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23 December 2016

Leading for safer churches: building the dream team

Leading for safer churches: building the dream team

By Justin Humphreys, executive director (Safeguarding), CCPAS                                                                                                                                
It's perhaps more pertinent now than ever before to consider who we have on our teams, how we appoint them and how we best support them once they are in post. Since the last article in this series, TV, the web and social media have been overrun with painful revelations of systemic child abuse within both professional and amateur football. When this is set alongside the existing catalogue of abuses across the Church and other faith institutions, a very grim picture emerges. Making informed and robust recruitment decisions when building our 'dream team' is increasingly needed within a context of more widespread safeguarding failures than ever before.

The role of the leader in making good hiring decisions is critical to creating safer environments. Although most abuse occurs within the family, significant risks are posed by those who gain positions of responsibility over children and others at risk of harm - and who use those positions to abuse them. When building teams that are passionate and skilled in their work, the recruitment process will be the first, and sometimes only, opportunity to guard the gateway to those who may be vulnerable or at risk. Using a seasonal analogy, we would be foolish to leave our homes over the Christmas period to go and visit other family members, while leaving our children behind and the front door open with a sign saying: "Everyone welcome". In all probability we would return to an empty house or, at the very least, find that many accidents had occurred and damage had been done when we were not supervising what was happening. 

The same is true in recruitment. Ensuring that churches, charities and other organisations are safeguarded properly is a key part of our duty of care to our beneficiaries, members and attendees. Safer recruitment practices allow us to make informed decisions about who works with vulnerable groups. They involve gathering as much information as possible to demonstrate a candidate's suitability for the role. All too often, poor decision-making or the view that we know someone well or thinking: "They would be such a great fit – we needn't bother going through a recruitment process," has led to a vulnerable person being harmed. Leaders have a clear responsibility to guard this gateway as zealously as possible. 

But it shouldn't end there. Once we have recruited that all-important team, or filled those critical gaps that have hitherto hindered our progress, we must look at the support that they will undoubtedly need to develop and continue doing what we are asking them on to do effectively. This is the greatest challenge for many leaders. Being so fixated on achieving what may be an entirely legitimate goal often results in us missing the importance of how we get there and who is participating along the way. How we treat those we work with will often be how we are remembered and how our success will be judged: 

"Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people." – Barbara Bush

Is this not fundamental to our faith (Luke 6:31) – treating others as we would wish to be treated – for the collective good? In the context of safeguarding, a frequent comment CCPAS gets from the thousands of callers to its helpline is that they thought they knew what to do, but it took someone to come alongside them and clarify or confirm their own sense of direction in a particular situation. The sense of relief they so often express is palpable. We all need that person when we are facing difficult situations. Managing and supporting our workers and colleagues is essential to good safeguarding practice. Nobody should ever feel they are on their own when dealing with these challenging issues. If they do, something has definitely gone wrong! This is one of CCPAS's core aims: to support churches, organisations and individual workers in the creation of safer places for all.

So the 'dream team' still needs our support as leaders. As we embark upon a new year, let us not forget the huge efforts that are made across our churches and faith-based organisations to safeguard children and others who may be at risk. It's often a thankless task and one that can easily be overlooked as we get about the 'busyness' of life. So here is a final challenge at the start of the year to all leaders. Will you go out of your way to say "thank you" to your staff and volunteers who deal with all that difficult stuff? Will you go one step further and ask them: "What can I do for you that might help to make what you do easier next year?"

I can promise you it will be very much appreciated.


The Churches' Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) supports churches and organisations in developing safeguarding policies and training staff and volunteers in safeguarding proceedures.

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