Safeguarding in faith settings and communities

Posted by Eve Piffaretti, 29th January 2020
We examine a report published on the safeguarding of children and young people in faith settings and communities – Closing the ‘legal loophole’.

On 28 January 2020, the all-party parliamentary group on Safeguarding in Faith Settings (APPG) launched its report “Positions of Trust: It’s time to change the law” which considers the effectiveness of positions of trust in safeguarding young people within faith settings and communities.

Under current legislation ( being the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (the Act) sections 16 – 24), it is illegal for individuals within the defined roles set out in Section 21 of the Act , including teachers, care workers and youth justice staff, to engage in sexual activity with a 16 or 17-year-old under their care, supervision training or sole charge. However, other adults, who hold similar positions of power, trust and influence within settings such as faith and religious organisations and sports teams are not covered by these provisions.

The Co- Chair, Sarah Champion MP, states that:  “There should be no difference in the protections afforded to young people in a school environment and those granted in other settings where they spend time alone with adults. Adults who, in a position of trust, often hold considerable power and influence over them. Young people attending youth groups at their church, participating in a gymnastics team or having driving lessons experience this disparity and are more vulnerable because of it.”

Evidence from survivors, faith and religious organisations as well as the voluntary and public sector demonstrated a clear consensus that the definition of what constitutes a ‘position of trust’ needs to be revised to allow for better protection of young people in all settings.

The APPG report recommend Government action to close the loophole and bring clarity to the legislation by applying the Act to any adult ‘regularly involved in caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge’ of a child, and not limiting this to the professions listed in Section 21.

The APPG report notes that there are significant opportunities for adults holding positions within faith organisations and communities to abuse their power and positions of trust.  It also found that many people incorrectly think that the definition of ‘position of trust’ under section 21 and 22 of the Act already covers individuals in such roles when this is not the case.

Safeguarding in faith settings recommendations

The APPG report makes five recommendations relating to policy and legislative change, as well as practice developments as follows:

Policy and Legislative Change The Government should:
Recommendation 1The Government should amend the Sexual Offences Act 2003 so that the application of the definition of ‘positions of trust’ as an adult that is ‘regularly involved in caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge’ of a child is not limited to the professions listed in Section 21 of that Act but instead extended to any adult to which that description applies.”
Recommendation 2“The Government should launch a public campaign to communicate the change in legal definition so that adults working with children, organisations, parents and young people are aware that it is illegal for any adult ‘regularly involved in caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge’ to have engage in sexual activity with a child under their care.”
Practice Developments
Recommendation 3“The Department for Education should lead the development and implementation of guidance and training provided to LADOs and Local Safeguarding Partnerships to raise awareness of issues around child abuse and abuse of trust in faith settings.”
Recommendation 4“In consultation with the National LADO Network and other appropriate professional groups, the Department for Education should research and develop detailed guidance on recording of cases using agreed standardised categories for positions of trust in faith settings.”
Recommendation 5“The Department for Education should urgently revise ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ to take better account of the role and extent of faith group activity in safeguarding children and young people, to include a focus on a broader application of position of trust. ‘Recruiting Safely: helping keep children and young people safe’ (CWDC, 2009) should be revisited and revised to address the broader issues of position of trust within settings and contexts that are currently not included.”[1]


The report can be read in full here.

For more information about the report, please do not hesitate to contact Eve Piffaretti, who has co-written this article with Isobel Williams.


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