Church to take major steps in safeguarding children and vulnerable adults

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The Methodist Conference has vowed to make significant changes to its policy and procedures in a move to make the Church a safer place for all. This follows the publication in May of an independent review of past safeguarding cases related to the Church from 1950 to 2014.

The Past Cases Review identified 1,885 past cases, which included physical, emotional, domestic and sexual abuse as well as cases of neglect. In approximately one quarter of these cases, church ministers or lay employees were identified as the perpetrators or alleged perpetrators.

The Conference discussed the findings of the Review and appointed an implementation group to take forward the report's 23 recommendations. Former Barnardo's Deputy Chief Executive Jane Stacey, who led the independent review, has been appointed as a member of the implementation group, which will be chaired by the Revd Gwyneth Owen.

"The Past Cases Review has undoubtedly been a wake-up call for the Church, and one we cannot ignore" said Revd Owen. "The recommendations of the report are many and wide-ranging but at the heart of it all lies the need to bring about significant cultural change. Safeguarding is not just something that is done by specialists. It cannot be reduced to criminal records checks and staff training programmes. Safeguarding is everyone's responsibility and each one of us has a duty to do what we can to make the Church a safe place for everyone."

The recommendations include improvements to record keeping and storage, a review of all current safeguarding training materials and the identification of further resources to support victims and survivors of abuse. One of the most urgent concerns highlighted by the recommendations is the need for greater levels of accountability and supervision, as well as a formal code of conduct, for ministers. Additionally, selection criteria for senior church positions will be developed to include awareness of and ability to deal effectively with safeguarding issues. Until the Methodist Church has more robust accountability processes in place and fully operational, there will be an annual independent audit of progress on the recommendations.

Addressing the Conference, General Secretary the Revd Dr Martyn Atkins reiterated the Church's apology for the failure of its current and earlier processes fully to protect children, young people and adults from abuse inflicted by some ministers and members of the Methodist Church.

"It is essential that we recognise the failings of the past," he said. "However, without a commitment to change and the willingness to take the hard steps to achieve that change, we know that an apology alone could never be enough. This is the challenge that lies before the Church today and will be a continuing challenge for us for many years to come."

Outside the Conference hall a group of volunteers invited Conference members to engage with 'Broken Biscuits' — a visual response to the Past Cases Review. The installation comprised a display of 1,885 broken biscuits on 19 canvases, symbolising the 1,885 cases identified by the review.

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