Safeguarding - We must never let anxiety about consequences stop us from acting on concerns


Simon Harvey writes,

The facts of the Rotherham child abuse scandal are appalling. Over fourteen hundred children were sexually exploited between 1997 and 2013 by gangs of men.

This follows waves of reports in recent years; the almost unbelievable scale of the abuses committed by Jimmy Savile and convictions of well-known public figures every few months. In recent decades, the dreadful denial of churches, children's homes, hospitals and boarding schools has been uncovered and there's been a radical change as the once-unthinkable is now something which must be talked about and acted on.

The particularities of the Rotherham case are now being discussed. The fact that the perpetrators are men of Pakistani heritage and that the victims are white has led to some outrageous comments by extremists. Their fury must not stop the particular facts of this case from being explored fearlessly. As a society, we've learned (and too often also forgotten) that anxiety about raising concerns is the biggest obstacle to protecting the welfare of children and vulnerable people. We share in the guilt if our reaction to discovering the possibility that someone is being abused is to let fear of the consequences of taking it further paralyse us.

The particular details matter in getting to the bottom of each case. But let's not fool ourselves when it comes to the general picture. Child abuse is not a problem for one town alone, nor only for those who are befriended by men of a certain ethnic origin. The lesson of the seemingly endless succession of child abuse cases is that it is everywhere. No corner of society can claim that this is not their problem. Mark Easton's brilliant piece for the BBC describes research implying that a million children may be suffering from abuse right now.

As a society, we have failed our children and we're only just learning how bad this failure has been. I wonder how many of the adults who are our friends, colleagues and neighbours bear the scars of childhood abuse. I wonder how many are abusers.

On starting training for ministry in the church two decades ago, I wanted to ensure that I was prepared for what I assumed could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience of responding to a concern about child abuse. I have learned that such concerns must be commonplace. Our vigilance must be routine, something that we pay attention to as much as the risks of fire and accident. If it's not, we're simply not going to be listening when our children want to tell us something.

At St Mary's we keep a promise. If a child tells us that someone in their life is harming them, we take them seriously. We always act on these concerns. We abide by the safeguarding policy of the Diocese of London not because it's a piece of unavoidable bureaucracy but because it saves children from suffering.

If you have any concerns about the welfare of a child, don't delay. Report it immediately.