Skip to main content

0800 917 1000   Open weekdays 9am-5pm

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child protection in religious organisations and settings Investigation Report


D.4: Child protection training

63. There is also significant variation in the nature and scope of child protection training offered in the religious organisations and settings examined in this investigation.

64. Training offered by local authorities to the voluntary sector on child protection has a varied uptake among religious organisations, with some local authorities stating that no religious bodies had come to their training over the past few years.[1] There is variation, too, in the content of training and in who is trained. In some cases, it is simply staff employed by the organisation who are trained – in others, training is extended to volunteers too.

65. It is not the case that larger organisations necessarily have more sophisticated child protection training programmes. For example, Triratna offers child protection training, as do the Bahá’ís, the Religious Society of Friends in Britain (Quakers), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Church of Scientology, each of which represent relatively small religious communities in this country.[2]

Guidance on child protection training

66. Statutory bodies have been advising religious organisations to provide training for staff, office holders and volunteers for the past two decades. Since 2002, the Charity Commission has published safeguarding guidance for charities and charity trustees.[3] Presently, the Charity Commission advises that if a charity works with children or adults at risk, the trustees should “make sure all staff and volunteers receive regular training on child protection or working with adults at risk”.[4] A recent update to the Charity Commission’s guidance contains an infographic detailing 10 actions that trustees need to take to ensure good safeguarding governance, which includes that trustees should “Regularly evaluate any safeguarding training provided, ensuring it is current and relevant”.[5] While failing to follow this guidance may amount to a breach of the duty of trustees, there are no current statutory requirements for this guidance to be followed by trustees, nor that those engaged in work on behalf of charities should have such training.

67. There is no ‘standardised’ guidance at present for what training should look like for religious or other voluntary organisations, although there is a general presumption by statutory agencies that such training is necessary. For example, the Voluntary Code of Practice on keeping children safe in out-of-school settings, which is designed to include faith settings, provides that all staff and volunteers should have this training.[6] This should include knowing what indicators may amount to abuse, how and what to do if you suspect that a child may be at risk of abuse, the procedure to use in the event of allegations or concerns about abuse in the organisation, a complaints procedure for children and young people to raise child protection concerns, and also how to deal with a child who may disclose abuse.[7]

Current practice within religious organisations and settings

68. There is significant variation at present in the extent to which religious organisations and settings follow the guidance on child protection training that is available to them.

The Shree Hindu Temple and Community Centre

69. The Shree Temple is an example of an organisation with no training processes in place, despite serving a community in excess of 5,000 people. The Temple retains a number of priests who work on a self-employed basis, as well as office staff, premises officers, kitchen staff and teaching staff who are all salary based, and a group of English teachers who are paid travel expenses only. At the time of the public hearing, no training relating to child protection had taken place at the Temple, nor was there any requirement for those working at the Temple to have undergone such training externally.[8] While the Temple has recently engaged consultants to assist in improving its child protection arrangements, its current child protection arrangements are inadequate.[9]

The Jehovah’s Witnesses

70. The Jehovah’s Witnesses arrange their own in-house training and do not draw on any external assistance. Mr Paul Gillies, the Director of the Office of Public Information for the Jehovah’s Witnesses internationally, and formerly a member of the UK Branch Committee (the body that runs the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation in the United Kingdom and Eire), explained that:

“it’s managed internally because the training is for what we do as a religious organisation … it is very much a religious application of Bible principles.”[10]

As part of this training programme, elders appointed to serve on the Branch Committee (ie to be part of the ‘Head Office’ and thus provide advice about child protection to those elders in individual congregations who telephone to ask for it) are required to attend a five-month training school at the world headquarters.[11] The training deals with “how to be a good shepherd” and enables elders to “familiarise themselves with … the running of a branch office” as well as relevant policies.[12] Those occupying other posts are required to undertake different forms of training. The Jehovah’s Witnesses do not currently seek external assistance from child protection professionals in relation to their training. This is based on an assumption that the organisation itself has sufficient internal expertise. Like many other organisations, the Jehovah’s Witnesses would benefit from external assistance from child protection professionals.

Religious umbrella bodies

71. There is limited evidence of religious umbrella bodies and representative organisations taking a proactive role in encouraging or facilitating child protection training within their member organisations.

72. Mr Adatia said that, as far as he was aware, umbrella bodies such as the National Council of Hindu Temples and the Hindu Council have not provided the Shree Temple with any advice or guidance.[13] This was confirmed by the Hindu Council UK, which stated that Hindu temples and religious organisations should have robust child protection policies.[14]

73. The Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) is a Muslim advisory board counting over 500 members, the majority of which are institutions.[15] MINAB does not itself offer any safeguarding or child protection training to its members, though it “checks, verifies and recommends suitable outsourced service providers”.[16] In particular, MINAB has recommended the work of Strengthening Faith Institutions to its members and has partnered with Faith Associates in its Beacon Mosque programme. In 2018 and 2019, MINAB undertook 15 roadshows for its members which focussed on safeguarding, including child sexual abuse.[17]

74. The UOHC does not impose any formal requirement on its member synagogues in relation to training, though it has recently begun encouraging synagogues to ensure that they have members who are trained in child protection.[18] The Interlink Foundation, which provides consultancy and training to a variety of Orthodox Jewish organisations, does provide such training, but there is no requirement that UOHC synagogues use its services.[19]

75. The 40 member communities and synagogues of Liberal Judaism, which themselves have a total of approximately 10,000 members, are autonomous in all areas, including finance, recruitment and the provision of services.[20] Until recently, Liberal Judaism did not offer oversight of its members’ child protection practices.[21] However, in November 2019, the Liberal Judaism Council decided that, in order to be a member of Liberal Judaism, there would be a requirement to have a child protection policy and to send senior staff or volunteers on accredited training.[22] Liberal Judaism has collaborated with Reform Judaism in creating two training programmes, one for trustees and another for designated safeguarding leads.[23]

External training providers

76. A number of organisations, across the full range of faiths, use external training providers with expertise in child protection. Some of these training providers may be faith-based or faith-led but identify that the practices and processes of child protection must explain the requirements of child protection as practised by statutory bodies.

76.1. Thirtyone:eight has been providing training within the Christian faith sector for over 25 years. It provides three levels of training: Foundation, Advanced and Specialist.[24]

76.2. The NSPCC provides child protection training and consultancy services to a range of organisations, including religious ones. Training is offered face-to-face and online. It offers a range of courses as part of a National Training Programme, from an ‘Introduction to safeguarding and child protection’ to more advanced courses such as ‘Training for trainers in child protection’.[25] The NSPCC notes that most requests for training from religious organisations have been for an introduction to child protection and safeguarding awareness, though it has also been commissioned to design and deliver bespoke courses for child protection specialists working in faith settings.[26]

76.3. During 2015 and 2016, Reshet carried out a survey in order to understand what training had already taken place within the Jewish faith sector, and what training was required.[27] The survey had 64 respondents from some 45 organisations. The majority of respondents had received some form of training – fewer than 10 respondents had received no training at all.[28] Among all of the areas of training identified, the top two categories in which respondents felt they needed more training were safeguarding and child protection.[29] Reshet concluded that there was a “clear remit” for it to provide “signposting and support in this area of work”.[30] Reshet primarily trains informal educators. It works with individuals across the whole of the Jewish community, though its engagement with the Charedi community is more limited.[31] In an attempt to ensure the quality of the child protection training it delivers, Reshet works solely with the NSPCC and the Social Care Institute for Excellence in offering its training.[32]

76.4. SFI was established in June 2016, mainly through a grant from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.[33] Its main objective is to support places of worship that “have potential to fall through the cracks” that is, “mostly independent institutions, mainly on the small or medium scale who are independent and are mainly urban and, more often than not, in the BAME communities as well”.[34] As at December 2019, over 10,000 people had attended SFI training workshops for faith institutions.[35] These workshops cover a range of topics relevant to the management of faith institutions, including ‘Introduction to risk management and effective governance for faith centres’ and ‘Fundraising and grant application writing for faith institutions’. There are also child protection workshops on ‘Safeguarding for children and vulnerable adults’ for ‘Awareness’ (basic), ‘Management and trustees’ (intermediate) and ‘Designated safeguarding lead’ (advanced).[36]

76.5. Faith Associates was created in 2004 to help develop governance models, strategies and capabilities within faith organisations. Mr Warraich noted that it quickly became clear that “the Muslim community needed a lot more help than others at the time”, and that developing capacity for child protection would be a key element of the work.[37] For the past five years, Faith Associates has been offering child protection training at different levels almost every month across the UK.[38] Mr Warraich estimated that as many as 90 percent of imams, in his experience, have not had child protection training.[39]

76.6. There are also various online training providers used by religious organisations. Mr Kamran Hussain, the Chief Executive at Green Lane Masjid and Community Centre, told us that all of the teachers working at the madrasah associated with the Centre are expected to undertake specific training in child protection, which is offered online through EduCare.[40]

77. Local safeguarding children partnerships (like their predecessors, local safeguarding children boards) offer training for voluntary bodies, including religious organisations, as part of their work with the community. We obtained evidence from nine local authorities, all of whom considered that engaging with local religious groups was important and identified to us the central work that many religious organisations did in providing activities and services for children. Many local authorities have recognised that the needs of religious organisations are such that specific development of engagement and partnership working is required, given the mistrust or difficulties that have sometimes been encountered between them and religious bodies. The evidence, however, presents a mixed picture as to how far religious bodies use safeguarding partnerships to provide training. Some local authorities reported good uptake of training, such as in Bradford, while others, such as Hackney Council, identified difficulties with the take-up of training from the religious community.[41]

78. Ms Claire Marchant, Director of Social Services in Cardiff Council and Co-Chair of the Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan Regional Safeguarding Children’s Board, explained that Cardiff Council has actively worked with the Muslim Council of Wales to promote child protection. This work led to the development of Safeguarding Policy for the Faith Sector, which was launched in November 2017. Following the launch of the policy, formal training events were organised across the mosques within the city.[42] Ms Jasvinder Sanghera, Independent Chair of the Leeds Safeguarding Children Partnership, explained that her partnership has tiers of training – levels 1, 2 and 3 – for the faith sector. For organisations with a budget of under £250,000, the training is free. The issue, she explained, is with its take-up.[43] This was also echoed by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and Birmingham Children’s Trust.[44]

79. Despite examples of promising efforts and initiatives, the evidence suggests that training offered by local authorities is not being taken up by religious organisations to the extent that might be expected. An explanation for this was provided by Rabbi Levy, who identified some of the challenges with training offered by local authorities that have been highlighted by those institutions with which SFI works. The training courses offered by local authorities ordinarily take place during working hours, but those requiring the training from faith institutions are often volunteers who are therefore only free to attend during evenings or weekends. Local authority training is often offered at the local authority’s own venue, which can be difficult for those from faith institutions to get to because of transport difficulties. Given that local authorities often offer a wide variety of training, sometimes organisations may have to wait a significant length of time before they are able to next access the particular training they require.[45]

80. In certain cases, it appears that the reasons for religious institutions not using training provided by local authorities are more ideological. As noted by Ms Pragna Patel, founder of Southall Black Sisters:

“Local authorities have been providing free training. It is not an accident that these people have not been using the free training that’s on offer. It absolutely is not an accident, because their clear agenda is to prevent state intervention.”[46]

81. Professor Brown identified that some organisations may be concerned that “outside people” may try to interfere with their faith, which causes a kind of “nervousness”.[47] He considered that this nervousness is not required, but he says that there is:

“this kind of concern that, ‘If I bring these people in that don’t understand me or don’t understand us or don’t understand my faith, they might start making comments on my faith, the way I use my faith and the way I present my faith, and, therefore, I feel much happier about keeping that within closed doors.”[48]

Obstacles to effective training

82. There appear to be a number of obstacles to the development of effective training within religious organisations and settings.

Concerns about the understanding of secular organisations

83. Mr Moin Azmi, Vice Chair of MINAB, noted that his organisation would be less inclined to refer mosques or other organisations to organisations that were secular in nature, or were seen not to understand faith. He noted that there have been many instances where “local authorities have been found not to have understood the cultural and religious sensitivities”.[49] Ms Marsh told us that it is important that people feel comfortable with, and feel respect for, those they are being trained by.

“I personally wouldn’t necessarily want to go and be trained by someone that I don’t have respect for or that I don’t think understands the nuance of the way that I work”.[50]

Rabbi Levy noted that:

“It adds a certain dimension in a faith centre to have someone who (a) understands where that faith is coming from, (b) understands the sensitivities involved and (c) actively uses their scripture, their text and their traditions to make it more relevant”.[51]

84. Local authorities identified that concerns about the ‘faith literacy’ (as it is sometimes called) of non-religious organisations can make religious organisations reluctant to engage with them.[52] They also stated that there was a nervousness in the statutory sector of being involved with religious organisations, and a reluctance to talk about issues of child abuse.[53] Birmingham City Council has sought to create a forum organisation, the Birmingham Council of Faiths (involving 11 faith groups), to promote dialogue between faiths and between statutory agencies and faith groups.[54] There are genuine concerns that statutory bodies do not understand faith groups, and may not share their values and seek to impose ‘secular’ values on them.[55]


85. Local authorities have all identified that they can and do provide training for the ‘third sector’ (ie charitable or voluntary organisations) at low or no cost. However, a number of organisations have suggested that cost is a significant obstacle in relation to the child protection training that local authorities offer. Ms Marsh noted that “cost is always an issue in the third sector, and … that’s very challenging”.[56] The NSPCC pointed out that the fees they charge have “resulted in limiting the number of religious organisations that have commissioned our training and consultancy services as some could not meet the fee required”.[57]

Respecting cultural sensitivities

86. Mr Warraich stated that “We know certain cultures have certain levels of cultural sensitivity and we are mindful of that”.[58] Mr Azmi noted that:

“within Islam, there are certain aspects of respect given to the male and female body. So when you are discussing certain elements, you don’t need to be crude about it. You can say the same things, make the same points, whilst having respectful language, for example.”[59]

Some organisations may be fearful of training, in case it does not respect those sensitivities. To give just one example, the NSPCC runs a programme called ‘Pants’, which aims to provide primary school children with a basic understanding of their autonomy, of their right to privacy, that adults have no right to touch them indecently and that they should tell someone if this happens. It does use some limited anatomically correct language to identify genitalia, and encourages use of such language. The NSPCC identified that it has been harder to reach and provide this awareness-raising in more socially conservative schools, and there are clusters of those from socially conservative religious backgrounds who have opposed the programme in their schools.[60]

Training and experience obtained in other settings

87. There is evidence that, sometimes, those who have had child protection training in the context of other roles – for example, in their work as teachers or doctors – struggle to see why they are additionally required to undergo training provided by a religious organisation or setting.[61]

Provision of high-quality training

88. The challenge of quality assurance in child protection training was highlighted by a number of individuals working within this sector. Ms Marsh considered that this is a real challenge:

“it’s very easy to look on the internet, pay a small amount of money and then feel that you have done some training”.[62]

Externally set minimum standards were, in Ms Marsh’s view, “essential” to ensure consistency in training. Mr Humphreys expressed a similar view:

“we continue to hear of an appetite for having some mechanism or measure for assessing the consistency and content of training courses across settings and sectors.”[63]


89. A significant obstacle identified by organisations that offer training was not knowing which religious organisations exist in a particular area, and therefore to whom training should be offered.[64]

90. Mr Jim Gamble, the Independent Child Safeguarding Commissioner of the City and Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership, noted that, outside of the established churches in the area, it is “virtually impossible” to map religious organisations that undertake work with children.[65] Mr Gamble’s experience was mirrored by other safeguarding children partnerships. Ms Jane Booth, who appeared on behalf of Working Together to Safeguard Children – the Bradford Partnership, noted that in her experience the Partnership is to a large extent dependent on organisations self-identifying.[66]

Minimum standards for training in child protection

91. Mr Humphreys suggested that:

“A cross-sector standard for training in the faith sector should be able to articulate the manner in which core common issues need to be addressed within training provision at the same time as avoiding becoming over-prescriptive such that it allows flexibility to be applied in a broad range of different settings and faith communities.”[67]

92. There are a number of features of child protection training that should be implemented comprehensively and consistently.

92.1. Content: Effective training needs to assist individuals to identify the signs of abuse and to know how to react in a timely and effective manner. There needs to be a focus on reporting to statutory authorities promptly. It needs to be made clear that any action taken by an organisation does not prejudice or delay any external investigation by the statutory authorities.

92.2. Different levels of training: Clearly, it is not just those who work directly with children who require training. Those who hold key responsibilities, such as designated safeguarding leads, require training specific to their roles and responsibilities. The use of descriptors to identify training at different levels, such as ‘basic’, ‘intermediate’ and ‘advanced’, is helpful. We agree with Mr Humphreys that the levels set out in Working Together to Safeguard Children (2010) were useful in this regard.[68]

92.3. Regularity: Good training is not a one-off event – training needs to be systematic and regular.

92.4. Tailoring training materials to the specific religious context: There is a need for training materials to make sense within the particular religious context in which they are being used. Ms Marsh gave the example of a scenario that she came across in training materials, in which “a woman had popped into the mikveh for ten minutes and left her children in the car”. Ms Marsh pointed out that “That’s just not a likely scenario. It’s just not possible for that to happen” because “the mikveh doesn’t take ten minutes”.[69] Mr Christian McMullen, Head of Professional and Community Engagement at the NSPCC, noted that it is important that “in faith communities, if you are going to win the hearts and minds of the community, then they need to be able to see themselves” within policies, procedures or training.[70]

93. There was general support among the religious organisations and settings examined in the course of this investigation for some form of minimum standards as regards training. However, there was a diversity of views as to what that would entail.

93.1. The Evangelical Alliance was of the view that any minimum standards ought to be voluntary. Noting the diversity of the faith sector, Mr Emrys Jones, Operations Director, stated that it is “difficult to see how compulsory policies, qualifications or training could sufficiently reflect this diversity in order to be effective”.[71] By way of contrast, the Bahá’í community (which is a much smaller organisation) considered that it should be mandatory for religious organisations to have in place certain minimum standards, including training, as did the Druid Network.[72] The Green Lane Masjid and Community Centre, a large mosque in Birmingham, considered that some form of compulsory training should be in place for those who work with children, as did the Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick for all trustees.[73] Neither size nor financial resources dictated the view of religious organisations as to the need for compulsory training. Many smaller organisations would welcome the provision of further training, organised on a regional or national basis, as they often find it difficult to organise and source this themselves.[74]

93.2. A number of the organisations we heard from expressed the view that child protection training should be available not just to those who work directly with children – many were of the view that training ought to be extended to faith leaders too. Rabbi Levy suggested that all faith leaders should have some level of training as a condition of their being able to become a faith leader in the community.[75] Professor Brown noted that many faith leaders of larger churches and denominations undertake some form of training to become a leader. He was of the view that child protection and aspects of leadership in child protection could form a compulsory part of that training.[76] Mr Gillies stated that he did not consider that a common qualification for all faith leaders related to child protection would be necessary for elders within the Jehovah’s Witnesses, “given that congregations do not provide any activities that separate children from their parents”.[77]

93.3. Mr Humphreys noted that it is “incredibly important for a leader in any setting, faith-based or otherwise, to model what they expect to see”. He pointed out that, in many faith organisations, senior leaders are content with simply appointing a safeguarding coordinator and assuming that child protection can be left in that person’s hands.[78] Triratna told us that it would “welcome compulsory child protection training for those training for ordination … and for any ordained person who teaches under the auspices of a Triratna charity”.[79] An example of good practice, in Mr Humphreys’ view, would be senior faith leaders discussing child protection in the context of their preaching, in order to “embed” and “normalise … understanding of safeguarding” within the religious organisation.[80]


Back to top