The first independent Chair of the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Panel, former government minister Meg Munn, was installed today. Munn, a member of the Methodist Church and a former Labour Party Member of Parliament for a constituency in the south Yorkshire city of Sheffield, takes over as Chair of the Panel from the Bishop of Bath and Wells, Peter Hancock, who continues in his role as the Church’s lead bishop for safeguarding.
The National Safeguarding Panel (NSP) was set up to provide “vital reference and scrutiny from a range of voices, including survivors, on the development of policy and guidance,” the C of E explained. Its membership is drawn from a range of backgrounds, including directors and chief executives of safeguarding charities and organisations, as well as church leaders and officers. It was set up in response to a number of cases in the Diocese of Chichester and exists to provide visible leadership and excellence, promote good safeguarding practice, and support a survivor perspective.
Munn is a qualified social worker with 20 years’ experience and led children’s social services in York before being elected as a Member of Parliament in 2001. She spent 14 years as an MP. In 2010 she established and chaired the All-Party Child Protection Parliamentary Group having previously chaired the All-Party Voice Parliamentary Group which worked for the prevention of abuse of vulnerable adults.
“I am delighted to be the first Independent Chair of the Church of England National Safeguarding Panel,” Munn said. “The Church has recognised that it needs to radically improve its safeguarding of children and vulnerable people, and I will ensure that the panel holds it to account.
“I have a long engagement in the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults – starting as a practitioner, then senior manager, and as a Member of Parliament contributing to policy formation and legislation. I have always been an advocate of listening to children and vulnerable adults talk about their experiences, hearing directly what they are feeling and thinking.
“I have worked with survivors and have seen first-hand the impact, which can be devastating and lifelong. And it doesn’t stop with the individual; families and friends can suffer agonising pain, feeling they have failed to protect a child or vulnerable adult. The guilt never goes away.
“Society at large is slowly waking up to the fact that organisations that we should have been able to trust failed to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults. Institutions such as the Church of England need to be open and transparent about the past and develop good safeguarding practice for the future. But only deep cultural change can bring about the transformation that is needed.
“A determination to put in place measures to protect children and vulnerable adults is essential. It isn’t because everyone is a potential abuser. It is because those intent on abuse will exploit any possibility to get close to those they want to abuse.”
She said that she will spend the next few months learning about the Church of England “so I have a more informed view of what needs to happen. I will work with those who advise the Church through the National Safeguarding Panel, to gather their thoughts on the path to take. Ensuring effective safeguarding is a challenge for an organisation that covers the country and has numerous clergy, lay people and volunteers. But if a Church which professes to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not do everything it can to protect the vulnerable, it is ignoring a core message of that gospel. Apologies for past wrongs will mean nothing.”
Her roles will include meeting at least three times a year with the National Safeguarding Adviser, Deputy Adviser, and the lead bishop for safeguarding; providing independent scrutiny and challenge to the Church of England; and direct engagement with independent Chairs of diocesan safeguarding teams.