarding governance that they should have known about and acted on, alternatively, where they were sighted on problems, they did not adequately or fully address them in the pace or way expected. The trustees’ failure to take appropriate prompt action with regards to safeguarding exposed the charity, beneficiaries and others coming into contact with the charity to undue risk. This impacted on public trust in the charity and its leadership and the reputation of the charity and charity more generally,” the commission said.
“The charity’s culture fell short of the culture and environment expected of a charity of this nature. Whilst safeguarding was not ignored, it was not sufficiently prioritized by the trustees in terms of their oversight of the practice and procedures and their seeking assurance that these were fit for purpose. Safeguarding risks were not adequately managed. The trustees did not ensure that the robust oversight and priority that safeguarding should be given was made a reality or ensure that the standards the public would expect a charity of this nature to adhere to given its work and activities were met,” the report continues.
In its conclusions, the Charity Commission ordered the Archdiocese of Birmingham to take several steps to improve its safeguarding standards, including: The full implementation of a new safeguarding management system; changes to the organizational structure and management and reporting arrangements relating to safeguarding; cultural changes involving the improvement of the delivery of safeguarding training, support to parishes, leadership and its responses to future allegations and incidents; and improving systems and procedures relating to official criminal background checks.
In a statement released in response to the Charity Commission report, the archdiocese said it “is committed to continual improvement of its safeguarding practices,” adding that protecting children and vulnerable adults from harm “remains an absolute priority.”
“Following the publication of the IICSA report earlier this year, we publicly acknowledged that we had failed victims and survivors of abuse. We recognize apologies need to be backed up by action and the Archdiocese is committed to learning from the mistakes of the past and is reviewing its practices and processes to ensure that victims and survivors of abuse receive a compassionate and caring response,” the statement continued.
The archdiocese noted it now has more safeguarding staff, trustees with safeguarding experience, better management and recording systems, a contract to provide external quality assurance and professional supervision of safeguarding staff, and better staff vetting.
“But we remain committed to the ongoing improvement of safeguarding across the Archdiocese and will review and consider the Commission’s findings alongside the IICSA report issued earlier this summer,” the statement concluded.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome
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