Monday, 6 January 2014

Parents against child sexual exploitation

This valuable small voluntary body has teamed up with the Virtual College to create a free on-line tool for parents to learn to recognize the signs of child sexual exploitation. It takes 20-30 minutes to do and can be found at

Friday, 2 August 2013

Daniel Pelka

The short and wretched life of Daniel Pelka who was starved, tortured and eventually murdered by his mother and step-father has distressed even those of us who have deal regularly with such matters. I heard Professor Ray Jones talk helpfully about this on the radio and he has now put his thoughts in writing. You can read them at:|SCCC|SC019-2013-0108#.UfuBMqJwaid.

He says: 'It is somehow not enough to just blame Daniel’s mother and her partner, who were found guilty of his murder yesterday.This time the school is the focus of attention, but already social workers are also being held to account.'

It does seem very strange that teachers and others noticed that Daniel was starving - four year olds do not normally scavenge for food in dustbins - but they were fobbed off by his mother's fabricated account that he had an eating disorder. But we should suspend judgement. There will be a Serious Case Review, conducted by Coventry Safeguarding Children Board, and this will be published.

In his article Professor Jones calls attention to the national context in which services are operating: increasing poverty, rising demand for protective services, and reduced funding. Of course poverty does not excuse deliberately starving and torturing Daniel, and immediate statutory services - though not support services - have been financially protected. But rising demand does make it more difficult to identify high risk cases, and the task of doing so is one which other agencies are often all too happy to pass to Children's Social Care who can then be blamed when there is a death like this.

But there is another issue about Serious Case Reviews. The ostensible purpose of these is to learn lessons from what happened but there can easily be two underlying assumptions which are hard to challenge. One is that  all deaths of this kind are preventable. Some may be - and this one certainly looks like one - but not all. And the other is that if they are not prevented then responsibility lies with the professionals rather than the perpetrators and it is they who should be blamed. We saw this with the Peter Connelly ('baby P') case in Haringey a few years ago and it can happen again with Daniel Pelka.

Serious Case Reviews also cost a great deal of money and take up a lot of time and energy which, arguably, would be better spent improving services. However, they do have their value - and I write as someone who has conducted several. The government has recently encouraged Local Safeguarding Children Boards to use a variety of methods to conduct them. But we come back to a few home truths.
  • Safeguarding is everyone's business. If you think a child is at risk, report it and keep on doing so.
  • Bring a healthy dose of scepticism to implausible explanations of problems.
  • The responsibility for this death lies squarely with the two people convicted of murder.

Monday, 22 July 2013

The Underwear rule

The NSPCC has launched a campaign which aims to help parents and carers have simple conversations with their children to keep them safe from sexual abuse. They have produced resources based on the Underwear Rule which teaches children that their body belongs to them; they have a right to say no; and they should tell an adult if they feel worried or upset.
Source: NSPCC Website 08 July 2013
Further information:
The Underwear Rule resources

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Clergy Discipline

Most clergy and nearly all church goers can spend their entire lives without hearing about the Clergy Discipline Measure. I certainly hadn't before I started this job. But now I find myself responding to consultation about possible changes to it. What is it? Well, most clergy in parishes are not employees but office-holders. As they are not employees the Diocese cannot have the kind of disciplinary policy that other employers need, at least not for its parochial clergy. Instead we have this Measure, which is an Act of Parliament.

It is a cumbersome document, which comes along with a Code of Practice. A copy of this sits on my desk: it runs to 253 numbered paragraphs. And since it is not a policy, which could be changed relatively quickly, any changes have to go through the parliamentary process. That is the journey on which the national church has embarked. It is doing so to give effect to some of the proposals which arose out of the Chichester report, which pointed out gaps and anomalies in the Measure. Those of us involved in these things have known about them for some time - some of them were identified through the Past Cases Review of a few years ago - but Chichester has given the necessary push to move things along.

What are the gaps and anomalies? I shall raise three:

Removing the time limit for bringing allegations of sexual abuse

There is normally a time limit of one year to bring a complaint against a cleric. But survivors of sexual abuse are often not able to tell their story until a considerable time has passed - sometimes many years. So the one year limit is not appropriate for such cases. It can be dispensed with but this is currently another formal process which can take three months. So I welcome the proposed removal of the time limit.

Extending the bishop's power of suspension

If a serious allegation is made against an ordinary worker, the employer can suspend the worker, and will normally do so unless the allegation clearly has no substance. I put it like this as there can be malicious allegations or even - I have had such a case - one of mistaken identity. Clergy are not employees and so cannot be suspended unless they have been arrested. So they currently have to be asked to withdraw voluntarily while matters are investigated. This is an absurd position which needs rectifying.

Amending the law on risk assessments

There is a worrying area of concern where a cleric has been the subject of an allegation, or possible several different allegations, but for various reasons none of them have led to a conviction. We then are likely to seek a risk assessment from an individual or organization which specializes in this work. The Lucy Faithfull Foundation is one such, and it is used not only by churches but also by government bodies. What if the cleric refuses to go for risk assessment? The proposal is that such a refusal should constitue a disciplinary offence and be dealt with under the Measure. This is quite a complicated issue, since it involves a judgement on someone who has not been convicted, but on balance I support it.

There are other proposals, and I shall also be pressing for a change which is not in the list of  proposals. Currently, it is a criminal offence for a person in a position of trust, such as a teacher or youth worker, to have a sexual relationship with a 16 or 17 year old for whom they are responsible. But this only applies in the statutory sector. So it does not apply to teachers or youth workers in the voluntary sector - nor to clergy. I think we should be asking that it should.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Postcode lotteries

The NHS is intended, at least in theory, to provide a consistent level of service across the country. However, local authorities, again in theory, can set levels of service in accordance with local decisions: they can provide more services but will have to charge more council tax to fund it, or alternatively they can reduce council tax but will have to reduce services to match.

I have said 'in theory' both times because the practice is rather different. The NHS is less consistent than you might expect. Funding was controlled by Primary Care Teams until April this year when the bulk of it was handed over to new Clinical Commissioning groups. Their funding - and therefore priorities - will vary across the country.

Local authorities have, however, been moving in the opposite direction. The bulk of their funding comes not from council tax but from a central government grant. They are severely constrained by what they can raise through council tax because governments impose caps so as to control overall public spending.

The whole system is fiendishly complicated and very few people know or care about the detail. Many people do not appreciate that hospital and community health care comes from the NHS while social care such as care homes and domiciliary care from local authorities. NHS care is free at the point of delivery, apart from such things as prescription charges for those who are liable, whereas social care is chargeable and the charges can be high.

Both entitlement to social care and the charging arrangements vary across the country. This reflects the different histories and priorities of different local authorities - as well as such things as the demographic makeup, affluence or deprivation and politics. But many people feel - whether rightly or wrongly - that this is unfair, and that entitlement to services should be consistent across the country. When local authorities are hard pressed financially, they manage by reducing entitlement to services. There is a national classification for this: needs may be low, moderate, substantial or critical. Local authorities have been free to set their own eligibility thresholds for services within this scheme.

Now the government has decided there should be a national scheme, and it will be set at the level of substantial need. Most local authorities do this already but a few have set their threshold at the critical level. Will this be affordable? The government estimates it will cost £23 million a year to do this. On the other hand, it would cost £2 billion a year to lower thresholds to the moderate level.

The fact that the NHS is a separate organization - or rather a number of separate organizations - from local authorities, and their boundaries may well not coincide means that there all sorts of perverse incentives in the system. In one sentence: more social care would reduce the need for hospital care. The government has recognized this and is transferring £3.8 billion from the NHS to be jointly managed with local authorities to provide more social care. This is not new money, and local authorities have already had substanital reductions in their funding. But it will certainly help.

What I consider we really need is full integration of adult social care with the NHS, so that perverse incentives can be ironed out. I wish the big reorganization of the NHS had concentrated on this. But it is good that it is beginning to happen now.

Monday, 24 June 2013

The Jeremy Forrest case

Jeremy Forrest, the teacher who had a sexual relationship with a pupil of 15 and took her away to France, has now been convicted and sentenced. That is quite right and proper. I urge everyone interested to read the sentencing remarks of the judge, whcih are brief, clear and easily available at:

There are few points worth making about this. Firstly, the importance and value of an age of consent. Yes, those under that age may be - at least at the time - willing to enter into a sexual relationship but the age of consent makes this illegal and invalidates their consent. It is therefore a protection for them.

Then the judge, inadvertently no doubt, raised the possibility of Forrest waiting until the girl was 16. However, a sexual relationship with her would still have been illegal, as he was in a position of trust in relation to her, and in that situation the age of consent is 18. This was originally introduced in 2000 and is now in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 at Section 21. However, the offence as so defined currently only applies in the statutory sector. So a teacher or a youth worker who has such a relationship commits the offience if they are in the statutory sector but not if they are in the voluntary sector. So it is not a criminal offence in church life - although it most certainly is a disciplinary one. I think this is anomalous and that the offence should be extended to the voluntary sector and should include ministers of religion (of any faith).

Then we should consider the issue when the parties are of a comparable age. It is obviously one thing if a man of 30 has an affair with a girl of 15, but what if she has a relationship with a boyfriend who is also 15? If you are the parent of either, perhaps particularly of the girl, you would not be happy, but is it necessarily abuse? It may well not be, and the police may consider that it is not in the public interest to prosecute such cases.

As for Romeo and Juliet, the issue was not her age, which was 14 and which at one point her father thought was too young, but the fact that her preferred husband was from the other faction in Verona. Had she been willing to marry her father's choice there would have been no issue. But that takes us into the issue of arranged marriages versus love marriages and that is a quite different issue.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Disclosure and Barring Service June 2013 changes

When I was at our national safeguarding conference in January there was a fine for any time anyone said CRB instead of DBS, the Disclosure and Barring Service. Since December 2012 the DBS has combined the functions of the former CRB and the former Independent Safeguarding Authority.

Now we have a new round of changes. They were signalled a long time ago but the actual detail only came out three weeks ago - and over a Bank Holiday - which has made us scramble to come to terms with them and issue new guidance. I need to mention four of these:

Relevancy test

This affects how the job or role is described.

Filtering rules

Following a court decision the DBS will be removing details of convictions which count as 'spent' from their certificates. Some convictions, such as those for offences against children or for violence, will never count as spent for this purpose, but the rules are complicated.

Single certificate

The DBS will cease issuing two copies of each certificate and now issue only one, to the applicant. Parishes who subscribe to the ebulk service from Churches Agency for Safeguarding will receive notifications of clear certificates. Those who use the paper service will need ask the applicant to bring in their certificate so it can be logged.

Update service

When the government consulted on this, the biggest complaint came not about the need to get a DBS certificate in the first place, but the need to repeat it for other employers. This Diocese has always operated a policy of portability for volunteers but many employers did not. It was always legal but the CRB, as was, used to discourage it. The new Update service is designed to meet this need, so that those applying for new certificates can also for a fee (unless they are volunteers) register for the Update service. Subsequent employers can then check whether their certificate is clear.

Detailed guidance on all this has been sent to countersignatories, recruiters and verifiers and will shortly also be posted on the Diocesan website.