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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child protection in religious organisations and settings Investigation Report


G.3: Internal quality assurance

43. In addition to the roles of central government and local authorities in the areas outlined above, we have seen examples of internal quality assurance within religious organisations and settings – that is, examples of auditing, inspections and reviews arranged by religious organisations themselves. Examples of such practices were rare within the organisations that we examined, and there was very limited evidence of religious umbrella bodies taking a lead in this respect.

Examples of voluntary inspection and oversight

44. The Salvation Army was one of the few religious organisations examined that has put in place self-arranged auditing mechanisms. Mr Dean Juster, Director of Safeguarding at The Salvation Army, explained that there are a range of processes in place for auditing the child protection practice of religious communities at the local level.[1]

44.1. With the introduction of a revised child protection policy and procedure in 2007, every Salvation Army church was mandated to carry out an annual Child Safety Audit. This is now named the Safeguarding Audit and is carried out every three years.[2] This audit is used to note shortfalls in compliance and devise an action plan – each audit is then reviewed by the organisation’s divisional (regional) and territorial (national) office, and the action plan is monitored.[3]

44.2. The Salvation Army has an Internal Audit Department, which is tasked with independently auditing policy compliance at all Salvation Army religious communities. Audits take place every three to four years, and findings and recommendations are made to the regional office.[4]

44.3. Since 2017, The Salvation Army has employed a full-time employee to conduct a systematic review of all safeguarding files. The work is ongoing and is in addition to file reviews undertaken by the Safeguarding Department in 2004, 2009, 2011 and 2017. As part of this review, the decision-making process of child protection cases is reviewed, and retrospective action is taken and cases reopened as necessary.[5]

45. In 2012, the Methodist Church in Great Britain undertook to review all past safeguarding cases in the Church dating from 1950 onwards. This past case review, which was titled Courage, Cost and Hope, was completed in 2015.[6] The review was completed by three independent safeguarding experts and three additional reviewers.[7] It produced 2,566 responses, which identified 1,885 past concerns, including cases of sexual, physical, emotional and domestic abuse, as well as cases of neglect relating to adults and children.[8] Mr Tim Carter, Director of Safeguarding, explained that, in each case, data were collected about the nature of the concern and the response at the time by the Methodist Church.[9] The possibility of continuing risk, pastoral support and interaction required with statutory agencies was also considered in every case and, where necessary, remedial action was taken to make a referral to statutory agencies, including the police, LADO or children’s or adult services.[10] The report made 23 recommendations, and an implementation group was established in August 2015 to take these forward.[11]

46. These reviews recognise the needs for effective safeguarding oversight by the bodies themselves, and also that past safeguarding problems or failures need to be addressed and dealt with.

The role of representative organisations and umbrella bodies

47. Representative organisations and umbrella bodies could play a useful role in providing oversight, support and guidance about child protection, but at present few of them do so. The Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) has over 500 members, the majority of which are institutions.[12] Mr Moin Azmi, Vice Chair of MINAB, noted that it is “not a regulator … it doesn’t have the capacity or the facilities to be able to do that”.[13]

48. The Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC), a membership body for Charedi synagogues and households, does not impose any formal requirement on its member synagogues in relation to child protection policies or practices.[14] Rabbi Jehudah Baumgarten, who appeared on behalf of the UOHC, explained that “synagogues are autonomous”:[15]

“Even if there are some things going on in the synagogue which may not be sort of the way the Union would like a synagogue to run, the Union would nevertheless not interfere with the running of the synagogue.”[16]

49. Liberal Judaism is an umbrella body with 40 member synagogues and communities in the UK and Europe.[17] Until recently, it did not offer oversight of its members’ child protection practices.[18] It has recently introduced a requirement for member organisations to have a safeguarding policy, and to send senior staff or volunteers on accredited training in order to qualify for membership of the organisation.[19]

The role of charitable organisations and training providers

50. There are a range of charitable organisations and training providers that religious organisations and settings can draw on in arranging their own forms of inspection, auditing and oversight.

51. Thirtyone:eight is a Christian safeguarding charity that provides a range of services to its members, including assistance with vetting and barring, training, a helpline, policy support and consultancy.[20] Mr Justin Humphreys, its Chief Executive Officer (Safeguarding), noted that one area of work that continues to be in demand is its audit and review work:

“The methodology for undertaking audits has evolved over the years we have been undertaking such work. In broad terms, the methodology utilises a consistent standards-based framework … which would ordinarily lead to an assessment to be made against each of the ten standards and their constituent elements (using ‘Met’, ‘Partially Met’, ‘Not Met’, or ‘Not Applicable’).”[21]

Despite this, the number of religious organisations requesting some form of audit or review is limited. Since 2012, thirtyone:eight has undertaken 29 assignments. Mr Humphreys noted that “the ability of organisations, groups and denominations to self-regulate would appear to be very inconsistent”.[22]

52. Faith Associates was created in 2004 to assist faith organisations to develop proper governance models.[23] It works primarily with the Muslim community but also with other faiths.[24] Mr Shaukat Warraich, Chief Executive Officer, explained that Faith Associates is sometimes invited to carry out organisational audits for religious organisations and settings:

“We are generally invited to come in to do the audit, and one of the aspects of the audit is what child protection systems, what safeguarding systems, are in place, and does the organisation’s employees and volunteers and any people that are working regularly within that institution, have they had safeguarding training?”[25]

Mr Warraich observed that “nearly 90 per cent of the time, they have not had child protection training”.[26] As part of the audit, Faith Associates carries out face-to-face interviews, visits premises, reviews practices and spends time within mosques.[27] Having conducted such audits, Faith Associates produces an audit report.

53. As part of this work, Faith Associates has developed an accreditation scheme for mosques and madrasahs.[28] Under the Beacon Mosque Programme, mosques are accredited within a quality framework “according to categories such as governance, safeguarding practices and service delivery”.[29] In the case of madrasahs, Faith Associates has developed a National Association of Madrassah, with a three-level accreditation process: bronze, silver and gold.[30]

54. SFI is another organisation that carries out audits of religious organisations and settings. Its organisational audit “assesses the overall strengths and weakness of the faith centres policies, procedures, governance structures, business model and capacity to handle various risks”.[31] These audits, which SFI describes as ‘health-checks’, involve an organisation answering a series of questions that are set out in a ‘Faith Institutions Basic Checklist’.[32] The health-check contains questions about safeguarding and child protection, including whether the organisation has:

  • developed written child protection and safeguarding policies;
  • appointed a designated safeguarding officer; and
  • carried out DBS checks for all trustees, staff and volunteers who are in contact with children and vulnerable adults.[33]

The health-check is self-assessed and none of the questions are mandatory.[34] The process relies on organisations filling out information within the health-check accurately.[35] Mr Natan Levy, Head of Operations, explained that, in order to avoid the check becoming a tick-box exercise, SFI prefers it if one of its consultants is in the room while representatives from an organisation are completing the check:

“Because you can answer these questions ‘Yes’, ‘Yes’, ‘Yes’, but it’s really important that we feel there’s an expert from our side, the SFI consultant, who is saying, ‘Can we see your child protection policy? Where is it? It’s not simply enough just to have it. We want to take a look at it, how dated it is, when’s the last time the trustees saw it and signed it’.”[36]

Mr Levy explained that the questions in the health-check are intended to be a “launch pad towards deeper conversations. We are not trying here to catch them out”.[37] Information from health-checks is not shared by SFI with any third parties.[38]

55. SFI also assists organisations to create bespoke action plans to strengthen policies and training “in core areas of safeguarding, security, governance, funding, … and other areas of need”.[39] As of November 2019, SFI had a network of 654 faith centres.[40] Of these, 446 had completed an organisational health-check, and of these, 272 had implemented their bespoke action plan.[41]

56. Voluntary auditing initiatives, such as those developed by Faith Associates and SFI, are undoubtedly helping to raise child protection standards within religious organisations and settings. Their voluntary nature means that there is no compulsion for the organisations to comply with any recommendations.

Views of organisations about the need for further oversight of child protection in religious organisations

57. In the course of this investigation, a range of views were expressed about different ways in which oversight of religious organisations and settings could be changed. Victims and survivors, other voluntary organisations, local authorities, Ofsted, the Charity Commission and a number of religious organisations told us that some registration or regulation was required – very few organisations were happy with the current situation.[42] At present, the system is a patchwork of influence – rather than standards and enforcement – by a number of bodies without any central coordination. No agency is able to register, monitor or examine basic child protection practices within religious organisations and settings. While there is disagreement about how such oversight should work, there is a significant body of evidence from this investigation that some form of standard-setting and oversight is required. A number of different models were suggested.

Regulation by a central government body

58. The first possible model for standard-setting and oversight would involve registration of religious organisations, potentially alongside other voluntary organisations, with a central government body.

59. There were a range of views about what the appropriate central government body would be, with most witnesses considering that it should either be the Department for Education or Ofsted.[43] The Charity Commission did not consider that it would be the appropriate body to become a registrar or inspector for the regulation of child protection arrangements within religious organisations, or to undertake a broader safeguarding regulatory function beyond its current role.[44] Mr Grenville explained that its role is a broad one relating to general trustee duties and that not all faith organisations are charities:

“if the objective is to improve outcomes for children and make environments safer for children, the framework should be linked to the activity and the risk, not to the status of the organisation … there are other organisations or agencies out there who are already established in some shape or form to regulate children’s services, and surely the refinement of any regulatory framework is easier to do with those organisations than it is with us.”[45]

60. The role of local authorities is unclear in this model – in particular, whether there should be some form of registration with local authorities too. Mr Richard Baldwin, Director of Children’s Services for Tower Hamlets Council, considered that local authorities would need to have a role in any registration scheme:

“I would certainly see a role for the local authority … local authorities know their communities, they engage with their communities, and that’s a good start.”[46]

Ms Sanghera agreed that “There has to be a role with the local authority”.[47] Mr Tilby was of the same view:

“if you have too far of a distance between a regulatory body nationally and the local relationships, I don’t think you take people with you to … build that trust and actually get better safeguarding in place. So I think you have got to use the local authority, the local partnerships we are building, and actually … do the work with them to engage these faith settings.”[48]

Mr Tilby suggested one possible type of relationship between a national body and local authorities was:

“a national body of some kind that sets some national standards for safeguarding across all the faith sectors and then maybe to commission … some accredited organisations … who are reputable, accredited, who understand safeguarding, in the faith setting who can actually then enforce those standards and work with the local authority, in partnership with the local authority and safeguarding partnerships, to engage those communities.”[49]

61. Mr Emrys Jones, Operations Director for the Evangelical Alliance, expressed the view that a system of registration and inspection of religious settings that provides for those under 18 could be “deeply problematic”. First, the nature of such settings varies widely. Second, in the view of the Evangelical Alliance, a system that treats religious organisations and settings differently from other civil groups would appear to be discriminatory. Third, there were concerns that such a scheme would become a “de facto requirement to register with the state to practice one’s faith”, which it was said might give rise to human rights concerns.[50] The UOHC and the Jehovah’s Witnesses agreed with these sentiments.[51] Other organisations were concerned that any regulatory scheme would be too significant a burden on small, volunteer-led organisations.[52]

A hybrid scheme

62. A second possible model was proposed by Ofsted. Ms Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector for Ofsted, suggested that one approach may be a two-layer model, which builds on the fact that:

“in so many out-of-school activities of various kinds, there are already umbrella organisations that often do run some kind of affiliate model that are helping individual settings with training, with model policies and advice.”[53]

For example, in the field of sport, Sport England requires that sporting bodies that wish to receive funding from them have appropriate safeguarding policies and procedures. National Governing Bodies of sport and Active Partnerships have an additional requirement to sign up to and be compliant with the standards set out in the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s (NSPCC’s) Child Protection in Sport Unit.[54]

63. Under such a regime, out-of-school settings would be:

“required to register … with an umbrella body, an appropriate umbrella body, which could be in their faith or activity space … but umbrella bodies themselves are accredited by a central government agency and that agency also acts as a direct regulator only of the settings for whom there is no accredited umbrella body or who have been unable to sustain their membership because they have shown that they’re not willing to sign up to the expectations of the umbrella body”.[55]

Ms Spielman’s view was that either Ofsted or the Department for Education would be “the obvious places” to act as regulator given “where … expertise in safeguarding and child protection sits. It’s harder to see it sitting logically in other parts of government at the centre”.[56]

64. This model could be effective in bodies that already promote an ‘association’ model, such as the United Synagogue, or where there is a hierarchical or central body, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It would not be so effective with other bodies with more autonomous structures.

64.1. There are some organisations where membership of an affiliate body can bring significant benefits to being part of a larger religious whole – for example, the United Synagogue, the Baptist Church, the Society of Friends and the Methodist Church. Religious organisations are often predicated on being individual, autonomous and without hierarchy, chains of command or formal links with wider bodies.

64.2. Even when an umbrella body exists, whether or not they have any position on or role in child protection varies. There would need to be a significant change in current umbrella bodies in order to expand their remit.

Self-regulation by religious organisations

65. A third model explored during this investigation was whether religious organisations should regulate themselves, either by self-regulation or by other religious bodies. This was the model favoured by some religious organisations, for one of three reasons:

  • the size or nature of the organisation meant that it lacked the people, money or time to participate in external regulation;
  • the need had not been shown as to why it was proportionate or necessary to identify any form of regulation; and
  • it would compromise religious freedom for any form of external registration or monitoring to take place.

66. Mr Jones suggested that if auditing of religious organisations was to be recommended by the Inquiry, each religious organisation should be able to:

“choose an auditor who understood their needs. This would be similar to choosing an accountant or auditor who understood the financial needs of the organisation.”[57]

Developing this idea, Mr Peter Lynas, the UK director of the Evangelical Alliance, noted that:

“you will have some organisations who work with thousands, tens of thousands, of children right across the UK. They will need a different auditor than a small church that has 20 people, and so, why not get a range of auditors in the same way as financial companies – large ones use a large auditor, smaller ones may use a local auditor, but those auditors are obliged legally to hit certain thresholds.”[58]

67. The Charity Commission was of the view that self-regulation of safeguarding would be inadvisable:

“due to the inherent weakness which can arise in managing conflicts of interest or loyalty and the complexity of safeguarding itself … the regulation of safeguarding, adult or child protection is best managed by an independent body or bodies, experienced in safeguarding but alive to spiritual context and who are able to hold organisations to account for their safeguarding management and practice.”[59]


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