Commission says 'culture fell short' at Catholic charity

04 Sep 2019 News

The Charity Commission has said there were “shortcomings in safeguarding governance” at the Birmingham Diocesan Trust, as it publishes the findings of its inquiry into the charity.

The Trust, which oversees the Roman Catholic Diocese of Birmingham, had been investigated by the Commission over concerns about its record on safeguarding. The Commission launched its investigation in December 2018, after the trustees were unable to reassure it that they were managing risks to the charity’s beneficiaries promptly or robustly enough. 

Earlier this week the Commission published the conclusions of its statutory inquiry.

Issues came to light when the charity was selected as a case study by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). The regulator found that the trustees' initial response to safeguarding concerns, which were highlighted prior to the Commission’s investigation, lacked urgency.

The charity provides services accessed weekly by around 60,000 people.

Findings

The Commission's report says: “The trustees’ failure to take appropriate prompt action with regards to safeguarding exposed the charity, beneficiaries and others coming into contact with the charity to undue risk.”

“The charity’s culture fell short of the culture and environment expected of a charity of this nature,” it adds.

Problems identified by the investigation also include the fact that "some safeguarding files were in very poor order”, meaning that "there was a potential risk that they contained unmanaged safeguarding concerns”. For example, files about members of the charity’s congregations who had served a sentence for sexual offences should have been monitored under so-called safeguarding agreements.  
 
Other shortcomings highlighted by the Commission’s report include a historic lack of safeguarding skills and experience among trustees and within the charity.
 
The regulator has said the trustees co-operated with the inquiry but further improvements are required. It has issued the trustees with an order under Section 84 of the Charities Act 2011. This requires the trustees to identify, implement and maintain a new safeguarding case management system. The Commission will be monitoring and assessing the charities’ compliance with its order.

‘There is no room for complacency’

Stephen Grenfell, head of investigations and enforcement at the Charity Commission, said: “I am pleased that, as a result of our investigation, the Birmingham Diocesan Trust is now providing a safer environment for the many thousands of people who are beneficiaries of the charity. The trustees of the charity have engaged positively with our inquiry and have already made some important changes.

“But there is no room for complacency. The trustees must demonstrate that continued momentum in their work to strengthen and prioritise safeguarding, and we will be holding them to account against the legal direction we have issued.

“It is an essential duty for trustees to take reasonable steps to safeguard beneficiaries and to protect them from abuse or harm. The public have a legitimate expectation that charities are places where the welfare and wellbeing of people are prioritised.”

Archdiocese of Birmingham: 'We are committed to improving' 

In a statement, the Archdiocese of Birmingham said: “The archdiocese is committed to continual improvement of its safeguarding practices. Protecting children and vulnerable adults from harm remains an absolute priority.

“Following the publication of the IICSA report earlier this year, we publicly acknowledged that we had failed victims and survivors of abuse. We recognise apologies need to be backed up by action and the Archdiocese is committed to learning from the mistakes of the past and is reviewing its practices and processes to ensure that victims and survivors of abuse receive a compassionate and caring response.

“We remain committed to the ongoing improvement of safeguarding across the Archdiocese and will review and consider the Commission’s findings alongside the IICSA report issued earlier this summer.”

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