Thursday, 30 May 2013

Basically . . . porn is everywhere

This is the title of the latest report from the office of the Children's Commissioner. They undertook it because it emerged in the work for their previous report, on Child Sexual Exploitation by gangs and groups, that many of the boys and young man who became involved in police enquiries had spoken of their use of pornography.

Their findings are, in summary:

1  A significant proportion of children and young people are exposed to or access pornography;

2  Children and young people’s exposure and access to pornography occur both online and offline;

3  Exposure and access to pornography appear to increase with age;

4  Exposure is more prevalent than (ostensibly) deliberate access;

5  There are gender differences in exposure and access to pornography;
6 Access and exposure to pornography affect children and young people’s sexual beliefs;
7  Access and exposure to pornography are linked to children and young people’s engagement in “risky behaviours”;
8  Exposure to sexualised and violent imagery affects children and young people.

Arising from this are several recommendations, mostly relating to the need for good education in sex and relationships.

I went to a conference on this subject before the report came out, and I was particularly struck by the remark of the presenter, who herself had a teenage son. He had expressed some interest in pornography, to which her response was: 'Do you really want to hand over control of your sexual life to commercial interests?' He later admitted that her remark 'had really killed it' for him.

You can see the report at

Monday, 20 May 2013

Local Safeguarding Adult Boards

The Queen's speech promised an overhaul of adult safeguarding. This is the latest stage in a process of policy development which started with an excellent report by the Law Commission in 2011, followed by a draft Care and Support Bill which gave effect to many of its recommendations, and now we have an announcement in the Queen's speech. Much of the attention has rightly focused on the feasibility of improving the service to vulnerable adults at a time when local authority budgets are being considerably reduced and also on the effect of the Dilnot proposals on the funding of residential care which in reduced form are also in the Bill and the announcement.

But I want to point to another part of the changes. This is to make Local Adult Safeguarding Boards (LASBs) a statutory function. These Boards bring together statutory and voluntary providers in a single body within a local authority area. The local authority is responsible for setting them up but they are independent. It has been an anomaly that Local Safeguarding Children Boards have been a statutory function since 2004 but the same was not done for adults. There are LASBs in most if not all local authority areas already, but they are not statutory, so they cannot compel membership and command resources in the way that LSCBs can.

This mirrors the history of adult safeguarding. The multi-agency system for managing children's safeguarding goes back to 1974 and has been reviewed and strengthened several times over the years, with the 2004 legisation putting this on a statutory footing. Government guidance is revised every few years. But there was no equivalent government guidance on adult safeguarding until No Secrets came out in 2000 and a promised revision was lost with the change of government in 2010.

The issues in adult safeguarding are just as complicated as those for children - in some ways more so, since adults have legal rights and statutory action may not be available, even if professionals consider it in the best interests of the person. The LASBs will be able to pool expertise, challenge each agency and conduct Serious Case Reviews in the same way and to the same standard as is already in place for children. This is a welcome development and we most hope that it does indeed become law.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

David Hope faces enquiry

David Hope, the former Archbishop of York, is now facing an enquiry by John Sentamu, the current Archbishop, into the actions he took and apparently failed to take in relation to allegations which were made to him  against Robert Waddington. Waddington had been Dean of Manchester Cathedral in the 1980s. The allegations were of abuse of two boys, one in Australia in the 1950s and another of a chorister in the 1980s. The first allegation came to David Hope in 1999; the second apparently some years later. My source is a BBC News report at:

Apparently David Hope stopped Waddington from functioning as a priest but did not report him to the police. He is reported as saying that at the time there was 'no automatic legal obligation on the Church to refer allegations by adults to the police or social services'. Moreover, he considered that Waddington did not present a continuing risk in that he was seriously ill following surgery for cancer.

While we should wait for the enquiry report and not prejudge his actions, there are several points to make about this. First, I must declare an interest, in fact two: in one of his earlier positions, David Hope was the vicar of All Saints, Margaret Street, in London, where I worshipped towards the end of his time there and the beginning of mine. He seemed to me a good and holy man and he seems so to me still. The other interest is that I have spent far too much of my life drafting procedures and indeed led the work on the church's current child protection policy, the 2010 edition of Protecting All God's Children as well as writing the Diocese's Safeguarding Handbook.

So the points I am about to make I do with some feeling.

The adequacy of the child protection procedures, or indeed, of any procedures on any topic whatever, cannot be assumed. However carefully they are drafted, consulted on and revised, there will always be gaps and even errors. And when it comes down to it, it is not simply procedures nor even the following of them, which protects children or achieves other desirable ends but also the exercise of judgement: we may be confronted by a situation which the procedure writer did not anticipate or where the guidance is unhelpful. We should not depart from them unthinkingly but we should not follow them unthinkingly either.

Then there is the fact that knowledge develops. Some of us, including myself, have had to learn painful truths about the continuing pain of survivors of abuse. They are not well served by regarding allegations of abuse some time in the past as 'historic' and downplaying its significance now.

Then there is the need for justice. Waddington may have been - by the time the allegations reached David Hope - no longer in a position to abuse anyone. And he died in 2007. But there is still the issue of calling to him account for what he is said to have done. And the judgement of whether he was fit to plead or handle a prosecution is one which should surely be made in the context of the work of criminal justice.

And then there is the issue of mistakes made in good faith. This is a difficult area but we will all be able to think of situations where we made what seemed a reasonable decision but which turned out badly in the end. Are we responsible for the consequence or only for the intention? Did we simply misjudge something, or were we reckless? Did we take into account all that we should, consult whom we should and identify correctly and ignore irrelevant considerations? Hindsight is wonderful. I know myself, from conducting and reading Serious Case Reviews, that it is easy in retrospect to identify what turned out to be mistakes. But in the heat of the moment, with many other competing demands for our attention and decisions it is perhaps not so easy. So let us not rush to judgement on David Hope.