01 November 2016
Leading for safer churches: the importance of safeguarding policy and training
Justin Humphreys is executive director (Safeguarding) at CCPAS
In the first article in this series, we explored the importance of leading for safer culture within a church setting. We examined the topic of culture deliberately, for without an appropriate culture much of what will follow in this and future articles will have limited impact for the safeguarding of vulnerable people.
The reality for many is that policy is seen as something of a hurdle to contend with - rather than something that can helpfully guide us through effective, efficient and safe working practices. How many of us when we have bought a new gadget race to unpack the new item and throw the instruction booklet to one side, thinking "I'm sure I will be able to figure out for myself how this thing works…and anyway, isn't half the fun in learning as you go?". Although I am as guilty as the next person of this, this approach is not the best way to begin when we are thinking about the safety and protection of some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
When it comes to safeguarding, we must be prepared to put in the hard work, firstly to understand precisely what needs to be communicated to those that work with vulnerable groups, whether they are children or adults at risk of harm. Then we need to find a way to articulate this, in an accessible way for what might be a wide range of audiences, so that it appears less of a burden. Policy may seem like a burden, but it is actually the best way for us to communicate expectations, boundaries and key messages.
In Exodus 22:22, God speaks to Moses to specify what He expects of the Israelites when they encounter the widow and orphan, or the alien living in a foreign land amongst them. This was not something that God felt He could leave to chance – it was of the utmost importance. If it wasn't so, He would not have included it in His conversation. He needed to know that the Israelites understood what He required from them. This is policy-making in its simplest form!
But it does not end there. How do we know that our messages have been understood and will be put into practice so that they will actually make a difference to the support that people receive and the safety of the environments we create for them? This is where training is essential. Again, many may feel that this is an unwarranted call upon leaders' very precious time, which could be better spent actually getting on with supporting and ministering to people. But leaders, in this area as in many others, must lead by example.
This is a message that some leaders may find difficult to embrace fully. All too often, when CCPAS provides safeguarding training we discover that the church leader is unable to be present because she or he has other important things to be doing. But I would argue that there is no more important work to do that demonstrates the loving heart of Jesus to people who deserve a place of safety in the church they attend. This reminds me of something said by my good friend Wess Stafford (emeritus president at Compassion International). He said: "If somebody is not called to work with children, give them something less important to do".
To look after the lambs is the highest calling and it requires strong leadership.
I am sure we would all agree with that. But how about putting it into practice? Next time there is any safeguarding training of any description in your church, your members should expect to find your leader – or the entire leadership team – in the front row. In so doing they send out the strong, clear message that safeguarding is at the heart of the church's ministry. It would also set a wonderful example to the rest of the church membership. So reserve those front row seats now!
CCPAS is an independent Christian charity providing professional child protection advice and support across church denominations and organisations throughout the UK. It assists churches, organisations, social services (children and adults social care) and other child care agencies as well as individual children and families.
For more information, please visit www.ccpas.co.uk, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @CCPAS.