The Contribution the Church is making to the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (13th July 2007)
In 2005 when Jackie McCaig was appointed by the Bishops’ Conference to the post of National Co-ordinator, the National Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults was still in its infancy. Now after two years working with a range of individuals and organisations with the appropriate knowledge and experience, the national office will soon launch its new manual entitled 'Awareness and Safety in our Catholic Communities.'
The Bishops’ Conference considered the protection of children and vulnerable adults such an important area they decided on a Scotland wide approach, appointing Jackie to oversee the church’s commitment to the issue. On taking up her post she reviewed Keeping Children Safe, the document then in use. Building on it to include new legislation and codes of practice along with consulting key personnel has resulted in a comprehensive approach. The new manual provides a set of policies for all those involved be they paid or unpaid, clergy or laity. She comments: I haven’t written these documents myself but I’ve consulted with the people who are out there working with these issues to ensure they will answer the problems they are facing on a daily basis.
Working across the eight dioceses Jackie meets regularly with the Bishops’ appointees. As well as leading the training she is able to learn from their experiences and to share that learning in the parishes. There is no question that communication is the big issue. It’s about trying to reach out to everyone in the parish to make sure everyone fully appreciates that we all have responsibility for children and vulnerable people. That is the message of the national office on behalf of the Catholic church’, she says, ‘everyone in the church and indeed everyone in Scotland has a responsibility. It’s also the message from the executive. We have all got to work together.
As well as the diocesan teams which include representatives from the police, social work, health and education, all parishes now have their own Parish Co-ordinator. Appointed by the parish priest, the parish co-ordinator’s role is to ensure that the policies are adhered to and that those wishing to work with children and vulnerable adults go through the recruitment procedure.
Now every parish displays a poster with the church’s statement of care to children and vulnerable adults. On each poster is the name of the parish co-ordinator who can be contacted on any issue affecting the safety of children and vulnerable adults. Jackie explains: We all have to speak up if we believe a child is at risk of harm. Although the poster on the wall gives the parish number there is no obligation to contact the co-ordinator. We are very clear that people don’t have to stay within their own organisation and they can phone the national helpline if they prefer.
New legal framework insists that disclosure checks are made on anyone who hopes to work with children and vulnerable adults. Included amongst others are Eucharistic Ministers, who visit parishioners in their homes, youth workers, staff in care homes run by orders and leaders of youth pilgrimages. As she rhymes off the list Jackie is pleased to report that those who undergo the checks fully understand their necessity and welcome them. She says: This is about our whole approach to children and our message is entirely consistent with the Children’s Charter. We have encountered very little resistance.
The message from the National Office is that although risk can never be fully eliminated, rigorous procedures in line with national government policy are the best way to protect children and vulnerable adults. Jackie believes the work of the National Office is a major contribution that the church is making to the lives of those at risk of harm or abuse. Recognising the commitment made by the diocesan and parish communities she says: The majority of people who are making this work are volunteers who are giving so much time to the church and seeing that is very humbling.
Jackie has recently returned from a conference in the Vatican where she met with her counterparts from within the church across the world. With the joint themes of ‘reacting to abuse’ and ‘protection and prevention’ the church is seeking to ensure life-giving ministry to all in the church. She says; It was a great opportunity to work with others facing the same kind of issues and making sure that children and vulnerable adults can participate fully in the life of the church in safety and security.