Margaret Hawkins – Diocesan Communications Officer
Have you been invited to participate in a Safeguarding Trust training event in your parish?
If you are already involved in youth work you will have been but if you’re considering getting involved in this kind of ministry or service this training course is both essential and compulsory.
I attended the course in St Iberius Church in Wexford on February 9th, 2017 presented by the Diocesan Child Protection Officer, the Reverend James Mulhall, and I’d like to share my experience of doing that.
As Diocesan Communications Officer I will have contact with young people in the Diocese and therefore I needed to do this course and also be Garda vetted for this role as part of the Safeguarding Trust rules of the Church of Ireland.
All workers, voluntary and employed, in a parish have to be Garda vetted.
Safeguarding Trust is the Church of Ireland Code of Good Practice for Ministry with Children and it’s all about setting standards to protect children sharing in its ministry from four types of harm – physical, sexual, emotional and neglect.
WHAT I LEARNED
So what did I learn?
Initially, as the training session began and the gravity of the subject matter hit home I felt ‘who in parishes will do voluntary work when they have to bear all this serious stuff in mind?’ but the answer came quickly enough.
I remembered, with appreciation, all the adults who had given their time in my own parish when I was a child – GFS leaders, for example, who gave us learning and social opportunities we would never have had otherwise. Without people to put themselves out, do voluntary work in spite of the weight of such rules and regulations and make a difference in their parishes, where would we be? ‘Because our young people are worth it’ has to be what keeps you doing it.
Thinking of this helped to put what followed in perspective. We live in a world where there are now great safeguards for children and that is surely an improvement on the past when watching out for others wasn’t enshrined in law and led to all sorts of tragedy and damage.
After the two-hour course I knew a lot more about the legislation and guidelines around protecting children. These included:
- a basic knowledge of the types of child abuse – physical, emotional and sexual
- the signs and symptoms to watch out for
- how to respond to a disclosure or a concern about abuse if one arose in my parish and
- Safeguarding Trust reporting (of incidents/concerns) requirements
- what constituted correct behaviour by workers e.g. those involved in youth groups, Sunday School, clergy, teachers, choir leaders, toddler group leaders, volunteer, temporary workers, paid employees and more.
DOUBLE GOAL – SAFEGUARD CHILDREN AND SAFEGUARD WORKERS
We learned that Safeguarding Trust had a double goal.
- It set out the appropriate responses and procedures in the event of abuse concerns and
- Was also about safeguarding those who work with children from the consequences of unfounded accusations.
Early on in the talk Reverend James Mulhall, a former HSE social worker, talked about the history behind child protection legislation and the very important Children First document, the ‘bible’ that outlines National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children Act detail.
It was published in 2011 by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
You can download a pdf of it here: http://www.dcya.gov.ie/documents/Publications/ChildrenFirst.pdf
We learned about how the SGT policy works in a parish from a panel being appointed to overseeing the implementation and use of the Code in the parish, the definition of ‘workers’ and the great need to be aware of child protection legislation.
ATTITUDES EXERCISES WERE ENLIGHTENING – KNOW THYSELF FIRST
The attitudes exercises that we did during the two hours were very enlightening. They were to teach us that we shouldn’t make assumptions and to become aware of how our own attitudes can affect our reaction when difficult situations arise.
Did we think, for example, that a child having a chronic infestation of head lice merited more in the 1-10 scale of abusive scenarios than ‘a two year old being told daily that ‘I’m sick of you’’ or ‘a six month old baby being shaken by her mother’? Participants scoring differed depending on their attitudes/experience.
We learned what significant harm meant and were informed about neglect – the lesser-known fourth category of abuse. 75% of cases reported to the HSE relate to neglect – not enough food, clothing, warmth, hygiene, intellectual stimulation, supervision and safety, for example.
Emotional abuse was talked about too, about how a continuous lack of praise and encouragement can damage a child.
‘Praise is my judgement of what you do, carrying a silent message of ‘what happens when I can’t do’,” Reverend Mulhall reminded the group. “Encouragement, on the other hand, is my acknowledgment of your effort.”
Irish people’s inability to accept praise was also pointed out.
“You don’t feel good about yourself so you can’t accept a compliment,” he said.
TOLD TO LOOK FOR PATTERNS IN BEHAVIOUR
The signs and symptoms of physical abuse were also highlighted along with those of sexual abuse which included mood change, depression or anger.
‘Depression pushes down the feelings that the child is trying to deal with, anger lets them out’.
In relation to sexual abuse we were told that becoming aware of our own responses if a child should disclose that they’d been abused is important too.
We could be shocked, sad, feel disgusted, deny the child has been abused, feel anger at the abuser…
Looking for patterns in behaviour was also highlighted and the importance of recording any concerns you might have about a child and the exact procedure to follow if that happens.
ONE THING WE MUST NOT DO IS NOTHING
We got a list of DO’s and DON’T’s for dealing with disclosure too.
The one thing we MUST NOT do is nothing, we were told. We are reminded also that it was not our role to investigate but to record and pass on concerns if we had them.
SUPERVISION RATIOS AND PRIVACY RULES
Good practice for workers was discussed then including supervision ratios at youth group events – adults to children – for different age groups, for instance, and privacy rules when on overnight events with children e.g. summer camp.
Also the importance of adhering to the Code of Conduct for Workers e.g. workers not contacting children by mobile phone or emails without written parental consent.
DO YOU UPSET YOUR LOCAL BANK MANAGER?
We were given another exercise that presented us with a ‘Concerns Scenario’ so that we had to think out our actions, given what we now knew about Safeguarding Trust rules.
Emotional baggage came into this – what would you do when you notice red marks on the leg of the son of the local bank manager that you’re depending on an overdraft from?
It was a trigger for lengthy discussion but the Code to follow in each case was outlined.
Overall, it was an informative and essential training course and again, despite the way the world has gone and all the extra bureaucracy this involves from a parish volunteer’s point of view, there is awareness that it is the right way and that in spite of the extra hassle, making a real difference and providing good role models for the young people in our parish communities has to be the driving force.
Keep all the regulations in the back of your mind but you can’t let them stop you helping out was what most people said as they left.
The overall feeling was that if everyone pulled back from voluntary work because of all this red tape the world be a poorer place.
The full SGT Code may be viewed/downloaded at Ireland.anglican.org/policy
All Safeguarding Trust newsletters can be downloaded also.