“I had absolutely no idea what safeguarding in the Church of England was about before I got there and I don’t think many people do.”
Those were the first thoughts of Karen Johnson, a trainee social worker who spent six months working with the Diocesan Safeguarding team as part of her masters in social work. But Karen, who was studying at Bournemouth University, said she very quickly learnt how important safeguarding is for the Church, and what a vital role it has to play in the daily life of each parish.
“It was really eye opening for me. Obviously the Church is huge and they provide so many youth and children’s activities, and come into contact with so many vulnerable and older people that obviously there needs to be some safeguarding. Sometimes from a safeguarding context, you can have a kind of negative perception because you are hearing about historical cases of abuse, but what really stood out for me in the six months I was there, was actually how positive safeguarding in the Church of England is and the good stuff that’s going on.
“I was impressed with how the Church has got some very robust processes in place; it’s something that is very high on the agenda for the Church and it’s great that you can focus on the good. I felt really privileged to spend time with the diocese.”
During her six months with the Safeguarding department, Karen worked with each member of the safeguarding team; she assisted with training, safer recruitment and casework. Karen said she gained valuable insight into the central role the Church has within local communities and the important part safeguarding plays in helping to preserve that role.
“I think one of the things that working with the church really showed me is that there is so much in the community and the church family that can help people; for example there was a lady with dementia and she could stay in her home for quite a bit longer because the people in the church worked together to help her stay at home and maintain her independence.
“It’s this kind of thing the church does that we don’t really think about and I think if the church wasn’t there suddenly society would realise there would be a massive gap. To a certain extent the church is kind of taken for granted I now realise how the church is engaging with the community, with the homeless, with children in school holiday clubs and things like that and it’s really important.”
“One of the things that really stood out for me is that the church is welcoming to all, so it’s really important that safeguarding is at the top of the agenda to keep everybody safe.”
Karen said she enjoyed a warm welcome in each parish she visited and was pleasantly surprised by the response to the introduction of new safeguarding measures.
“In terms of diversity, every church was different; whatever anyone is looking for you can find it in the Church of England. There are sort of stereotypes of what a parish church is like, but actually that was kind of blown out of the water for me. If you want a lively church, or a quiet church, or if you are an older person or a younger person, there is a congregation for you somewhere. People were very welcoming; I think people within the church want to be doing the right thing. There was no negativity with regards the work we were trying to do, which is really nice.”
Commenting on Karen’s placement, Glenys Armstrong, diocesan Safeguarding Adviser says, “Karen was an asset to the team, it was refreshing for us to have her up-to-date university social work knowledge brought into our work, and that we would look forward to taking another social work student in the future.”
On Sunday 29 September in Wells Cathedral, we will be giving thanks for all our Parish Safeguarding Officers at a special service led by Bishop Peter Hancock. Invitations to our PSOs and those who work with them and support them locally will be sent out over the summer.
If you wish to report concerns or abuse please call our Safeguarding Team on 01749 685135 or see this page for more details.