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Safeguarding People

Allegations and Concerns (DRAFT)

If you are concerned that a child or vulnerable adult has been harmed or is at risk of harm, contact the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser on 020 7939 9423 (office hours), 07982 279713 (out of hours). Don't delay!

Receiving and responding to disclosures or observations of abuse or inappropriate behaviour

This procedure relates to all kinds of safeguarding disclosures or observations which occur on your church premises (including in situations where the premises are hired), in your church-related activities, and regarding those who attend your church and its related activities.

If the disclosure or allegation concerns a church officer, then it must be read in conjunction with section 6.4.

Allegations of abuse or concerns about a child or vulnerable adult may arise in a number of ways in the parish context:

  • a child or vulnerable adult discloses alleged abuse
  • an adult discloses concern for a child or vulnerable adult
  • an adult discloses concerns about the behaviour of another adult, or a child
  • you notice signs of potential abuse of a child or vulnerable adult.

There may also be situations where you are informed of or observe behaviour which is inappropriate and may potentially lead to abuse. For such concerns, you are advised to consult with the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser.

Hearing a disclosure of abuse or mistreatment

All disclosures must be taken seriously. It is of vital importance that if a child or vulnerable adult discloses experience of abuse or mistreatment, you listen carefully to the child or adult disclosing:

  • take him or her seriously
  • don't judge
  • ask open, non-leading questions
  • don't promise to keep it secret
  • tell him or her, if you can, what you will do next
  • check you have got their details
  • carefully record the conversation as soon as possible and keep the record in a secure place.

Observing signs of potential abuse or mistreatment

If you observe injuries or behaviours in children which are consistent with those described in section 9.3, or in vulnerable adults which are consistent with those described in section 9.4, you should:

  • ask open questions about any injuries you observe
  • note what the child says in response
  • carefully record your observations as soon as possible and keep the record in a secure place.

Disclosures from adults about a child or vulnerable adult

Adults may speak of concerns about a child or the behaviour of an adult. These should be listened to carefully, and the conversations should be recorded. The adult needs to know that if it is considered that a child or vulnerable adult is suffering significant harm, the information will have to be passed on, whether or not the adult making the disclosure wishes this to happen.

Most situations are not emergencies. However:

If a child or vulnerable adult needs immediate medical help, call emergency services, and ensure that ambulance and hospital staff are informed of any protection concerns. If it would be dangerous for the child or vulnerable adult to return home, or he or she does not want to return home and you are sufficiently concerned for their safety, contact the emergency social care service or the police.

If you observe a child or vulnerable adult being harmed or at risk of harm by someone other than a family member, you should inform the parents or carers immediately, and work with them on appropriate referral to police or social care.

Capacity, consent and confidentiality relating to vulnerable adults

The ability of adults to choose their lifestyle and to take risks is a fundamental right, but protecting an adult from harm may involve some invasion of personal autonomy.

Every adult has the right to make decisions and must be assumed to have capacity to do so unless it is proved otherwise. Everyone should be encouraged and enabled to make their own decisions, or to participate as fully as possible in decision-making, by being given the help and support they need to make and express their own choices.

Decisions made on behalf of people without capacity should be made in their best interests, giving priority to what they themselves would have wanted. There is currently no universal accepted definition of mental capacity and the assessment of capacity, but there is guidance, in 'No Secrets1'.

1. No Secrets: Guidance on developing and implementing multi-agency policies and procedures to protect vulnerable adults from abuse

In all circumstances where alleged abuse or mistreatment of a vulnerable adult has been disclosed or observed, that information should be shared in the first instance with the incumbent or the Parish Safeguarding Officer, who in turn should share it with the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser (see procedure below). This needs to be done, regardless of whether the victim has given consent to the information being shared. At this stage the information remains confidential to those people, and is being shared for the purpose of assessing what action should be taken next.

The DSA will then assess with the parish whether the consent of a person to an adult protection investigation and intervention should be overridden, if necessary taking legal advice. Consent is likely to be overridden in the following circumstances:

  • a common law duty of care applies in extreme circumstances
  • the person lacks capacity to make a particular decision
  • other vulnerable adults are placed at risk
  • the alleged perpetrator is a paid carer, a church officer, or is also a vulnerable adult
  • a criminal offence has been or may have been committed.

The circumstances of domestic abuse involving an alleged victim who has capacity but does not consent may be an exception.

If consent is not given, and the above grounds to override consent do not apply, the wishes of the vulnerable adult will be respected, but if a criminal offence may have been committed, the police will be informed on an information only basis.

Disclosures of historic abuse

In the course of their work ministers and those offering pastoral support may hear disclosure from adults regarding abuse that happened to them when they were children, or from children regarding abuse that happened to them when they were younger.

The wishes of an adult disclosing abuse are very important. For some adults, just being able to talk to a trusted person about their experiences can be in itself healing, and the pastoral care of the person who has been abused should be a priority.

A referral to the police will not always be necessary unless the individual wishes to report the offence; however, they should be encouraged and supported to do so.

Adults disclosing historic abuse need to be made aware, however, that if the alleged abuser is still potentially working with or caring for children, a referral to the Children's Social Care Service will be made, and the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser must be informed.

Responding to disclosures or observations of abuse or mistreatment

The person receiving the disclosure or observing the signs of abuse should:

  • never speak directly to the person against whom allegations have been made, or whom they may suspect, or the parents of an alleged perpetrator under the age of 18
  • never attempt to investigate the situation themselves
  • write down what has happened or been said - keep their notes
  • don't delay - inform either the incumbent or the Parish Safeguarding Officer within 24 hours of the disclosure being made.

They should then:

  • check that an appropriate referral has been made
  • make sure support is in place for the child or vulnerable adult
  • seek support for themselves
  • make a record of what actions they have taken, give their record to the Parish Safeguarding Officer and ensure it is kept in the secure cabinet.

The incumbent or Parish Safeguarding Officer should:

  • without delay, seek advice and share the information immediately with the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser (DSA)
  • if the allegation or observation of abuse relates to clergy or a church officer, the DSA will instigate the procedures to be followed in section 5.4
  • if it does not relate to clergy or a church officer, with the DSA assess whether the referral may constitute significant actual or potential harm, and if so, make a referral to Police or Social Care with the support of the DSA.




After a referral to Police or Social Care

  • Co-operate with statutory agencies
    • don't interfere
    • be guided by them before any further action is taken
    • attend multi-agency strategy meetings if invited
  • inform the archdeacon, if not already aware, and keep both the archdeacon and the DSA informed of progress
  • inform the parish insurance company
  • within the advice of statutory agencies, ensure that those who need support are offered it.

Who needs support?

Situations are usually complex: sometimes victims and alleged perpetrators may both be part of the church community, and extended family and friends may also be affected and have views. The following people may need support:

  • The victim
  • The family and friends of the alleged victim
  • The alleged perpetrator
  • The family and friends of the alleged perpetrator
  • Other members of the congregation affected
  • The person to whom the disclosure was made, or who observed the signs of abuse
  • The incumbent
  • The Parish Safeguarding Officer.

It helps to be clear about who is supporting whom - separate out the roles. One person cannot support everyone, and some may require referral to specialist support. See section 7 for further guidance.

And afterwards

  • Try to remain non-judgemental, and don't take sides
  • Don't gossip - and try to stop others gossiping
  • Carry out a risk assessment on your activities (see section 4.2) - review the way the parish runs things - could risks be reduced to prevent a similar situation arising?
  • Once the investigation has been completed, ensure a risk assessment is carried out on the person posing risk, and appropriate safeguarding action is taken to minimise the risk (see section 8).

Flow chart: responding to disclosures or observations of abuse

Responding to disclosures or observations of abuse