Child Protection - Nolan and DfES

The Final Report of the Nolan Committee's Review on Child Protection in the Catholic Church in England and Wales (September 2001) deals with suspension of paid employees (Recommendation 65) "where judged necessary by the police, social services, or the CPC and his/her Team". We would surely agree that, as they say, the clergy should be treated no differently than lay people in this respect. The report continues:
3.5.16 [...] Our clear view is therefore that, on the recommendation of the CPC and his/her Team, following consultation with social services and the police, any priest or deacon should be required to take administrative leave (the nearest equivalent for a priest of suspension for a secular employee) at a location to be determined by the bishop. We are aware that 'administrative leave' is provided for in canon law within the context of a judicial trial initiated by the Church. But we underline the necessity for the Church to have satisfactory administrative procedures to achieve the withdrawal of the priest or deacon from contact with children in those circumstances where a judicial procedure has not been, or cannot be, initiated by the Church. It is well understood in professions such as teaching that suspension in these circumstances does not imply guilt.

It is relevant to compare this with the DfES Guidance issued to schools in September 2004, entitled "Safeguarding Children in Education". Section 15 of Appendix A reads:
15. Suspension should not be an automatic response to an allegation. The Head teacher, or chair of governors in a case in which the head teacher is accused, should consider carefully whether it is the appropriate course in each instance. Although suspension on full pay is in law a neutral act, it is bound to be distressing for the accused person and disruptive for the school. The Head teacher or governors will need to take into account the seriousness and plausibility of the allegation, the risk of harm to the pupil concerned or to other pupils, and the possibilities of tampering with evidence, as well as the interests of the person concerned and the school.

The two sets of Guidance are not strictly contradictory. Nolan recommends "administrative leave" where judged necessary by the Police, Social Services or the CPC. The DfES Guidance allows for suspension where "appropriate".

However, there is a clear difference of emphasis and the DfES Guidance recognises the disruption caused by suspension, even though theoretically "neutral". An obvious difference is that the DfES has the Teacher Unions to think about.

Clearly, it is important to protect children effectively from abuse. In this respect it is notable that the DfES Guidance sensibly considers the disruption that is done to the school. Earlier Guidance (Annex to DfES Circular 10/95) issued prior to Nolan, also considered the effects of a hasty decision to suspend a teacher.
In the same way, an over-hasty or ill-judged decision immediately to suspend a teacher (there will, usually, be a range of options to be considered, only one of which is suspension) when an allegation of abuse is made, can have a substantial, detrimental effect upon a teacher's career. It can, at the very least, prove to be a traumatic experience for the teacher concerned, for children at the school and their parents, and for other staff. Over-hasty or ill-judged action including a decision to suspend a teacher, can also be very distressing for any children concerned, who may feel responsible when they are not. A teacher facing an allegation of abuse needs to have confidence that agencies will act in a careful measured way when allegations are brought to their attention.

Perhaps the most important thing is to bear in mind is the "Paramountcy Principle". The best interests of the child should be placed first. The 10/95 circular considers the interests of children in relation to over-hasty use of suspension in response to an allegation. In addition to destroying the career of a teacher, it can cause trauma to the children. The same is certainly true in the Church where a priest is removed at short notice from a parish. Nobody would question the need for suspension or "adminstrative leave" where the Police or Social Services advise that an allegation is serious and plausible. However, where these conditions are not met, there does not seem to be any explicit alternative "range of options" in the Church.

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