Concerns over Independent Safeguarding Board’s Independence
Members of the Independent Safeguarding Board, set up to provide vital scrutiny of the Church of England’s safeguarding processes, have accused the Church of England of frustrating its work and hampering its independence.
The week before Synod, the Archbishop’s Council had announced “that the review of the handling of safeguarding issues regarding the former Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, Dr Martyn Percy, originally referred to the Independent Safeguarding Board, ISB, should be led by another person…
“Due to ongoing concerns about current working relationships and the conclusion of the ICO [Information Commissioner’s Office] investigation into the Chair the Council also agreed at its January meeting that the three ISB members should enter into a dispute resolution process to ensure this important independent work can continue with effective collaborative working between its members.”
In a paper released before General Synod, the ISB expressed disappointment at not being permitted to present a report to Synod members. “The Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) is committed to sharing its thinking and emerging findings. Despite attempts to secure an opportunity to update Synod in person, no time was made available. We do not believe that the importance of ISB work is consistent with a ‘fringe’ activity…
“Safe Spaces is the only national service provided by the Church of England (jointly with the Catholic Church) to support victims/survivors of Church abuse. The ISB has raised concerns about the nature, scope, and quality of the service provided by Safe Spaces… the levels of engagement and transparency have been disappointing.
“In Safe Spaces, the Church of England has co-created a delivery vehicle that frustrates the ISB’s ability to assure a critical safeguarding service.”
The paper also highlighted concerns about the Independence of the Independent Safeguarding Board: “The current position of the ISB in the Church’s infrastructure is unsustainable. The Archbishop’s Council trustees provide the funding for the Board’s operations and acts as the employer of its staff, subject to task management by the ISB itself…
“In its first year, the ISB has experienced multiple instances in which its independence and freedom to operate has been hampered. The ISB does not consider that it is sufficiently independent from those it is responsible for scrutinising. The independent minds of board members need to be supported by an independent body, the operation of which cannot be frustrated by the Church.”
During a Safeguarding presentation to General Synod, lead safeguarding bishop, Rt Revd Jonathan Gibbs acknowledged, “there remain challenges around how the Church can best ensure effective external scrutiny of its safeguarding work. The Archbishops’ Council set up the Independent Safeguarding Board, ISB, to begin this work and to help us to think through what would be required in the longer term. As you will be aware, we are currently seeking to address some issues about which it would not be appropriate to say more at this stage, but we look forward to working with the ISB to find a way forward as soon as possible.”