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Independence, rights and obligations

4th of July. Independence Day in the USA, and the country seems split by several key issues that polarise political and public opinion, whether it’s gun ownership or abortion rights. Students of history will recall the split that took place after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and the civil war that broke out in the following April. The union was divided then by the issue of slavery compounded by the ongoing debate about states’ rights and the power of the federal government. With some states immediately banning abortion after the Supreme Court judgement, and other states actively seeking to protect it, there are again echoes of these old arguments, which have never really gone away from the time the new nation was formed in the 1780s.

Here, the law runs writ across the whole country, with some variations across the UK nations. Legislation affecting the welfare of children and adults in need of protection in each of the nations is always backed up by (usually) statutory guidance and from time to time particular aspects of the law are tested by legal processes. But there is an absolute expectation that the provisions of the law and the consequent practice requirements will be fulfilled everywhere without exception. One county or London borough cannot decide not to apply the law. So, the question must remain: how is it that some local authorities perform much better than others and some suffer catastrophic failures that have put lives at risk? Sadly in a few places such failures have also contributed to fatalities as we have recently seen.

Ofsted reports often single out inadequate leadership, lack of resources, poor communication and decision-making, and low morale as contributory factors when learning the lessons from serious case reviews that take place after a child care tragedy. So despite the law being equally applied, there is considerable scope for variation in the quality of service delivery.

Our ambition as a Connexional Church must always be to strive for consistency in our safeguarding work so that whatever happens, and wherever, the quality of response to a concern never varies. The Conference last week received a memorial the intention of which was to further consolidate the progress made in this area by first establishing a casework supervision team in 2018. The drive for a high quality safeguarding service stretching from Shetland to the Scilly Isles is well recognised, such that no one area can pay less attention or even worse fail to comply.

The USA looks set for further legal battles ahead. We may not have the same constitutional challenges in our country, nor in the Church, but we must always be alert to the myriad factors that have the scope to derail our agreed goals of maintaining our churches as safe spaces.

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