May was quite a month for elections. If you live outside London you had two – the usual council one and the probably unexpected European Parliament one. Who knows what might be just around the corner as well? This column has rightly shied away from politics for the year and a half it’s been published, and will continue to do so, but from time to time it’s useful to reflect on the ‘wider determinants’ of safeguarding practice. In other words, taking a look at the social, economic and political context in which we operate.
Safeguarding legislation is normally non-contentious as there is generally a political consensus that it is a ‘good thing’ to have it on the statute books. Occasionally a point of political principle may be contested but usually there is broad agreement about what needs to be done to keep children and vulnerable adults safe. When high profile situations hit the headlines, such as the Whorlton Hall vulnerable adults scandal exposed by Panorama a week or so ago, this can also be the signal to for legislators to reflect again on whether legal provisions are adequate.
But what of the impact on adult and child protection that may stem from the introduction of Universal Credit, a cause close to the heart of the Joint Public Issues Team? Or the long term impact of austerity? Or the laxity of controls on social media that expose children and young people in particular to potential harm?
There is compelling research evidence that demonstrates that children living in families under stress may be more likely to come to harm, or witness domestic abuse, than their peers living in more settled conditions. Adults living in poverty can be at higher risk of self-neglect. Unfettered access to social media can contribute to the on line and more direct sexual exploitation of young people. So being alert to these situations, whatever may be the root cause, and whether or not they are the unintended consequences of a prevailing public policy discourse, is something else for us to consider as we go about our business of safeguarding.
Thinking about the people within our churches’ reach each week, and those for whom life may be a struggle exposing them to risk in some cases, we may feel powerless individually to address the bigger issues they may face. However if we stitch together their stories we can begin to weave a narrative that will continue to provide the basis for our local mission, one that places safeguarding the vulnerable at its heart.