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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child protection in religious organisations and settings Investigation Report


D.2: Child protection policies

The legal framework and available guidance

3. Organisations, including religious settings, should be aware of specific legislation and guidance concerning the protection of children, and should have a child protection policy that meets the relevant standards.

4. The Children Act 1989 came into force in 1991 and established the key principles for decisions by the courts concerning the welfare and safety of children, including the ‘Paramountcy Principle’ (which requires the child’s welfare to be the paramount consideration).[1]

5. In 1991, Working Together Under the Children Act 1989, which raised the issue of child sexual abuse, was issued as guidance to voluntary organisations (among others).[2] This was expanded on in the Home Office’s Safe from Harm code of practice (1993), which set out how voluntary organisations in England and Wales should protect children and respond to abuse, based on 13 core principles.[3]

6. The most recent guidance is Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 (Working Together), produced by the Department for Education. This is addressed to all faith-based organisations in England that work with children, although there is no legal obligation for them to follow it and no sanction for non-compliance. Working Together states that:

“Every VCSE, faith-based organisation and private sector organisation or agency should have policies in place to safeguard and protect children from harm. These should be followed and systems should be in place to ensure compliance in this.”[4]

It also states that, within faith-based organisations:

“Individual practitioners, whether paid or volunteer, should be aware of … how they should respond to child protection concerns and how to make a referral to local authority children’s social care or the police if necessary.”[5]

7. There are a number of sources for religious organisations and other voluntary organisations to draw on in preparing their child protection policies.

8. Under the Charities Act 2011, trustees must take reasonable steps to protect from harm those people who come into contact with the charity. The Charity Commission has published guidance for charities (which include more than 34,000 faith-based organisations), including Safeguarding and protecting people for charities and trustees (updated in October 2019).[6]

9. The Charity Commission’s guidance makes clear that trustees are expected to ensure that their charity “has appropriate policies and procedures in place, which are followed by all trustees, volunteers and beneficiaries”.[7] Failing to follow the guidance could amount to a breach of their obligations under the Charities Act 2011.[8] Although this guidance is not statutory, the expectation of the Charity Commission is that charities will follow it, and it is seen as a “starting point”.[9] Under the guidance, any child protection policy should set out how the charity will:

  • protect children from harm;
  • ensure child protection concerns can be raised; and
  • respond to allegations or incidents, including reporting to the relevant authorities.

It makes clear that incidents of allegations of abuse should be reported “to all relevant agencies and regulators in full” and that “You should report to the police if the incident or concern involves criminal behaviour”.[10] Where charities work with children, they should refer “all safeguarding concerns with children … to your local safeguarding children … team”.[11]

10. Government departments have also provided advice and funding to develop greater awareness and capacity within charities to deal with child protection for the voluntary sector, which includes policy development.[12]

10.1. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has funded work between 2018 and 2020 to develop a digital decision tool, setting out the steps someone should take if they have a child protection concern.[13]

10.2. In October 2020, the Department for Education published out-of-school settings guidance, a voluntary code for the providers of after-school clubs and activities.[14] It expressly advises that a provider should have a clear and effective child protection policy, which should include as a minimum:

  • a policy statement about the importance of keeping children safe;
  • a commitment that under no circumstances should a staff member or volunteer inflict physical or psychological harm on a child;
  • a list of procedures to enable children in their care to be kept safe;
  • any additional guidance to be aware of, including details of a designated safeguarding lead, and how to contact the police or local authority team; and
  • procedures covering what to do if a child may be at risk of abuse, or if allegations are made.[15]

11. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) published its guidance, Safeguarding and Child Protection Standards for the Voluntary and Community Sector, in 2009. This was designed to help organisations assess and improve existing child protection policies.[16] Standard 2 – ‘Protecting children and young people’ – provides that organisations should have in place a written safeguarding or child protection policy statement, signed by the most senior person in their organisation. They should also have written procedures for situations where a child or young adult may be at risk of abuse, and for dealing with allegations of abuse.[17]

12. To assist further, the NSPCC also has a step-by-step pathway “to developing and acting on a plan for putting safeguards and child protection measures in place” in its Introductory guide to safeguarding and child protection for the voluntary and community sector.[18] This includes:

  • identifying a ‘nominated child protection lead’, whose role includes ensuring that safeguarding and child protection concerns are responded to appropriately, and “whose job it is to liaise with other agencies”;[19]
  • having in place a procedure for responding to concerns that a child may be at risk of abuse or neglect, with “details of key agencies who should be informed, including their contact telephone numbers”.[20]

13. More generally, there are various training and consultancy organisations that provide assistance to religious organisations and settings as regards their child protection policies and practices. For example, thirtyone:eight has produced a model safeguarding template and associated guidance notes.[21] Mr Justin Humphreys, Chief Executive Officer (Safeguarding) of thirtyone:eight, considered that there were five components of an effective child protection policy:

  • details of the setting and the commitment to child protection;
  • the understanding of abuse and neglect, safer recruitment, child protection training and management of workers;
  • practice guidelines and working in partnership with other agencies;
  • responding to concerns; and
  • supporting those affected by abuse and working with offenders and those who pose a risk.[22]

Adherence to guidance

14. The Inquiry asked all religious organisations to which it wrote to confirm whether or not they had child protection policies and the nature of their child protection structures. A table summarising the responses is included in Annex 3.

15. Despite the guidance and the advice available to religious organisations, there was significant diversity of practice among the religious organisations and settings from which we heard. Some organisations had no child protection policies at all. In other organisations the policy was of a standard commensurate with the basic information set out and seen as a minimum by child protection specialists.

16. We have included some illustrative examples of the responses we received from religious organisations and settings.

The Shree Hindu Temple and Community Centre

17. The Shree Hindu Temple and Community Centre (the Shree Temple) in Leicester, which serves a community of more than 5,000 people, has had a Safeguarding Children and Adults Policy since around 2017.[23] However, the policy is rudimentary and incomplete, apparently based on a template, and references out-of-date government guidance. When asked whether the policy is circulated, Mr Shital Adatia (President of the Shree Temple) said:

Honestly, hand on heart, it is probably put in an office file and kept in the office there to refer to.”

He accepted that the review of the policy is “probably a tick-box exercise to say, ‘Yes, we’ll kind of be sorted for another year’, kind of thing”.[24] We were told that the Shree Temple recently engaged consultants to assist in improving its child protection arrangements.[25]

The Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick

18. The Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick, one of the oldest gurdwaras in England, receives approximately 10,000 people on a weekly basis for religious worship or to participate in community activities.[26] Around 250 children attend after school to learn the Punjabi language. Despite this, it has a policy that refers to obsolete statutory guidance and lacks detail or sufficient useful information.[27] The policy was only available in English, despite the fact that several more elderly members of the congregation, who often fulfil significant voluntary roles at the temple, may not have sufficiently good levels of English comprehension. One trustee of the gurdwara agreed that it should be translated into Punjabi, which is the spoken language of many of the congregation who may carry out significant amounts of voluntary work.[28] Following the hearing, the gurdwara has produced a draft updated safeguarding policy and procedures.[29]

The Jehovah’s Witnesses

19. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have a child protection policy in place which is comprised of four core documents, each of which has a specific purpose and a specific target audience:

  • the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Scripturally Based Position on Child Protection, a worldwide policy, published in 2018, which is available on the Jehovah’s Witnesses website and is designed to be used within congregations and for the general public;[30]
  • The Watchtower (May 2019), which “explained and expanded on” the worldwide policy and is studied and read by Jehovah’s Witnesses in group classes;[31]
  • Shepherd the Flock of God, which provides direction for elders (voluntary lay leaders of each Jehovah’s Witness community – known as a congregation – responsible for spiritual, pastoral direction and running the organisation at a local level);[32] and
  • Child Sexual Abuse – Guidelines for Branch Office Service Desks, which provides further guidance for elders in the Service Department. The Service Department is a department within the Branch Office, which is the national headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.[33] The Service Department provides guidance to congregation elders on implementing the child safeguarding policy of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.[34]

The first two of these documents provide extensive reference to biblical passages for study. They also provide signposts to further articles produced by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in other publications. All four of the documents are rooted in religious texts and written in ‘scriptural language’. However, the Scripturally Based Position on Child Protection, designed to be used and looked at by all members of the Jehovah’s Witness congregations, does not provide practical guidance on recognising signs of abuse. The Watchtower (May 2019), again, intended to be studied by all congregants, does not provide information on how to contact statutory authorities when there is concern. The two documents produced only for elders provide more detailed information as to how to refer matters to statutory authorities but these documents are not circulated to members of the congregation. A policy document available to all members of the organisation providing more practical information as to when and how to report would better enable every member of the congregation to protect children.

20. Chapter 14 of Shepherd the Flock of God concerns child abuse. Within the chapter, various legal considerations are set out concerning the reporting of child sexual abuse. This is followed by a section entitled ‘Congregation considerations’ in which the following is stated:

“When discussing child sexual abuse from a congregation standpoint, we are not considering a situation in which a minor who is a willing participant and who is approaching adulthood is involved in sexual activity with an adult who is a few years older than the minor. Nor, generally speaking, are we discussing situations in which only minors are involved. (See 14:29-30.) Rather, we are referring to an adult guilty of sexually abusing a minor who is a young child, or an adult guilty of sexual involvement with a minor who is approaching adulthood but was not a willing participant.”[35]

This is advice for Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world. In the context of England and Wales, it would be better to clarify what is meant by “who is a few years older” and “willing participant”.

21. Following the conclusion of the hearing in this investigation, we were referred by the Jehovah’s Witnesses to a report by Mr Ian Elliott, an independent safeguarding consultant, examining the adequacy of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ current child protection policy.[36] Mr Elliott concluded in his report that the policy “provides an adequate framework for delivering what it sets out to achieve”.[37] We have found Mr Elliott’s report to be of limited assistance, as it was disclosed to us late in the investigation and was commissioned for a different purpose.[38] Concerns about the lack of practical guidance in some of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ policy documents, as set out above, remain.

Religious organisations and settings without any policies

22. There remain religious organisations without any child protection policies at all. This is not acceptable.

23. Mr Shaukat Warraich, Chief Executive Officer of Faith Associates (who has undertaken training, consultancy work and policy development for the Muslim community for more than 20 years), said that, of the mosques that Faith Associates has reviewed, “roughly 60% had no policies in place, 30% had policies with limited adherence and the remaining 10% had policies and were following them to the letter”.[39]

24. Rabbi Natan Levy is Head of Operations for Strengthening Faith Institutions (SFI), which aims to support places of worship that have “potential to fall through the cracks”. It works primarily with small or medium-scale institutions that are not affiliated with large umbrella bodies and whose congregants are largely from ethnic minority and urban backgrounds.[40] SFI offers ‘health checks’ to assess the understanding and nature of child protection policies and practices in those settings referred to them. Of the 446 places of worship that have completed such a check, 311 said that they had a policy. However, of these, more than 150 faith centres said that they could either not locate their policy, had a policy that was outdated or unfit for a faith institution, or had a policy that had never been signed off by trustees.[41]

25. While the Islamic Cultural Centre and London Central Mosque (a large London-based mosque) does not undertake any activities involving unsupervised access to children, it welcomes 4,000 to 5,000 members of the public each week for Friday prayers, including children, and over 15,000 students of varying ages annually for guided tours.[42] At the time of the hearing in May 2020 it did not have a child protection policy, but it has since put one in place.[43] It operates a school, the London Central Mosque School, which itself has a child protection policy.[44]

26. There are also many organisations that have not embedded their policies into day-to-day practice. As Mr Humphreys noted (supported by both Rabbi Levy and Mr Warraich, all coming from different faith perspectives), thirtyone:eight has:

“often found … that policies are not the living documents that they need to be. They are often not reviewed as frequently as they ought to be and consequently often fall out of date and [are] difficult to access by all that may need them”.[45]

Umbrella bodies and representative organisations

27. A number of umbrella bodies (such as Chabad Lubavitch, Masorti Judaism and the United Synagogue) have child protection policies for their central organisational bodies. This is a positive step and recognises the need for child protection policies in this context.[46]

28. The Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC) – a representative organisation for Charedi synagogues and households in London – did not have a child protection policy in place at the time of the hearing.[47] While it stated that it is not a provider of services for children, Rabbi Jehudah Baumgarten (a member of the executive committee of the UOHC) accepted that it might be “a good idea” for the UOHC to put in place a policy.[48] The UOHC has since put a policy in place.[49]

29. The Council for Mosques in Bradford, an organisation for mosques and Muslim faith supplementary schools within the Bradford Metropolitan District Council area, does not have any policies in place in respect of child protection, as it “does not directly work with children”.[50] It does not require its member organisations to have such policies in place, and was not able to assist the Inquiry as to whether and if so how many of its member organisations had such policies.[51]

30. The Council of African and Afro-Caribbean Churches UK does not have its own child protection policy, but does encourage member denominations to have one.[52] The Evangelical Alliance (a large representative organisation for evangelical churches from a number of different denominations and traditions serving approximately 2 million people) has a safeguarding policy but does not require its members to have one.[53]

Positive examples

31. There were organisations and settings across a range of faiths, of different sizes and structures, that had policies that appeared to be appropriate. We set out some illustrative examples below.

31.1. Masorti Judaism has a comprehensive suite of policies, including a clear and simple child protection policy, a policy on confidentiality and referral, and a policy on disclosure. The organisation first introduced safeguarding and child protection policies in the 1980s, and has revised them annually over the past 10 years.[54]

31.2. The Baptist Union of Great Britain is another example of an organisation with effective policies in place. It has a model safeguarding policy and procedures for its member churches, as well as its own child protection policies, including a policy setting out the role of designated persons for safeguarding. It has structures at a local, regional and national level to ensure that its policies are implemented in practice.[55]

31.3. The Green Lane Masjid and Community Centre has a detailed Safeguarding Policy and Procedures document, which provides guidance about abuse, where it can take place (making it clear that it can happen anywhere), and responsibilities of staff and volunteers.[56] While the document is helpful and comprehensive, it is dated November 2014 and it ought to be updated to reflect the most recent government and other guidance in this area. The Centre also has a shorter Child Protection Policy, which applies to staff and volunteers working with the madrasah (a religious education school) and identifies different types of abuse and simple steps that must be taken if incidents of abuse are raised.[57]

31.4. The Triratna Buddhist Order and Community (Triratna) publishes sample child protection policies every year for use by local groups.[58] The 2019 policy includes guidance on spotting signs of abuse, recording allegations, escalating concerns and the need to refer cases to the police.[59] Safeguarding issues have been brought to the fore within Triratna as a result of the allegations made against its founder, Sangharakshita. Sangharakshita had sexual relationships with up to 24 young men who were his followers, the youngest of whom was 18 years old. A few have said “they felt their consent was compromised to a greater or lesser extent by their respect for him as their teacher”.[60] Another young person aged 17, unconnected with Triratna, reported that he had sex with Sangharakshita.[61]


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