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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Anglican Church Investigation Report


B.2.4: Provision of counselling and pastoral support

18. In 2001, the Church’s practice guidance Responding Well to Those Who Have Been Sexually Abused introduced the requirement for each diocese to appoint an ‘authorised listener’. This individual supports those who have disclosed abuse from within the Church community, by providing a “listening ear … to talk about their experiences”.[1]

19. The importance of this role was reiterated in Responding to, Assessing and Managing Safeguarding Concerns or Allegations Against Church Officers (2017). It states that a “support person” should be offered to all victims and survivors. This individual may be an ‘authorised listener’, whose duties include liaising with statutory agencies and identifying the victim’s therapeutic needs.[2]

20. By 2017, although the Church had appointed approximately 100 authorised listeners, the role was utilised by only 32 dioceses.[3] The SCIE audits also found that authorised listeners are “not universally accepted as desirable”.[4] For many victims of sexual abuse by the clergy, a discussion of their experiences with a member of the Church is “the last thing they will want”.[5]

21. The DSA should ensure that “the needs of the victim/survivor are fully recognised and acknowledged throughout the safeguarding process”.[6] While the Archbishops’ Council considers that offering counselling services on an unlimited basis would not be “realistic or appropriate”, it acknowledges that there is “much work to be done in improving its relationships with victims and survivors of abuse”.[7] It believes that a greater level of consistency “is key to building the trust and confidence of survivors”, as this would enable them to have clear expectations of the support they should expect to receive. SCIE suggested that the National Safeguarding Team should consider whether additional local arrangements are appropriate, depending on the individual context of each case.[8]

22. Victims and survivors have varying needs; they may require counselling, pastoral support, or both. Continuing and persistent concerns remain about the provision of counselling and separately pastoral support to victims and survivors.

22.1. As set out in Part Two of its final overview report (published April 2019), the participants in SCIE’s survey were “overwhelmingly unsatisfied” with the timeliness and quality of the Church’s response.[9] According to some survivors with whom Mr Justin Humphreys of ThirtyOne:Eight (an independent safeguarding charity which works predominantly with Christian organisations) had spoken, the supply of support is “not quick enough; it doesn’t go as far as it needs to go”.[10]

22.2. Independent audits of diocesan safeguarding arrangements, conducted by SCIE, identified inconsistencies amongst dioceses in their provision of support services. There were differences both in the types of support that were available to victims and survivors, and the duration of that support.[11]

22.3. Counselling for victims and survivors is currently funded at a diocesan level. The Church’s current practice guidance (in place since 2017) stipulates that provision of funds for treatment costs should be:

considered on a case to case basis … the duration of this funding cannot be open-ended but should be discussed with the survivor and their therapist or counsellor”.[12]

This guidance appeared to be applied differently across the Church. This resulted in “different services and resources in different dioceses”.[13] Mr Humphreys described discrepancies in pastoral support as “a real concern”.[14] Bishop Alan Wilson stated that caps for counselling services are “almost always woefully inadequate and insulting to survivors, who commonly have long-term, serious and complex needs and see the Church invest millions in other projects”.[15]

23. The Church is considering a number of improvements to its provision of support.

23.1. According to Mr Tilby, a set of national safeguarding standards (see Part B.1) would remove the existing “postcode lottery”, ensuring that all geographical areas of the Church are subject to identical expectations, including in relation to counselling and other support.[16] The Archbishops’ Council anticipates that these standards will “ensure greater consistency in the provision of counselling across the dioceses”, although it acknowledged that national funding may be required to promote those standards.[17] The NST has now undertaken “an exercise in mapping” where survivor support services, independent sexual and domestic violence advisers and other centres or clinics are available across the country. A map of the available services has been sent to all DSAs.[18]

23.2. In June 2019, the NST confirmed that it has created a new role of adviser on survivor engagement to provide victims with an identifiable point of contact within the team.[19]

23.3. The adviser on survivor engagement is also responsible for the co-production of a Victims’ and Survivors’ Charter, in partnership with victims and survivors. It is intended that this will provide “a baseline of standards” for the support to be delivered by dioceses. Victims and survivors would then know their entitlement to support “regardless of where they live or whether the abuse is current or non-recent”.[20]

23.4. This charter will be underpinned by a revised version of Responding Well to Those Who Have Been Sexually Abused (2011), setting out the pastoral support that should be provided consistently across all dioceses. There is a survivor working group to help revise this guidance.[21] This will improve the current language, which Mr Tilby accepted is “sufficiently loose to be interpreted in different ways”.[22] In his view, counselling should be provided locally but funded at a national level, in order to ensure uniformity throughout the country.[23]

24. A central hub known as Safe Spaces, a joint initiative with the Roman Catholic Church, was put forward in 2013 by Mr Philip Johnson (a survivor of child sexual abuse and the current Chair of MACSAS) and Ms Alana Lawrence (a former Chair of MACSAS), and has been in development by the NSSG (with the Roman Catholic Church) since 2015. It is intended to be an online pastoral resource and national helpline for survivors to easily access support services, operating independently of both Churches. The scheme was due to begin in 2020. There were difficulties in finding a suitable provider until Victim Support was appointed in June 2020.[24] The Church of England estimated that the project may commence by summer 2020.[25] It has been “too slow in its progression”.[26] This has done little to help the Church of England gain the trust of victims and survivors. Mr Johnson was of the view that the Church has spent a “huge amount of money[27] on a project that should have been simple and relatively inexpensive[28] to set up, while failing to spend “money on supporting victims and survivors” during that time.[29]

25. Greater clarity is also needed from the Church in several other areas which directly affect the experience of victims and survivors.

25.1. Long-term counselling and support: A significant number of victims and survivors have reported long-term effects on their health, employment and relationships.[30] Many are left “entirely incapable of work as a result of their psychological injuries” and require life-long support to manage their needs.[31] In her independent review of the Peter Ball case dated June 2017, Dame Moira Gibb stated that the Church’s support arrangements “must be underpinned by a recognition that the harm caused by clerical abuse is enduring”.[32] Participants in the SCIE survey commented on the “lack of a framework for longer-term engagement and responses”.[33] Mr Tilby said that this will be addressed in the revised version of Responding Well to Those Who Have Been Sexually Abused (2011).[34]

25.2. Independent advocacy services: In 2017, three dioceses were reported to have commissioned or employed specialist survivor workers.[35] The Dioceses of Chichester and Lincoln are currently assisted by independent sexual violence advisers (ISVAs).[36] ISVAs work with dioceses and statutory agencies “in a ‘trauma-informed’ way, in supporting victims of abuse from the point of reporting through subsequent investigations, court cases and beyond”.[37] The ISVA’s expertise, combined with the knowledge of a diocesan safeguarding team, allows for holistic care of those who have suffered abuse. The NST has now identified where survivor support services can be found across the Church of England to ensure referrals to appropriate agencies.[38]

25.3. National Survivors Panel: In October 2018, the NSSG accepted a proposal that a group of 17 survivors be “formally recognised and supported as the standing Survivor Reference Group of the Church”.[39] The group was formed with the intention of co-designing a strategy with the Church, for the engagement of survivors in future safeguarding work. In due course, this may contribute to the Church formulating a National Survivors Panel to support the work of the NST and NSSG. As Mr Tilby noted, this model could be extended “at least regionally to enable survivors to contribute and shape work within dioceses”.[40] The Church told us that draft terms of reference are being agreed with this group, who have been asked to provide advice and co-produce guidance and proposals on a number of areas of the work of the Church.[41]

25.4. Restorative practice: The Church has acknowledged that its response to survivors in the past has compounded harm. It is considering the introduction of restorative practice (a form of conflict resolution to improve relationships) within the Church, in particular where there have been previous poor responses.[42]

25.5. Redress scheme: The Church is currently considering the introduction of a redress scheme.[43]

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