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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Roman Catholic Church Case Study: Archdiocese of Birmingham Investigation Report

D.3: Independent audit of safeguarding by SCIE

10. The SCIE audit of the safeguarding arrangements within the Archdiocese of Birmingham was carried out during summer 2018 and published in October 2018. The SCIE auditors visited the Archdiocese and spoke with a number of the key participants including Archbishop Longley, the Vicar General, the chair of the Safeguarding Commission and Jane Jones. They also had contact with 11 survivors of clerical abuse, and a number of parish safeguarding representatives. They reviewed safeguarding policies and procedures and also looked at case files, safeguarding agreements and enquiries handled by the safeguarding team between 2016 and 2018.[1]

11. In respect of work conducted by the safeguarding team, the audit found that:

11.1. The safeguarding policies and procedures of the Archdiocese of Birmingham were not in accordance with national Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS) policies and procedures;[2] some policies were out of date and others seemed “almost apologetic[3] about the role safeguarding should play within Church life.

11.2. The recording systems used to manage the case work files between 2016 and 2018 were “wholly inadequate”.[4] While the auditors spoke with those who said action had been taken in the respective cases, this action was not recorded in the case file and so it was often difficult if not impossible to determine what action, if any, had been taken.

11.3. In respect of safeguarding agreements, most files had no risk assessment setting out why the person was subject to a safeguarding agreement. Reviews of these agreements were not being undertaken with the frequency they should have been.

11.4. The current supervision and management arrangements for the safeguarding team were inadequate, and oversight of the safeguarding coordinator’s role was “ineffective”.[5]

11.5. In relation to information sharing with statutory safeguarding agencies such as the police, social services and probation, there was “a good level of operational information” but the auditors added the caveat that this conclusion was “in as far as the recording could allow the auditors to ascertain”.[6]

11.6. The Safeguarding Commission was good at providing advice and guidance on case work but “does not fulfill the functions of providing strategic direction or independent oversight and scrutiny”.[7]

11.7. Quality assurance processes were not adequate or effective.

11.8. In respect of those who wished to complain or ‘whistleblow’, the audit found that it was not easy to locate the policy and procedures on the Archdiocese’s website, nor were they actively promoted, “suggesting that they are not meaningfully available to people across the Archdiocese”.[8] More importantly, the auditors were “troubled by the extent to which there has been tangible and explicit fear[9] on the part of those who made contact with the auditors which included victims and their families, parish safeguarding representatives, staff at Cathedral House[10] and parish priests. As the audit noted, “All were hugely concerned that their identities not become known and placed great emphasis on their contributions remaining confidential.[11] The audit noted that “Some people were even fearful of their children losing places at their church school for having spoken out”.[12]

11.9. A “radical culture change is needed” which professionalises “the leadership, governance, management and delivery of safeguarding in the Archdiocese”.[13]

12. As regards the SCIE audit, Jane Jones explained that the Archdiocese did not have separate policies and procedures to those prepared by CSAS. She said that the Archdiocese did have “a simplified booklet that’s intended to be user friendly[14] which was introduced following a recommendation made by CSAS after the 2010 audit.[15] She was not aware of the precise documentation provided to CSAS and rejected any suggestion that the Archdiocese did not follow the national guidance. Mrs Jones accepted that the recording systems needed to be improved and that risk assessments had not been reviewed as frequently as they should have been.[16] She said that, for her, “this was more vocation than it was employment[17] and that it was “a privilege[18] to be able to help those who needed her support and assistance. She thought that the Safeguarding Commission had provided oversight. When asked whether she accepted that the overall conclusions of the audit were unfavourable to the Archdiocese, she said “I have no choice but to accept those conclusions”.[19]

13. Archbishop Longley accepted the conclusions of the SCIE report. He was not aware of the problems with recording systems in more recent cases and acknowledged that there were “not those checks and balances[20] which would have brought those problems to light. It was, he said, a priority for him to ensure that no further work was required on the 2016–18 case work files and appointed Jane Foster (a former local authority designated officer) to check the files. Archbishop Longley said that Jane Foster had found that appropriate action had been taken on the respective cases but this had not been recorded in the files. As the Archbishop succinctly put it, “while work was done, it has to be shown to have been done for us to know”.[21]

14. The Archbishop expressed a degree of surprise that the auditors felt there was a reluctance to criticise the Church because he received many letters each week which were critical or raised complaints. He thought this was “a healthy thing”. He acknowledged, however, that more work could be done in respect of whistleblowing and said that this would feature in the Archdiocese’s action plan. The Archbishop also hoped people would feel able to contact the NSPCC independent helpline if they wished to seek advice about safeguarding issues, and this helpline number was being given more prominence, including being published in parish newsletters. Given that the 2007 Cumberlege report highlighted the need for the Church to address a whistleblowing policy, SCIE’s findings suggest that the Archdiocese of Birmingham had not taken sufficient steps to ensure that this policy was publicised and accessible.

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