I moved from illusion to reality. It is a bracing experience.
We were considering the Area Meeting Safeguarding policy, for children and vulnerable adults. We based it on the CCPAS guidelines as interpreted by York AM- no need to repeat the work. We need DBS checks on anyone holding a children’s meeting. We need to be ready for child abuse allegations.
How should an adult respond if a child makes an allegation to them?
• You have done the right thing in telling
• I am glad you have told me
• I will try to help you
• Why didn’t you tell anyone before?
• I can’t believe it!
• Are you sure this is true?
• Why? How? When? Who? Where?
• I am shocked, don’t tell anyone else
Don’t say why, how etc because it is not your job to investigate, that is for experts. Don’t challenge the allegation because the child will have low levels of trust already, and any challenge will reduce trust further.
Why would I challenge the child? Because I can’t believe it. Because my trust for my community is threatened, and because I have an emotional need for that trust.
I have been tempted to view DBS checks in Meeting as unnecessary bureaucracy. They are imperfect: they do not catch people who have never been caught, and they allow employers to discriminate against ex-offenders, whose offences would formerly have been regarded as “spent”, so not affecting their employment prospects. However, they are the precaution available to us.
I can still trust my Quaker community. I have got to know the people in my Meeting. And bad things happen, and I have to be awake when they do. The emotional threat to my sense of safety or my need to feel safe must not blind me to what is actually happening.
Bad things happen. An abuser joining a meeting would groom the adults as well as the children, building trust to exploit later. This does not mean that I cannot trust, but that I must be able to set that trust aside.
Paul explained from his NHS experience that adults must protect themselves too. A teenage girl is going for the bus in the rain. “I’ll give you a lift” says the middle-aged man. No. That opens him to false allegations. It may be unlikely, but the consequences would be severe. Also, we cannot trust the man alone with the vulnerable girl: when people did, abuse happened. The volunteer wants to help and get a warm feeling. It is not worth it.
So recently, where priests and ministers were trusted completely, abusers became priests. Reality is safer than illusion.