Some religious groups ‘catastrophically’ failed children in their care, says lawyer

A report on child protection in religious organisations and settings shows that some groups have “catastrophically” failed to protect youngsters in their care, a lawyer has said.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) examined evidence from 38 religious organisations with a presence in England and Wales.

It found there have been “egregious failings by a number of religious organisations” and highlighted “significant diversity” between religious organisations as to whether they have adequate child protection policies in place and the extent to which they effectively follow them.

Richard Scorern (pictured) is a specialist abuse lawyer at Slater & Gordon who acts for seven victim and survivor groups in the IICSA, including those representing Jewish, South Asian and Jehovah’s Witnesses survivors.

He said: “Today’s report confirms that some religious groups have catastrophically failed to protect children in their care and that many have patchy or non-existent safeguarding policies and support for victims and survivors of abuse.

“This is simply unacceptable. It is clear from the report that too many religious organisations continue to prioritise the protection, reputation and authority of religious leaders above the rights of children.

“In the light of today’s report, the arguments for mandatory reporting and independent oversight of religious bodies are overwhelming, and it is imperative that IICSA recommends these changes when it delivers its final report next year.”

The NSPCC said the report highlights “a host of fundamental, reoccurring safeguarding flaws” that left children vulnerable to sexual abuse across a wide range of religious settings.

A spokesman said: “As a result, many young people have suffered terrible abuse and then found there is no-one willing to listen to them and provide help and support.

“A significant barrier to tackling child sexual abuse within religious settings has been a failure of members to prioritise safeguarding and make it a serious issue that requires substantive attention and action.

“This report shows just how vital it is that the leadership of all faith organisations and communities always prioritise the safeguarding of children and young people in their community.

“At the same time it is important to recognise the shortage of support and advice for religious organisations seeking to improve their safeguarding policies and procedures.

“It is vital they have easy access to all the guidance they need to minimise the risk of child sexual abuse happening in their communities.”

The Muslin Council of Britain (MCB) said the inquiry report “makes for difficult reading and underlines the importance of education centred around the wellbeing of children”.

It added: “The protection of children is rooted in our religious traditions and should be at the centre of all Muslim institutions.

“This includes child safeguarding policies and regular ongoing training.

“Crucially, children must feel confident in reporting any concerns they have.

“The MCB is committed to providing resources and support for our affiliated organisations, and to sharing good practice already out there, to foster safe and nurturing environments for children in religious settings.”

The Secretary of the Conference of the Methodist Church, the Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler, said while it will take time to fully study the report, early indications are that it includes “many areas where religious organisations are still failing their members, and we are truly sorry for where this happens in our churches”.

He said the report’s first recommendation that all religious organisations should have a child protection policy and supporting procedures “largely reflects our existing policy and procedures”, and that the church will await Government advice on the second recommendation about amending the definition of full-time education.

Dr Hustler said: “We note the report’s mention of a general lack of support for victims of abuse among religious organisations.

“We will continue to review and improve our support to victims and survivors and we apologise where this has not happened as it should have done.

“We are grateful to the panel for recognising positive child protection practice in the church, including our safer recruitment and internal auditing processes.”

He said the church is grateful to the victims and survivors of abuse for their “bravery” in taking part in the inquiry.

“There can be never be any excuse for failings in safeguarding and it is the responsibility of everyone connected with the Methodist Church to uphold the highest standards in order to protect children and vulnerable people,” he said.

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