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Positive review of child safeguarding in Down and Connor

By Sarah Mac Donald - 17 November, 2013

Concern2Safeguarding within the diocese of Down and Connor “has come a long way in a relatively short space of time” a new independent review of procedures and practices in the diocese has found.

The Devaney Report (2013) was undertaken by Dr John Devaney of Queen’s University Belfast.

The Report finds that within the diocese there is clear evidence “of strong leadership” and a “growing spread of a culture of safeguarding across all aspects of the work of the diocese.”

The report also finds that there is “an openness to considering how the progress to date can be both sustained and developed” and it pays tribute to the role of Bishop Treanor in the diocese’s commitment to keeping children safe in all aspects of diocesan activity.

The focus of the review was the arrangements in place regarding safeguarding structures at both diocesan and parish level, working arrangements with the statutory sector, and the implementation of policies and procedures to safeguard children and vulnerable adults.

The review was undertaken in response to the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland’s (NBSCCCI) recommendation that dioceses should, “Develop a plan of action to monitor the effectiveness of the steps it is taking to keep children safe’ (Standard 7 of the Standard and Guidance document produced by the Board in 2008).”

Bishop Treanor commissioned the first external independent review of Down and Connor in April 2011 which focused on how it managed concerns, suspicions and allegations made against clergy within the diocese.

The report was carried out by Marion Reynolds OBE and Dr John Devaney and the findings were published on the diocesan Safeguarding website in October 2011

In December 2012, Bishop Treanor commissioned another external and independent review. The Devaney Report was finalised and presented to Bishop Treanor in July 2013.

It is a comprehensive review examining the performance of the diocesan safeguarding practices against the Church’s agreed performance standards.

The report, which took four months to complete, acknowledges the achievements and the challenges facing the diocese in its efforts to ensure best practice in safeguarding children.

Strategically, the review findings have helped the diocese to consider those key areas of work to be addressed in its next 3-5 year strategic plan.

The report makes practical suggestions about internal management arrangements to support the increasing work of the safeguarding office. It also makes suggestion about staffing and resources to assist parishes to carry out their vital role in safeguarding.

One of the key observations of the Devaney Report is that “In recent years enormous efforts have been made in setting up systems, developing policies, providing training and implementing procedures in line with the standards within the Catholic Church and the wider civil requirements.”

The Report continues, “The enormity and the complexity of this task should not be underestimated. Safeguarding within the diocese of Down and Connor has come a long way in a relatively short space of time. Within the diocese there is clear evidence of an overarching commitment to keeping children safe in all aspects of diocesan activity and clear leadership by Bishop Treanor.”

Other areas of growth and development highlighted in the review report include:

•   A culture of continuing improvement demonstrated by the commissioning of external reviews to quality assure the current operation of safeguarding practice. ‘This is positive, as it highlights openness, transparency and a commitment to quality rather than adherence to a minimum standard.

•   The development of a Safeguarding Commission within the diocese to provide clear strategic vision

•   The appointment of an Episcopal Vicar for Safeguarding

•   Compulsory training for all volunteers and clergy involved in work with children and young people.

 Fine Tuning Safeguarding Processes:

The diocese has reached an advanced stage in its safeguarding agenda and now needs to consolidate its activities and harness a more strategic approach to the delivery of its services. The creation of a Safeguarding Commission would greatly assist in this regard.

The management of those against whom serious complaints have been made:

Dr Devaney recommended that Bishop Treanor, in partnership with his colleagues in the Northern dioceses, seek to establish an arrangement in the monitoring and management of individual priest who fall outside the existing statutory PPANI arrangements but for whom concerns exist about their risk to children and vulnerable adults.

Enhancing self-monitoring arrangements:

On an annual basis parishes throughout the diocese provide the Safeguarding Office with parish returns highlighting safeguarding activities and compliance with standards. To date there has been an 88 percent return.

The shortfall was noted in this Report by Dr Devaney. Since the implementation of these parish audits in June 2011, Bishop Treanor has emphasised the need for a 100 per cent return and reiterates the importance of such audits as part of the monitoring process of safeguarding structures.

Conclusion of Report:

There is clear evidence within the diocese of strong leadership, the growing spread of a culture of safeguarding across all aspects of the work of the Diocese, and an openness to considering how the progress to date can be both sustained and developed.

The next period will be challenging for the Diocese as it moves to develop arrangements to protect and safeguard vulnerable adults. This needs to be managed without any diminution in the high standards expected in relation to the safeguarding of children.

The Bishop has stated clearly that both the financial and people resources will continue to be available into the foreseeable future to maintain and develop the systems and processes for ensuring that concerns about individuals are responded to robustly and that those survivors of abuse who come forward to tell their story are listened to compassionately, their needs recognised and the support they need provided.

The work of Safeguarding is challenging but achievable.

A full copy of the Devaney Report (2013) is available for download from www.downandconnor.org/safeguarding/children/publications

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