In March, we as churches across the United Kingdom were forced to make drastic changes in the way we did things. Now, as we get close to the end of the year, it may be a good time to step back and analyse how we are responding to this year’s changes in church life from a safeguarding perspective.
It will be a lot harder this winter and Christmas to keep up to date with how people are doing as the usual carol concerts and Christmas lunches may not happen. Many will be keen to still maintain contact with each other and provide support to those who may be vulnerable within their communities over winter, as they did during the spring lockdown.
It is important that we do not forget that we need to continue to do these things safely and ensure we carry on working to provide safer places. Here are some questions to consider over the winter:
Is your safeguarding coordinator included and involved in your church’s planning?
Make sure your safeguarding coordinator continues to be included and involved in your church’s planning over the Christmas season to help you think through the implications of any activities and give recommendations for safer working. As with any new activity you are undertaking as a church over this period, a risk assessment should be completed, and proper thought needs to be given to the safeguarding implications. Also keep your safeguarding lead informed of any changes to your planned activities. Remember that safeguarding coordinators do not need to be an expert in child or adult protection. That can be left to the statutory agencies, and Thirtyone:eight can also help. They just need to be vigilant, ensure the right policies and procedures are in place, and that only suitable people are allowed to work with vulnerable groups.
Is pastoral care being done by those trained and authorised to do?
Over winter, church volunteers may be checking on vulnerable congregation members to see if they are coping with the fall in temperatures, are able to access supplies and are handling the abnormal circumstances for this Christmas period. Although demand may rise over Christmas and winter, your team still needs to have been recruited safely, have an awareness of the signs of abuse to ensure the vulnerable are not put at unnecessary risk, and have sufficient oversight or support. Also remember that shopping on behalf of those who are self-isolating, especially when using their own money, can leave people at risk of financial abuse and may in some cases fall under Regulated Activity requiring checks to be obtained (eg someone fulfilling this role will need to have gone through your safeguarding procedure).
Is there a continuing record of what activity is being and by whom?
It is important to continue to keep a simple log of who is visiting who, frequency of contact and any issues that may arise. This is important to do with activities that are outside your usual remit and will help you assess any potential risks. You may need to have someone coordinate this so that you can keep oversight of the activity that is being done and ensure the most vulnerable are being properly safeguarded.
Are those that do not have adequate support networks being prioritised?
Those living on their own or who have additional needs may need extra support. Self-neglect may be an issue as will the impact of loneliness as older people may feel isolated, especially if they have no means of accessing community or support online. They may need help with understanding the changing guidance and finding out how to access healthcare and medical appointments. Without the usual Christmas events, it will be harder for churches to spot any concerns which have appeared over the cold, dark winter months.
Is safeguarding part of your plans to move services and contact online?
Lots of churches moved back to some form of physical gathering between the end of the first lockdown in June and the start of the latest ones in the autumn. However, many churches are continuing online services for the foreseeable future and plan to run them alongside any physical gatherings that recommence next year. It may be time to review your church’s online activities from a safeguarding perspective, especially as the novelty of online church wears off and people become settled in their online routines. Remember to be mindful of the risks of abuse online, especially for children and young people. Communicating one to one online, whether via messaging or video, is the equivalent of meeting someone in a room on your own with no one around, which is not something we recommend. Aim to continue holding group chats where possible or have an authorised person in the room with you when making calls. This is to keep you safe as well as the people you are contacting. Also continue to be aware of age restrictions for certain apps and that admin rights for social media are still being correctly set-up and monitored.
Are you looking after yourself and your team?
Lone or home-working is no longer a new experience for many as it was in March. Lots of people will have got into some sort of rhythm and will have got used to Teams or Zoom calls. However, as the government continues to recommend people work from home if possible, many will have spent months away from their usual offices. Many will be feeling differently towards home working compared to the spring. Continue to ensure your staff and volunteers have appropriate opportunities for support and time to debrief on their experiences. Regular catch-up calls may have become less frequent over summer and could be useful to start up again. Updating and recirculating a ‘lone workers’ policy or code of conduct may be a good idea. This could include procedures on where to get support and lines of communication for reporting concerns. There is a huge opportunity for the Church to reach out to their communities over Christmas and winter, but there are also risks. Many churches will be in a better position now than in March to continue working with their communities and their congregations despite ongoing lockdown restrictions. However, it is important that safeguarding is not forgotten and that churches continue to build safe and healthy cultures for everyone.
Thirtyone:eight is an independent Christian safeguarding charity. Call on 0303 003 1111 for independent, professional and compassionate support around safeguarding in your organisation.