- The Responsibility of Religious Congregations for Safeguarding in Independent Schools Associated with them
- Responding to Allegations in an Independent School Formerly Run by Religious
1. The Responsibility of Religious Congregations for Safeguarding in Independent Schools Associated with them
Religious Congregations are responsible for:
- Promoting the safety and welfare of children in any school with which it is associated;
- Ensuring that any Catholic school associated with it complies with the safeguarding policies of the Catholic Church in England and Wales;
- Ensuring that any Trust which is controlled by the Religious Congregation complies with the safeguarding policies and practice required by the statutory authorities.
The school’s Safeguarding policies will need to be approved by the relevant statutory authority, and the school inspection will include an inspection of the school’s safeguarding policies and procedures. Responsibility for ensuring that policies are compliant with approved standards rests in the first place with the head teacher and staff, but ultimately with the governors and the trustees of the Trust which owns the school.
Four hypothetical examples may help to focus on the issues at stake here:
- The Congregation runs the school and the majority of the Governors have to be Catholic; the school is under the ownership of the Trust which holds the Congregation’s property, which is therefore recognised by the Church as a Catholic school;
- The Congregation used to run the school, but it is now run by non-religious staff; however the majority of the Governors still have to be Catholic and the school remains in the ownership of the Trust which holds the Congregation’s property, and it therefore has the canonical status of a Catholic School;
- The Congregation used to run the school, but it is now run by non-religious staff; the majority of the Governors still have to be Catholic, but the Congregation is setting up a separate Trust to run the school, which has been recognised by the Bishop as a Catholic School;
- The Congregation used to run the school, but it is now run by non-religious staff; the majority of the Governors do not necessarily have to be Catholic, and the Congregation is setting up a separate Trust to run the school, which will not be recognised as a Catholic School.
There are, of course, many variations and other possibilities, but these four examples will illustrate the issues at stake:
- In the first example, the situation is clear: the Congregation leader and the Trustees are ultimately responsible for ensuring compliance with approved policies, both because it is a Catholic school, and because it is owned by the Congregation’s Trust;
- In the second example, the responsibility of the Congregation leader and the Trustees is exactly the same as if religious were still running the school, and for the same reasons. While the head teacher, staff and Governors will have primary responsibility for safeguarding, the Trustees are ultimately responsible;
- In the third example, the Congregation leader and the Congregation’s Trustees do not have responsibility for safeguarding in the school, since there is a separate Trust. However, the school has been recognised as a Catholic school, and when setting up this Trust the Congregation should make it clear to the new Trustees of the school that compliance with the Church’s policy of compliance with national safeguarding policy is one of the conditions of its continued recognition as a Catholic school;
There is another point to be remembered here. While the Congregation does not have responsibility for current safeguarding in the school, it may be that members of the Congregation were involved in the school in the past. If safeguarding issues are raised related to these religious, the Congregation will need to deal with them (see below).
- In the fourth example, the Congregation leader and the Congregation’s Trustees do not have responsibility for safeguarding in the school, since there is a separate Trust, and because the school is no longer recognised as a Catholic school, there is no obligation on them in regard to safeguarding. However, because the safety of children is a concern of the whole Church, the Religious Congregation will encourage the new Trustees to ensure that proper safeguarding policies and procedures are in place. The only area where the Congregation will continue to be responsible is for issues related to members of the Congregation who had previously been involved in running the school.
2. Responding to Allegations in an Independent School Formerly Run by Religious
An allegation may be made that abuse was committed in a school which was formerly run by religious. If the allegation is substantiated, the Trustees who were responsible for the school at the time may be liable.
If the allegation is made to the Congregation leader, the national safeguarding procedures relating to the management of allegations must be followed
Some of the more important points are:
- To do nothing is never an option;
- The person making the allegation must be listened to seriously, without judgments being made;
- If the allegation is made in the course of a meeting, a written record should be made of what is said and done;
- The person making the allegation should be told that this will be reported without delay to the Safeguarding authorities;
- The alleged abuser must never be alerted at this stage;
- The allegation and all information must be passed on without delay to the Safeguarding Co-ordinator who is responsible for the Congregation’s safeguarding.
While those receiving allegations should always respond with pastoral concern for those making them, they may well be unsure where legal liability lies and which Safeguarding office is responsible for investigating the case.
The following guidelines may be of help:
- If the school was, at the time of the alleged abuse, owned and managed by the Trustees of a Congregation, then the Safeguarding authorities responsible for that Congregation should be approached in the first place; if the school is still functioning, its Safeguarding authorities should be informed;
- If the Congregation has ceased to exist or if its Safeguarding authorities cannot be quickly identified, the Safeguarding authorities in the diocese should be approached in the first place; if the school is still functioning, its Safeguarding authorities should be informed;
- If, at the time when the school passed from the ownership and management of the Congregation, an indemnity was given protecting the current Trustees of the school from liability, the Trustees of the Congregation will probably be liable for any abuse, but the current Safeguarding authorities of the school should still be informed of the allegation;
- If the alleged abuser was a religious, then the Safeguarding authorities of his/her Congregation must always be informed, even if the alleged abuser is dead or is no longer a religious;
- If it is uncertain who is responsible, CSAS must be asked to decide who should handle the investigations, but in the mean time urgent decisions may be taken by the Safeguarding authorities in the diocese.