Safeguarding Report to Sheffield District Spring Synod – April 1st 2017

To learn more about how the safeguarding work is carried out in the District and what’s involved, the annual report to Synod detailing recent safeguarding activity and future plans is available to read here.

Safeguarding Synod Report 2017 – PDF version to download and print


The purpose of this report is to provide Synod members with an overview of District safeguarding activity since Synod in April 2016. On this occasion however more space is devoted to reporting on the outcome of the District-wide audit of practice that took place between October 2016 and March 2017. This audit will lay the foundation for an action plan to improve a number of aspects of practice and the key themes are reported below

At District level, safeguarding activity covers four main areas:

  • The provision of Leadership Module training and ensuring that the Foundation Module is delivered in each circuit
  • Supporting and advising on safe recruitment practice
  • Casework – advising on specific matters of concern and taking a lead on liaison with external agencies and the Connexion
  • General advice and guidance on safeguarding matters including policy development

This report will cover these four areas before describing the results of the audit


Since April 2016 I have delivered the Leadership module twice (once for Cliff College) and directly delivered the foundation module on three occasions. The final recording workshop from the previous round of courses was also delivered in April 2016. As required by the Connexion I have delivered two mandatory courses for existing trainers to update them on the new training materials published in September 2016 (including the new Foundation Refresher course) and to share the top ten key learning points from the Past Cases Review. I have also delivered two ‘train the trainer’ sessions for new trainers to equip them to deliver the FM. Delivering all these courses (with the exception of the FM courses) has involved working in partnership with the DMLN team lead by Rachel McCallam without whose active support this would not have been possible.

At the biannual Circuit Safeguarding Coordinators’ meetings I keep abreast of the local roll out of FM courses and the audit shows how well the courses have been delivered in the past. The challenge will be to complete the roll out of the Refresher course in good time, and in four years’ time, as agreed by conference in 2016 there will be a further refresher course. A refreshed Leadership Module is to be published in September and details of Regional roll out will be published in the summer.

Recruitment practice

Safer recruitment to positions of trust and responsibility in the church is a cornerstone of best practice, and so a good deal of my time is spent advising on DBS eligibility, the completion of the necessary Methodist forms and minimum standards in respect of publishing role profile, references and interviews. It is clear from the audit, however, that although there are some reasonable results in terms of local churches signing off a statement that all who require a DBS check have one, there is significant variation in practice relating to the completion of other necessary forms such as self –declarations. The area of safer recruitment practice will be one of the themes to be developed as part of the District Safeguarding Plan.


Since last April, there have been 9 new case referrals, covering a variety of situations. In three cases these led directly to contact being made with statutory authorities and in two cases these led to adult safeguarding investigations. I have also received information about another case that led to a statutory children’s services referral by a church with my support. During the year, I have also been following up matters relating to two older cases that were reported to the Past Cases Review as well as up to 6 other cases that the Past Cases Review team has identified as being historic Sheffield cases for review. Three of these are currently active pieces of work, but it is hoped that shortly there will be no Sheffield PCR cases left to review.

Confidentiality prevents the provision of further details, but the cases cover a wide range of circumstances affecting children, young people and vulnerable adults.

General advice and guidance

This is less easy to quantify but here are some examples of work I have been asked or offered to undertake:

  • Reviewing and re-writing church safeguarding policies
  • Arranging Regional and District safeguarding conferences
  • Drafting role profiles for church and circuit safeguarding officers
  • Advising on concerns raised by local churches about safe practice

In addition I have completed three risk assessment for the Connexion and with my ecumenical colleagues in Sheffield have forged new relationships with the leadership of Rotherham Children’s Services. This relationship has taken some while to develop and it is yet to bear fruit, but has been promoted a means of establishing a role for churches in support of the prevention and community cohesion agenda after the Child Sexual Exploitation reports of 2014/15.

The 2016/2017 District Safeguarding Audit

This has been the key piece of work in the last 7 months, and followed on from a proposal to complete such an audit made at Synod last year and endorsed both by DLT and the District Safeguarding group (DSG). One outcome of the PCR was that Districts should be assured about how well good safeguarding practice was embedded in their area, and so the idea of an audit drilling down to church level was developed. I worked in close partnership with colleagues in London District who were developing a similar model and we also benefitted from an earlier scheme developed in Birmingham District. I used the latter’s form as pilot at The Crossing in Worksop earlier last year, but felt it too narrative in style to be able to quantify easily key results. A form with a selection of options to tick that could be measureable was devised, and following consultation with circuit safeguarding coordinators, the idea of a workshop session to enable local churches to come together and complete it at the same time, bringing their evidence with them, was born.

It was clear that this was going to be a major piece of work and one that would take a good deal of time to prepare both at a District, circuit and local church level as we were expecting people to come to the workshops ready to answer the questions. DSG members and myself would be available to take people through the questions and provide immediate advice and guidance where people had got stuck or didn’t know how to answer a question. Attendees were then asked to complete the form in final format and submit to the District Office. This proved to be a very helpful model with generally good feedback about the methodology being offered.

The key principle was to provide reassurance to attendees that there were no wrong answers. We expected honesty and wherever possible the evidence to back up the answers. There are some very impressive records of safeguarding activities in some churches whilst it is fair to say that there is scope for improvement in other places. We did not wish to alarm or deter local officers who do a good job at helping to keep our churches safe, and so the idea was also for local people to identify what they needed to do, with whom and by when to make the necessary improvements.

In all 11 sessions took place between October 2016 and March 6th 2017. As of March 24th 118 individual church audit forms had been returned out of a possible 172. This is a return rate of 69%

In order to evaluate the findings a decision was taken to identify 12 key indicators from almost 100 variable answers across the form. In this way the overall District picture could be confirmed. It will be possible for each circuit to review its own returns and I am aware of two circuits that have already developed action plans to address their self-assessed deficits. In due course the data will enable the District to support circuits address individual issues and through identifying commonalities propose District wide responses.

The 12 key indicators are:

  1. There is a named church safeguarding officer
  2. The officer has been trained to at least FM level
  3. There is a church policy that is reviewed regularly
  4. There is other safeguarding material on display
  5. All those who require a DBS check have a current one (as at time of completing form)
  6. All those who require FM training have completed it (as at time of completing form)
  7. The local church knows where or to whom to go if they have a safeguarding concern
  8. Safeguarding concerns are recorded and secured
  9. There is an awareness of the Covenant of Care process
  10. There are records kept of children’s activities to help keep them safe
  11. There is consideration of safeguarding policy and practice when letting the premises
  12. Safeguarding features in the wider life of the church through inclusion on agendas at key meetings

Whilst some indicators were easy to score others were less so as people answered in different ways. For example the question of recording was either answered ‘yes’, ‘no’ or this is what we would do. So if a theoretical answer was provided this was recorded as a ‘yes’. Likewise in respect of lettings there were a number of variables to consider and so a decision was reached that if a majority of factors were in place but not necessarily every one, that also counted as a headline ‘yes’ . In respect of knowing who to go to about a concern there was an even spread across the range of answers from ‘very confident’ to ‘not confident’ in how respondents felt about reporting a concern.

The results show that in respect of having a named, trained local safeguarding officer, the church having a safeguarding policy which is reviewed regularly, that safeguarding features on the agendas of key meetings, and churches know whom to consult there is a very welcome high level of compliance.

The full results expressed as percentages (n = 118) are as follows:

Whilst there are some examples of excellent practice, clearly there are areas for development in a number of key areas

Named Safeguarding Officer and their training

In one circuit this role is held by the ministers with pastoral responsibility for each church which allows for a high level of scrutiny of policy and practice. This arrangement is not common, and is not necessarily envisaged by the Connexion. However locally it works very well. Some lay officers described the pressure of the role and needing clarity about what’s expected of them, hence the recent publication of a role profile published at the District Safeguarding event on March 15th. Where the safeguarding officer has not attended FM training this should be progressed.

Church policies and other safeguarding information

It is pleasing to see a very high level of compliance with this Connexional requirement regarding policies. There was variation however about what was publically visible but a learning point for many was to review that. However only 60% had other material available and at the recent Safeguarding event considerable amounts of free resources were available. The District will continue to offer sourcing of this material.

Safeguarding in the wider church context

There is a real sense that safeguarding features as an agenda item at key meetings. One circuit has it as an agenda item at each staff meeting and uses each occasion they meet to progress cases or concerns so that there are good records and examples of evidenced based decision making. This approach is commended

Knowing where to go about a concern

Although expressed with varying degrees of confidence there is good knowledge about who to approach about an issue. This means that local people have taken on a key message from FM training about passing on concerns at an early stage, and being aware of the route to take


Roughly 25% of respondents said that they could not be sure that all who are required to do so have undertaken FM training. Again this is a Connexional requirement in respect of all who work with children, young people and vulnerable adults, and so circuits should aim to make arrangements to identify those who still require the training. In one circuit this month we have expanded the pool of trainers by six, and the district will be pleased to arrange additional ‘train the trainer’ courses to meet demand . The audit however revealed some excellent administrative practice in respect of record keeping, and one future challenge will be to enable a spreading of this expertise and in some cases the capacity to enable it.

Safe Recruitment

The stated 63% compliance response in respect of DBS checks is perhaps the most concerning figure revealed by the audit, and together with the sense that other aspects of safe recruitment practice are not fully or routinely used (e.g. self-declaration forms), this is an area where, strategically, the District working in partnership with circuits will need to consider how best to improve this position. However some churches recorded ‘not sure’ answers and charged themselves with finding out so locally the figures may improve. DBS checks alone are no guarantee of safe recruitment, but I am aware that some of the prescribed or recommended processes set out by the Connexion are very difficult to implement in full in some church settings. Therefore this will be an agenda item at forthcoming DSG and circuit safeguarding coordinator meetings. Again however some excellent examples of safe recruitment recording practice were in evidence in most circuits so this is expertise and knowledge that should be shared.

Other items

The question about Covenants of Care was included to gauge knowledge about this important process, but it would not be expected that all churches would know about this. Given the variety of ways that churches answered the questions relating to recording practice in respect of concerns or regular activities, it is probably not safe to draw definitive conclusions as some stated these questions did not apply whilst others gave theoretical answers. However circuits and churches are recommended to think about having procedures in place should the either occasion arise, e.g. an influx of new children. The answers to the questions about lettings demonstrated a lack of consistency in checking the policies of other organisations but equally there were some excellent examples of booking arrangements clearly flagging safeguarding brought to the sessions.

Emerging themes

  • Churches take safeguarding seriously and do their best to meet all the national safeguarding requirements. There is a very evident passion for getting it right.
  • There are named people in each church charged with safeguarding responsibilities but these need to be clarified and made simple
  • There are some excellent practice examples in all aspects of safeguarding work and in all circuits, so the challenge is to spread the knowledge and learning
  • Smaller rural churches struggle through a lack of capacity and so there is scope for innovation and perhaps partnership with other denominations or community groups to achieve our safeguarding goals
  • Safer recruitment practice merits further strategic consideration and there is scope to develop local bespoke training to remind people about best practice and help them with the tasks.
  • Good record keeping is key to most aspects of safeguarding work so churches should consider scoping the safeguarding officer role to identify the best skill mix required. Some churches separate the administrative function from the advice and guidance function

Next steps

The audit will be updated and forms can be returned until April 15th. Five circuits achieved 100% returns for all their churches so it would be good to get as many returned as possible from the other three. Some LEPs who follow other denominational policies have not been included so the final return rate, once these have been clarified, may well be higher.

A final version of the results table will be published on the District website at the end of April.

The DSG meeting in late April and the Circuit Safeguarding coordinators’ meeting in early May will be invited to discuss the findings in more detail. Circuits are also recommended to prepare their own development plans, which can be shared with myself, as it will then be possible to see what level and type of District resource can be allocated to providing appropriate support. Through this process of consultation we will agree some priorities for action in the year ahead

As the priorities are developed, and formed into a District Safeguarding Plan, we plan to consult with circuits to ensure they are the right ones and, critically, deliverable. These will be monitored, but one immediate consequence of this in depth audit is that it is not intended to repeat the exercise for three years.

I would like to thank all who took part in the process at whatever point – the District Office team, DSG members, superintendents and circuit safeguarding co-ordinators and all the local church folk. I believe this is a national first and so puts Sheffield in a strong position as the Methodist Conference this year reviews progress against PCR progress and recommends more developments in safeguarding practice in the coming years.

Grahame Snelling – Executive Officer for Safeguarding, Sheffield District
April 1st 2017

Safeguarding Synod Report 2017 – PDF version to download and print